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Disney World at 50: Meet the General You’ve Never Heard of Who Made the Magic Kingdom | Culture & Leisure




ORLANDO, Florida Tourists to Disney World are too preoccupied with the majestic Cinderella Castle and the marching band playing Let It Go to notice the words in the second story window above the candy store.

General Joes Building Permits, licensed in Florida for 66 years, are said to be about the bogus business on Magic Kingdoms Main Street USA.

If you ask someone who goes to Walt Disney World, who is Joe Potter? … They won’t know much about him, said author and Disney historian Christopher Lucas. Without him, there would be no Disney World.

Unrecognized by the Walt Disneys star’s name, Major General William Joe Potter was the force that turned a swampy Florida wetland into a magical kingdom. Potter was the architect of the government of Disney World, the mastermind behind the tunnel system hidden in the park, and the reason Disney doesn’t have a mosquito problem today, Lucas said.

Potter died aged 83 in 1988 after remaining in Central Florida for the rest of his life during his post-Disney retirement, but memories still run deep with his daughter and grandson, who live on. in Orlando today.

The Potters’ Daughter, Jo Ann Heine, talks about how two good friends Walt and the General made bets to quit smoking and how Potter once shared a golf cart ride with Dolly Parton at the grand opening of Epcots.

Lawyer Kent Hipp, the general’s grandson, displays a photo of Walt Disney holding him baby in his office in downtown Orlando. Hipp discovered a handwritten budget for the Magic Kingdom set out by the general while reviewing the Potters’ affairs years after his death.

Taming the swamp

In his early 60s, the grizzled, retired US Army general led the massive construction project to set Disney land for building a theme park. Bulldozers tore up trees, uprooted trees, and crews tamed what was an alligator and snake infested swamp of central Florida in the late 1960s.

It was old Florida then, more rugged, wild and so far removed from the well-maintained Disney grounds known today. On a boat ride through the canal, Potter and his team brought a gun because snakes were hanging from the trees, his daughter said.

To make Disney World, you had to do something about Bay Lake.

The water was a dark brown color that would not be used for swimming as it would cause bleached blonde hair to turn brown and white swimsuits would be gray, Potter recalls in his oral history recorded by the US Corps of Engineers.

His men pumped 5 million cubic meters of sand, added well water, and cleaned the bottom of the lakes to make it a pristine lake.

The team of potters also built the 200 acre lagoon by the Polynesian hotel.

Like a good soldier, Potter had listened to his commander, Walt Disney. He complained about how hard it was to keep the fantasy going at Disneyland when realities like trash cans or employee-only areas couldn’t be completely hidden, Lucas said.

Potters Workaround: Build an underground tunnel system at the Floridas Magic Kingdom.

And to rule this new kingdom or at least run its sewage system and utilities, Potter laid out the Reedy Creek Improvement District Plan.

In 1967, the state officially approved Reedy Creek as its own government, so Disney could have control over road construction, the zoning code, and building a power plant, even its own airport if Disney wanted to. Potter was ultimately the district’s first chief.

We believe that today Disney is its own self-sustaining community, but it didn’t happen overnight, and it sure didn’t happen on its own. Walt, again, had to sign all of this, but Joe Potter was the man he trusted. He let her take care of it all, said Lucas, author of the Top Disney book.

Along the way, there were political landmines that could implode at any time.

A few reluctant landowners refusing to sell. Labor strikes. Skeptical officials. Orlando did not have a major airport as it was on the verge of becoming a tourist hotspot. Again, it was Potter who kicked off the PR offensive, negotiating and cuddling and earning himself the nickname Mr. Disney in Orlando as he became the company’s liaison.

A secret project

The general had been responsible for large-scale and large-scale projects throughout his pre-Disney World career.

First, during World War II, Potter oversaw the sending of large numbers of men and supplies overseas for the invasion of northern France. And then at the Panama Canal, he was governor in charge of commercial operations and the 40,000 people who lived there from 1956 to 1960.

In the 1960s, Potters’ next task was to help build the 1964 New York World’s Fair, putting him in direct contact with Walt Disney who made his debut in Its A Small World and the animatronic Abraham Lincoln of the future Hall of Presi-dents.

In 1965, at the end of the fair, Walt Disney quietly bought 28,000 acres for something big in central Florida. He invited Potter to join him. Potter was on board.

Dad has always been a fan of adventure, said his daughter, Heine, 83. It was a unique chance. … He loved every minute of it.

Disney World had yet to be officially announced, so his family has kept his new role as vice president of Walt Disney Productions a secret.

He told us Walt offered him a job, but he said we couldn’t tell anyone, Heine said.

On Potters’ first visit to Orlando, he checked into a hotel on Lake Eola under a false name so as not to draw attention to himself. He looked down to see what was in front of him as he drove a helicopter to the Disney property.

I was one of the first people to set foot on these 27,000 acres and was very impressed, Potter said in his oral history.

Soon the public got wind that a mysterious landowner had acquired a small land empire. An Orlando Sentinel reporter assumed it was Disney, which led to Walts No How’s a really bad thing to say, Potter recalls years later.

So Saturday morning … I got up, I went downstairs and the title was, We Say Its Disney, says Potter. And the secret was revealed.

Walt Disneys’ dream was not only to build the Floridas version of the Magic Kingdom, but also Epcot, a city of the future.

Potter worked with him and the architect who designed Disneyland to develop a master plan for Disney World. He also traveled to speak with industry leaders to gain their support for Epcot.

The general called Walt Disney a genius, but the health of his bosses was failing.

Potter visited him in the hospital in the last few days and remembered Walt Disney lying in bed, pointing at the hospital ceiling tiles like a blank canvas to explain his vision of Epcot, said the grandson of Potters.

After the death of Walt Disneys in 1966, plans for the Magic Kingdoms moved forward. Epcot would come later. Potter, who became the first Disney official to settle in Florida in 1968, would have a lot to do.

The potters’ curriculum vitae made him the perfect fit for the job.

His inspiration for building the underground tunnels of the Magic Kingdoms was inspired by the locks and dams of the Panama Canal and used the underground space of the World’s Fair, Lucas said.

Potter also knew all about fighting annoying mosquitoes.

One of his things he learned from the Panama Canal, where people were dying of malaria, is that if you let the water stay there, you’re going to have a problem, Lucas said. He insisted to Walt, whatever we do, wherever there is water we have to make sure it’s either running, moving, or just not sitting there or you’re going to have a lot of water. mosquitoes.

Potter made sure the water was always in motion and designed the roofs of the buildings in the Magic Kingdom so that water never pooled.

Remember the general

Disney has slipped tributes to Potter over the years.

Perhaps the largest, Disney renamed one of its three ferries the General Joe Potter in 1997. That same year, the Walt Disney Co. posthumously inducted Potter into its Disney Legends Hall of Fame.

And since the opening day of the Magic Kingdoms, there’s always been a General Joes building permit in the Main Street USA window.

It was always cool as a kid to be able to look out that window and see his name on it, his grandson said. Just like a little nod. If you know about it, you know what it is.

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