Walt’s announcement drew big crowd, but details were thin

A clipping from the Nov. 16, 1965 edition of the Orlando Sentinel includes a headline
that reads: “Walt Disney to Build World’s Best Tourist Attraction in Mid-Florida.”

Counting down to the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World’s opening in October 1971,
the Orlando Sentinel begins a weekly feature looking at the construction and impact of the theme park on our area. See more Disney at 50 coverage at OrlandoSentinel.com/DailyDisney.

Walt Disney’s presence in Florida went from rumored to reported to reality as he came to downtown Orlando’s Cherry Plaza Hotel on Nov. 15, 1965 to announce his plans for 27,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties. A clipping from the Nov. 16, 1965 edition of the Orlando Sentinel includes a headline that reads: “Walt Disney to Build World’s Best Tourist Attraction in Mid-Florida.”

There was an invitation-only presentation to government and business leaders followed
by a news conference described by Gov. Haydon Burns as the largest in Florida history.
An estimated 400 people crowded into the Egyptian Ballroom.

In this week’s Disney at 50, the Sentinel’s look at Walt Disney World of yesterday and
today, we present photos from that occasion.

The Cherry Plaza building stands today on East Central Boulevard. It’s now Post Parkside Orlando apartments and home to several businesses, including World of Beer, which faces Lake Eola. Back in ‘65, it housed offices for Delta Air Lines, Florida Symphony and an art gallery. Many civic organizations such as Elks, Parliamentarians and the German American Ladies met there regularly.

President Lyndon Johnson had stayed there overnight during his 1964 campaign.

In 1965, after Walt Disney spoke and answered questions, there still was confusion about just what was coming to Central Florida. Disney dodged specifics, saying planning was still in the works. It would be the same as Disneyland but entirely different, he said, and it would definitely not be called Disneyland.

He was crafty in other ways. Reporters trying to catch him checking into Cherry Plaza were disappointed. It was later revealed that he stayed at the Robert Meyer Motor Inn under an assumed name, perhaps his pilot’s name. That hotel, on the corner of Washington Street and Rosalind Avenue, was on the opposite side of the lake from Cherry Hill. Robert Meyer eventually was known as the Harley Hotel, which is now condos called Metropolitan at Lake Eola.

If you live there now, you can say Walt Disney slept there then.

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