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The History of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – Part Two

Part One of the history of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort can be found by clicking this link: The History of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – Part One

DVC Construction


Image: Google Maps

The Urban Design Group was also responsible for the design of the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge (now Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge). The biggest design for UDG was to build a larger building with slightly different requirements on a “constrained site comprising 2 acres of wetlands and adjacent to a dominant and beloved iconographic building.”


Peter H. Dominick, Design Principal, for the Wilderness Lodge
Image: 4240 Architecture

“We had to create the story and give the illusion that the 147-room DVC property was constructed prior to the Wilderness Lodge,” said Randy Johnson. “In reality, it [Villas at the Wilderness Lodge] was really completed almost a decade later, in 2000. Not only that, but on a much lighter budget and shorter construction schedule than the original Wilderness Lodge.”


Image: Disney Parks Blog

“The inspiration for the DVC property came from the early railroad hotels developed by Fred Harvey at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Randy Johnson. “The DVC’s clapboard and shingle structure reflects the simple and straightforward approach of early railroad hotel architecture and gives the building the appearance of having been built prior to the Wilderness Lodge.”

To further create the illusions that the DVC property was built prior to the Lodge, the Urban Design Group used a different color palette of red for the roof and light gray stained singles.


Two train cars from Walt Disney’s Backyard Railroad
Image: wdwinfo/Corey Martin

Reinforcing the DVC’s railroad inspired architecture, the Carolwood Pacific Room, an octagonal sitting room, is named after Walt Disney’s backyard railroad and contains many artifacts, photographs and art depicting Walt’s fascination with trains and the railroad. The highlight of the room are two actual train cars. Donated by Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, these two cars were a part of and used by Walt in his backyard railroad at his Holmby Hills home at 355 Carolwood Drive.

wdl oct

Image: Wilson Associates

“The four-story octagonal-shaped atrium, complete with log columns and central stone fireplace forms the central lobby gathering space for the vacation club while recalling the early turn-of-the-century railroad hotels of the American West,” said Christian Barlock. “At the second floor lobby balcony frieze, ornamental stenciled graphics and carve log beam ends depicting animals celebrate the Native American medicine wheel and the Circle of Life. The lobby provides intimate seating and serves as a transition space to the members lounge, fitness center and guest wings.”

Interior Design

Wilson Associates were responsible for designing the interiors for the Wilderness Lodge Resort. This hotel, as with all of Disney, is steeped in research. The design team was led by Connie Jackson and Susan Seifert.


Connie Jackson
Image: Wilson Associates

“We used two books when doing our research for the Wilderness Lodge interiors,” said Connie Jackson. “They were Great Lodges of the National Parks by Christine Barnes and True West by Christine Mather.”


Wilderness Lodge Resort Lobby
Image: WildernessLodgeSite.com

“It’s a log cabin with ‘cowboy rustic’ interiors,” said Jackson. “The color scheme is predominately greens, golds and umbers, like the surrounding vegetation. The furniture and lighting fixtures were inspired by American furniture designer Thomas Molesworth [1890-1977], who had a distinct understanding of Native American culture and the American West.


Left: Charles Greene / Right: Henry Greene
Image: Wikipedia

Other pieces in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge were inspired by Charles and Henry Greene, influential early 20th Century American architects. They ushered in the American Arts and Crafts Movement that is seen throughout the entire hotel. This aesthetic style became coined the ‘Greene and Greene Movement.’ Together, influenced by these two distinct design tastemakers, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge became an artisan hotel.”


Image: Wilson Associates

Wilson & Associates design choices for the lobby and guest rooms embodied the American West by utilizing wood, blue slate detailing, flat weave rugs and Native American imagery. “It’s a massive log cabin,” says Jackson! “The use of different woods in the lobby floor creates the illusion of a rug. There are different seating areas with flat weave rugs, Adirondack chairs, leather chairs and upholstered sofas.”

Connie Jackson said that the hotel was inspired by The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel) in Yosemite National Park. “It’s iconic!”


Artist Point Dining Room
Image: HappiestVlogOnEarth.com

“The two dining venues – Artist Point and the Whispering Canyon Café – also possess great western influence,” says Jackson. “Artist Point, the lodge’s fine dining restaurant, features murals inspired by Albert Bierstadt who is known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. You can see the ‘Greene and Greene Movement’ in the furniture. Whispering Canyon Café is really where Thomas Molesworth’s influence comes to life. You can see his style in the flat paddle back chairs with Native American decals on the back.”


“The guestrooms all feature carved headboards and cabinetry,” continues Jackson. “The throws over the beds feature Native American-inspired textiles. The headboards and the guest room fabrics are all inspired from Native American Indian tribes.”

There were a few design challenges along the way. For instance, Susan Seifert wanted to adhere this intricately carved inlay to the entry door, but there was the issue of the fire codes. They eventually figured out how to make the design work and still remain with the fire code. Another issue they encountered was the furniture design. Susan Jackson said that since they were inspired by deceased artists they had to custom design every single piece.


Image: Wilson Associates

As with everything else at The Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner was very hands-on during the planning and construction of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. When Connie Jackson and her team were making their initial presentation to Eisner and the other Disney executives, Jackson brought her son along to the presentation. “I put him in the back of the room and told him to stay there,” says Jackson. “But during the presentation, my son kept scooting his chair closer and closer to the front of the room. Michael [Eisner] saw him and asked how old my son was. I told him he was seven years old and Michael said ‘That’s our Disney target. So if he likes this then we’ll do it!’”


Image: Wilson Associates

Jackson said Michael Eisner was “delightful” to work with and he was very “hands-on.” “Disney’s Wilderness Lodge was so over budget,” said Jackson. “But Michael liked it [and everything that was being proposed for the Lodge] that he kept increasing the construction and design budgets.”


Cheyenne Hotel Guest Room
Image: Disneyland Paris

An interesting anecdote that Jackson shared about Michael Eisner was when they [Wilson Associates] were working on designing interiors for Paris’s Euro Disney’s Cheyenne Hotel one of the features they included were bunk beds. Eisner saw them and liked them so much that he put them in his Aspen home as well.

Disney’s History of the Wilderness Lodge

Whether it’s an attraction, a themed area, a resort hotel, cruise ship – storytelling is a big part of The Walt Disney Company; it’s in their DNA. For the resort hotels, sometimes the storytelling or “backstory” is in the architecture itself and sometimes Disney Imagineers create an actual backstory for the resort. The Wilderness Lodge Resort is one of those resorts that Imagineers created an actual backstory.


At check-in, early on in the life of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, guests would receive a commemorative newspaper, The Silver Creek Star (Vol. B / No. 28,928). Weaved among information about the resort’s various guest services were stories about the ‘history’ of the Lodge and the exploits of Colonel Ezekiel Moreland, his daughter Genevieve (nicknamed Jenny) and her traveling companion, an Austrian artist Frederich Alonzo Gustaf.

Explaining how the Wilderness Lodge Resort came to be, Disney Imagineers tell the story of Colonel Ezekiel Moreland’s solo adventures across the wilderness and “thanks to a substantial collection of beaver pelts and other valuable furs … he emerged from the frontier two years later a very wealthy man.”

With the fortune he made in the fur trade, the Colonel, along with his daughter, Jenny, bought out a crew of men and had a small lodge built near the fresh water spring. Gustaf also joined them on them on this grand adventure. “Jenny would remain in Silver Creek Springs for the rest of her life. She established a preservation area in her father’s honor … The Wilderness Lodge welcomed artists, scientists and nature lovers of all kinds over the years. As the number of visitors grew, the Lodge expanded … they added rooms that grew around the spring, making it part of the Wilderness Lodge.”


The view from Artist Point looking out where Gustaf had set up his easel
Image: Disney Parks Blog

On rocks, high above the valley, Gustaf set up his easel on a rocky ledge that provided the best views of the area and began to paint. “No sooner had the brush touched the canvas than the ground began to tremble.” Legend has it that the tremors subsided and although Gustaf thought it was over the Colonel knew better. “The explosion of the geyser was sudden and swift … Gustaf survived the fall, and despite its obvious dangers, the ledge became his favorite place from which to paint. The ledge soon became a favorite of other artists, as well as, such men as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, who soon flocked to the area in search of the perfect landscape. Years later, when the Lodge was finished, a formal dining room was built on the exact location and was aptly named Artist Point.”


The legend of Fire Rock Geyser was told to the Colonel from an Indian elder, Running Elk. Initially setting up came on the shores of the lake seemed like a good idea to the Colonel, but as the winter set in, he quickly realized it was not. “Looking for a better location and warmth, driven by common sense and a desire to get warm … he moved closer to the hot springs.” An Indian hunting party, who was trapped in the valley from the excessive snow, came to the hot springs as well for warmth. “Moreland made friends and in return was told the tale of the area. The legend was that during one especially bad winter, an Indian hunting party had been trapped in the valley by excessive snow. They built a fire and were forced to keep it burning continuously. After five days, the rock beneath them began to crack and tremble. The next day, the trembling became even greater and as they placed another piece of wood on the fire, the Earth opened up and a great pillar of hot, steaming water erupted upwards, launching a nearby teepee high into the air like a skyrocket. The frightened group ran out of the valley telling all they met to avoid the location where they had angered the earth with their wasteful use of continuous fire.”

Other tales of lore include the original cabin that Colonel Moreland used is now The Teton Boat and Bike Rental building, the Lodge’s Silver Creek Swimming Pool was created when Georgie MacGregor, a devious and unlucky prospector told Jenny he was a cook. She offered him a room in the lodge, but he opted to set up camp by the lake. When she paid a surprise visit to Georgie, she found he was using the cooking pans to pan for gold. Although Jenny hired another cook, Georgie stayed on doing odd jobs, including serving breakfast to the guests, but still couldn’t stay out of trouble.


Silver Creek Springs Pool

”On a supply run to the trading post for cooking utensils and fishing gear, Georgie returned with two crates. He took one to the kitchen and the other he carted off to his cabin. Ol’ Georgie was cooking up one last plan to uncover his fortune. The next morning, Ol’ Georgie doggedly served breakfast and slipped away quietly to his cabin. The guests were still gathered around the table, discussing how much better the food tasted when all of a sudden, a tremendous explosion shook the very foundation of the Lodge, knocking them to the floor … Where the stream once flowed gently over rocks was now a cavernous, smoldering hole, deep in the earth. Ol’ Georgie was nowhere in sight … A box labeled dynamite stood under the tree. It was the last time Ol” Georgie ever looked for gold or silver. And the cratered pool he blew into the ground serves as one of the fondest recreational pastimes at the Lodge.”

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in 2017


Today, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a guest favorite. Last May, the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge were renamed Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and on September 22, 2015, Disney announced the construction of new DVC units at the Lodge, including 26 waterfront cabins. Copper Creek Villas & Cabins are scheduled to open in July 2017.


Copper Creek Cabins
Image: The Walt Disney Company

Additionally, Hidden Springs Pool, the beach, marina and playground are currently all under an enhancement. According to the Disney Parks Blog, “A sweeping re-imagination of the former Hidden Springs Pool area will help tell the richly layered backstory of Boulder Ridge … scheduled to open in summer 2017, Boulder Ridge Cove will feature an expanded sun deck and zero-depth-entry pool in what appears to have been an abandoned rock quarry. Such rejuvenating transformations were common in the Pacific Northwest following the mid-20th-century fading of the Transcontinental Railroad, as locals turned rails into trails – repurposing everything from bridges and tunnels to cranes and quarries. A nearby “Boulder Ridge Railway and Mining Co.” water tower will be among the pool area’s landmark reminders of its pioneering past, while a vintage mine cart supports the mining theme with an affectionate nod to Disney history.”


Geyser Point Bar & Grill
Image: DisneyFoodBlog.com

This past February, Geyser Point Bar & Grill, located near Silver Creek Springs Pool, opened. For now, Geyser Point Bar & Grill will serve as the primary location for counter service meals as Roaring Fork is temporarily closed for enhancements and the Trout Pass Pool Bar has been permanently closed.


Interview – Christian Barlock & Randy Johnson – 4240 Architecture

Interview – Connie Jackson & Susan Seifert – Wilson Associates

Dunlop, B. (2011). Building A Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture, New York, NY: Disney Editions

The Master Architect Series V: Urban Design Group/Inc., (2003). Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia: The Images Publishing Group.

Wilderness Lodge Site: An Unofficial Tribute to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Villas website

Your First Visit website. “A Friday Visit with Jim Korkus: Peter Dominick, Jr. and the Wilderness Lodge

The Silver Creek Star – Commemorative newspaper & guest directory. Walt Disney World.

Pedicini, S. (22 September 2015). Disney announces new timeshares at Wilderness Lodge. Orlando Sentinel. www.orlandosentinel.com

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. In Wikipedia. Retrieved 21 April 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney%27s_Wilderness_Lodge

First Look and Review: Geyser Point Bar and Grill at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. In The Disney Food Blog. Retrieved 20 April 2017 from

Why For do the WDW Monorails Make a Stop at Wilderness Lodge. In Jim Hill Media. Retrieved 20 April 2017 from http://jimhillmedia.com/editor_in_chief1/b/jim_hill/archive/2012/12/13/why-for-wilderness-lodge.aspx

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Originally from Philadelphia and now living in New York City, Chuck has worn many hats including pastry chef, hotel manager and his current position as a publicist. Ever since he was a kid, Chuck had a passion about everything Walt Disney including going on a local Philly quiz show when he was twelve where his area of expertise was Walt Disney. He loves going to see great performers, amazing museums, seeing Broadway shows, eating in all kinds of restaurants and traveling. Chuck's favorite cities to visit are Paris, London, Las Vegas and Turin. He, of course, loves Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

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