This little bitty goes back to 1990 when I with my daughter Linda, and four year-old grandson David, were among the first guests to stay at THE SWAN. Visiting Disney was always a treat, but staying at The Swan, was over the top. Expensive even then, like $200 a night, remember, that’s in 1990. This adventure was a homework assignment to write a critique for my criticism class at Parsons. What better way to experience an assignment? Live it! The fire alarm went off around 3:00 a.m. It was loud and clear . . . everyone out, use the stairs only. Take nothing. This was serious, everyone, OUT! Breathless, and in our PJs, we scampered down those stairs, Linda carrying David. Of all the warm nights we could have encountered in Florida, this one wasn’t. Chilled, we all stood with hands folded across chests for warmth, looking for fire and smoke. No, no one was naked, darn. Bathrobes were the garbs of the night. I wondered if folks kept bathrobes at the foot of the bed in case of fire? Read on, well, you’ll have to get to the end for the rest of the story.
The Swan hotel, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, was meant to characterize Disney’s belief that any architecture outside the boundaries of Disney’s theme parks should embody the same fantasy and sense of place as within the park. The clients, Disney and the Westin Hotels and Resorts, owners/operators of the hotel in 1990, plotted the development strategies of the program. Michael Graves with Alan Lapidus (son of Morris Lapidus, architect of the Fontainebleau in Florida) were committed to organizing and implementing those strategies.
The hotel is a colorful example of architectural frontality, a term used when referring to the façade. Graves had established his brand, where architecture is a three-dimensional mass, upon which all elements are hung and interwoven, like the hand-painted murals of Florida’s tropical landscapes, the frond columns, tented ceiling and the decorative art in the furnishings throughout the hotel. In the design community, Graves was known as the architect’s decorator for the iconography that identifies his buildings.
In keeping with the whimsical world of Disney Architecture, the structures themselves are designed to amuse, delight, and stimulate the imagination. Cascading fountains in giant clamshells sit atop seven-story wings of 56,000 pound, combined weight, 47 foot high classical swans, the symbols of water.
In the end, the fire alarms turned out to be nothing but a faulty switch, except we met new people and talked about this strange and funny incident. I managed to get an interview with the Swan’s managing director at the time, Bill McCreary. His thoughts were positive about this successful entertainment architecture. Because of the fake fire alarm, we were not charged for our stay at this not-Disney, but on Disney, property. Wow, what a wonderful surprise. But the Swan, a convention center, with changes not necessarily consistent to its original design, is now twenty-six years old. Things change and time isn’t always kind. Remember to check out reviews for any hotel before you choose.
Click the link below for a 2006 story to see what happened with this important entertainment architecture.
Do you have a favorite hotel at Disney?