Well, a few of us can rest easy now!
When I posted Park Mystery #2, I had no idea that anybody would even care about my interest in windows, let alone that it would cause certain podcast hosts to investigate said area, let alone get several responses that started to lead me down the right path! So suffice to say I was quite thrilled, happily investigating the existence of a photo drop off location there, until I hit a dead end.
Maps of the Magic Kingdom from the late 80's do indeed show a photo dropoff location there, but the icon is placed in such a way that it could also be referring to The Crow's Nest, which has always been a Kodak location, and is less than fifteen feet away from the windows. So, I was stuck. The Crow's Nest was built sometime in the late 80's, so if I could pinpoint the opening of that building, then crosscheck a guidemap which predates that building's existence and find the same photo dropoff icon, then that's proof that the windows were for photo dropoff, right?
Well, thankfully I had made some inquiries and ultimatley ended up saving myself a lot of time.
Mike Lee's incomparable Widen Your World, some of the first and best writing I found on Walt Disney World in the early days of my burgeoning interest, has had for some time now an increasingly complex and accurate list of changes to the Magic Kingdom's original form, and I figured if anybody would know what those windows were used for, it would be him. So imagine my delight when I received:
"Your question about the Lafitte's Portrait Deck windows is great, and made me want to give you the most comprehensive answer possible. At some point, however, I have to decide how many days or weeks I should wait before responding... So here's a kind-of answer: My brother worked at LPD and was also able to corroborate my recollections of the Arcade. The windows - at least the part that made them real i.e., holes in the wall - were added when the arcade closed down and was converted to the photo operation in 1980. Prior to that I believe there were false windows on the exterior, similar to those lining the wall between the Pirates exit doors and the restrooms to the west. The Arcade / Caverna de los Piratas had no windows. Commercial transactions within LPD took place at a south-facing register, not at the windows themselves which were there primarily to display sample photos and raise awareness as to what was inside. Ice cream was not sold there, nor was LPD a drop-off point for film processing or even Mickey's Film Express service."
And shortly thereafter, photos arrived, taken in the mid-90's.
Of course now that I have a visual prompt I can remember that shop interior and exterior propping, and feel slightly foolish, but then what are blogs for if not to make the author feel foolish?
In all seriousness I'm very happy to finally have an answer to something which has literally been bothering me for years, so cheers to Mike and send roses to Widen Your World. Much of the history and devolpment of The Magic Kingdom is still unknown, not in broader strokes but in smaller ones, and pending a big new WDI authorized book on the park like a triple-thickness Jason Surrell book like his excellent Mansion and Pirates entries, committing as much of this sort of information to the public sphere is about as valuable a persuit as I think I can spend my time on. So I feel rather accomplished today.
Having gleaned this information, I began asking around about the Portrait Deck, and eventually spoke to a Cast Member who worked there when it was a break room. He revealed to me that around 2003, WDI planned to turn the location into a photo area with Captain Hook and Smee, and relatively cost effectively, as the old Portrait Deck backdrop did (and supposedly still does) exist. However, the company that was hired to remove the still-existent deck and wheel accidentally tore down most of what was meant to stay (colorblind tractor drivers, anyone?) and the money to rebuild never materialized henceforth.
Thanks also to Alison of Walt Dated World, who helped me in my initial research into The Crow's Nest.