Back in 1969 Walt Disney World's original "fathers" probably didn't realize they were giving their heirs hell when the name "Contemporary Resort" - rather than the more oblique and admittedly less cool "Tempo Bay Resort" - was decided on. And thus for the last thirty-seven years has a resort designed to be "as contemporary as tomorrow" struggled to remain cutting edge. The original 70's aesthetic was a bizarre amalgamation of 70's pop and Mexican hacienda, where dramatic reds, oranges, yellows and browns overflowed from every nook and cranny of the place, and Mary Blair's ridiculously sublime mural in "The Grand Canyon Concourse" seemed to be the rationale for a strange Southwest aesthetic, crazy artificial trees which looked like twigs supporting a mess of broken stained glass, and the double-duty food court/arcade being dubbed the "Fiesta Fun Center". I mean, really, the Fiesta Fun Center?
With the arrival of the 90's the Contemporary was looking about as dated at one could imagine, as earth tones were no longer cool and still nobody knew what to do with the "Southwest" theme. And so Version Two of the Contemporary began to grind its' way into existence, which involved renaming the successful Character Cafe on the concourse to Chef Mickey's, overhauling the color palette in favor of purple, beige, turquoise and red, and playing smooth jazz music in lots of places. The most successful of these changes throughout the 90's was undoubtedly the building of a big new Convention space on the hotel's southwest (ironically enough) corner. Suddenly the Contemporary's clientèle changed to conventioneers, and the demand for upscale dining increased, a demand which could not be met by Chef Mickey's or the Concourse Steakhouse. In 1995, the old Top of the World dinner show was torn out and California Grill, an upscale open kitchen eatery, filled the Contemporary's highest point with gold, silver, bronze and black hues.
The California Grill is now thirteen years old and it seems its' subdued but modernist aesthetic is spilling over to the entire resort. The entire lobby has been redone in a combination of retro-chic American mid-century and Japanese minimalism and I, for one, could not be happier with the amount of good work on display here.
This isn't a real light, it's more like a light's dream of what a light can be. These little hanging lamps make the lounge area look and feel like a living Shag painting. Notice the contrasting textures of metal, wood and glass.
The much photographed entryway to The Wave feels like you could be entering Sea Base Alpha again. Or maybe a version of Journey Into Imagination's Rainbow Tunnel passed down through the years. Such a mid-grade restaurant hardly deserves such an amazing entryway.
Tiny steel beads hung in a long chains are grouped close together to form hanging walls of beads, recalling both beaded curtains and a kind of space age crazy futurism. They move in the air currents ever so gently, and both divide and, strangely, do not divide up the waiting space.
This dividing wall echoes the overall shape of the building. Notice how the tile grey accent along the back wall slowly slopes in a south-easterly direction, against the north-easterly slope of the dividing wall.
In addition to all this Disney is building a big honking tower where once the understated north garden wing was. Although the quality of that hotel has yet to be seen, it will destroy what was, for thirty five years, Walt Disney World's most remarkable and stark landscape.
Keeping the Contemporary cool and exciting is at best a fifteen year proposition, and no doubt in fifteen years this setup will look as dated to us as the last one did. But for the moment let's celebrate a revitalized Contemporary which once again looks as contemporary as tomorrow... and yesterday, as well. Good show.