The Polynesian Village was born in 1971. Clearing the land for the project started in 1969 but construction started in February 1971 and was completed August 1971. Finishing touches to open to guests completed the morning of OCtober 1, 1971 with paint still drying as guests entered the hotel.
The original concept seen here on a post card that never made it to the stores and below in the rendering and below in the rendering shows the highrise surrounded by longhouses. There were always influences to make the resort more traditional to the island culture. One of the more recent influences on the design of the Polynesian was a resort in Maui called the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel. U.S. Steel Corp. came up with the idea to make the rooms lighter and to construct them offsite. Just about everything was built in the rooms down to the air system, wallpaper, carpet and all plumbing and electrical.
It was supposed to be a 12- story high-rise hotel in the center of a lagoon where guests rooms were clustered around small streams, a pool fed by waterfalls, a helt club, high-ceiling "South Sea" dining room located atop the hotel and a skindiving lagoon. Many of these ideas changed and others made it to the opening in 1971 but were removed shortly after.
Disney was going to let outside companies manage the resorts. Western International was going to manage the Polynesian while Marriott would do the same for the Contemporary. This later would change and Disney would take control of these resorts. Sounds like it was a good move to me.
The hotel was planned by WED Enterprises and designed by Welton Becket and built by US Steel, there were some new techniques used to create these resorts. The Contemporary was built by constructing the center of the building that housed the elevators with a steel A-frame design surrounding it. The 14 story A-frame Steel design used a cable suspension system to support the rooms from the hotel’s structural frame. The original Polynesian Village concept had a similar 12 story framed building surrounded by outer “hut” buildings. This later changed by the time work started in 1969.
Originally it was thought that the Polynesian and the Contemporary rooms were installed the same way but after I received photos and info from the archives, I found out that only the Contemporary rooms were slid into place and the Polynesian rooms were stacked. The Contemporary framework had to be constructed ahead of time because it was not possible to stack them since they were not aligned vertically. Another misconception that even I use to have on my web site was that the rooms were going to be slid out with new room designs slid back in their place. This also was untrue. I am told that there was no way that they ever would envision being able to set up large equipment on property to remove and reinstall rooms once walkways, landscaping, etc. were in place along with the fact that so many things were connected and welded once the rooms were installed. The reason the rooms were assembled offsite was just to speed up the process of being able to work on the rooms as the frame work and other things were being constructed. In the case of the Polynesian the rooms were stacked first and frames, hallways and roofs were assembled around the stacked rooms so there was really no chance these rooms were ever thought to be able to slide right out at a later date.
About 1500 of these rooms were constructed about 3 miles offsite to allow them to build the rooms without having to wait until after the framing and surrounding infrastructure to be finished. They built the rooms with everything installed including air system, wallpaper, carpet, plumbing and electrical. When put in place the rooms would connect up to the existing plumbing and interconnect with other rooms utility lines. The rooms weighed 6 tons and were to be 29 feet by 14 feet 4 inches. Each room had 20 five guage galvanized steel runners and studs (16 inch centers) and the panels are surrounded in ½ inch or 5/8 inch fire resistant gypsum board. They were designed to sleep a family of 5 and even the bathrooms were designed to be larger than the standard hotel bathroom. Fireproofing material would be added to the exterior of each room before it was put in place giving each room a two-hour fire rating. This is the “Asbestos” that was later removed in 2002 from between each room. The workers would complete 7 rooms per day.
Future longhouses would have the rooms built onsite, not using the original techniques that the Contemporary and Polynesian used in prior construction. When the Polynesian built its first expansion in 1978 (Oahu) there were a collection of “test rooms” inside the longhouse that tried out different designs and layouts. One of those layouts was a double sink and a sink and vanity outside the toilet and shower area. Later these “test rooms” were converted over to the standard design but the room with the double sink was used in the later expansion buildings Moorea and Pago Pago. These rooms were also a few feet longer as well as the hallways of the buildings are wider.
The technique of building offsite was innovative for its time and may not be seen again on Disney property but it helped them meet the deadline and will always be an interesting construction story from Walt Disney Worlds past.
Here is a photo of Joseph Dembeck , president of USS , Chairman of the board Edwin Gott and Austin Paddock, administrative vice president-fabricating division of USS looking at a model for the rooms of the Contemporary and the Polynesian. The rooms were to measure 29 feet by 14 feet 4 inches. They were designed to be stacked three units high without additional structural support (which is why today’s Polynesian resort is no larger than 3 stories.
From the U.S. Steel Corp document dated Wednesday, April 30, 1969 (for release after 9:00 AM) is a description of the construction.
"The vertical steel supports will be covered on the inside of the room with gypsum board and a wall finish that will convey the motif of the respective theme hotel. The floor will utilize a light gauge steel deck with fill and then carpeted. Above the gypsum board ceiling, utility lines will connect room outlets that will be interconnected with other rooms after the units are set in place in the steel structural hotel frame. When set in place, the rooms are secured with a unique interlock system and the plumbing and utility lines are connected. As each room will have a two-hour fire rating, the exterior structural frame of the theme hotels will not require fireproofing. Each room can sleep five people, thereby allowing entire families to share one room. The oversized powder room, featuring twin wash basins, is designed larger than a standard hotel bathroom. The rooms will way 6 tons each – far less than the 30 ton modular hotel rooms that have been built using other construction materials."
The design of the Polynesian comes from many Pacific Island designs. The Disney designers spent time in places like Samoa,Tahiti,and Hawaii to come up with the designs. The design for the Great Ceremonial House (GCH) is said to be inspired by the royal assembly lodges in Tahiti but I can not find any information on any such building. Also the longhouses are said to be designed after authentic Hawaiian longhouses but the roof line looks more like designs found in Tahiti more than anything found in ancient Hawaiian designs.
The picture to the right shows the construction site for the Polynesian in 1970. In the far distance you can see the Contemporary being constructed. The once peaceful lagoon will be no longer.
One of those things that did not last was the wave machine placed off the shore of Beachcomber Isle in the lagoon for guests to play in the waves. The waves were not quite large enough to surf on but they added the sound of the ocean to the beach area over near Luau Cove. After very short time in operation, they shut it down. There are many stories as to why and the most popular story is because of beach erosion. Some people that were working for Disney during its time say that is not true and I would believe that since the wave machine did not even face the resort but faced where the Wedding Pavilion is now. It is possible some of the waves did travel to the beach next to Tuvalu but I think there were other reasons for it being shut down. It was again tested in 1985 but it was decided to dismantle it and it was removed from the shore of Beachcomber Isle. I have read that it was too big to remove (like Disney has not removed larger structures) but my own investigation of the area shows no signs of the mechanism and if you look at Google maps you will not see anything in the shallow water around the island.
Some other things that have come and gone from the Polynesian were the 40 foot war canoe that guests could rent and travel out to the islands in the lagoon. This early postcard was created before WDW opened and is a photo of a model that shows all the original ideas for the resorts along the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake.
Another thing no longer at the resort is the Eastern Winds. This was a 65-foot Chinese junk (right) used as a cocktail lounge. It included a deck and cabin lounge areas, stateroom and serving hostesses. Photo of boat from Walt dated World.
The Eastern Winds was even rumored to have gone out on the lagoon and over to the islands. I found some interesting information about the Eastern Winds on this site eastern-winds-lounge blog or go visit Dave and Bill's main page by Clicking here. I recently was told the boat returned to Disney as was changed and placed at the dock at Epcots America Pavilion. While the hull of that boat looks similar I was told that it was not true. It looks like a while ago Lou Mongello found out what became of the Eastern Winds and you can read about it here http://thedisneyblog.com/2009/04/03/lou-mongello-discovers-what-happened-to-eastern-winds/
Something that was removed when Tokelau and the East pool were constructed was the putting green that was where the East Pool is now. With the golf courses across the street a nice putting green would have been great to practice at before heading out for golf.
As shown in this 1975 rendering by Carlos Diniz, World Showcase was to be a separate park, located adjacent to the Polynesian along the Seven Seas Lagoon. It would have been where the Transportation and Ticket Center is now. This was the idea back when EPCOT was going to be a city and not a park.
Much of the information on this page came from United States Steel Corp. documents, Widen Your World and The Story of Walt Disney World. For more great history of WDW please visit Widen Your World.