While many of you may already know that Harper Goff used his childhood hometown of Ft. Collins, CO as inspiration for some of the building designs on Main Street in Disneyland, did you know that Colorado has another connection to Walt Disney and the Disney Company?
I didn’t either, until I had the pleasure of attending D23′s Destination D at Walt Disney World this year. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney World, Destination D explored the history of “Project Florida” and how Walt Disney World was championed by Roy O. Disney after Walt’s passing.
My newfound trivia was discovered during a session by Walt Disney Archives founder, Dave Smith. As Dave walked through some of the early discussions about the park, he put this image up on the screen and it made me sit up a little straighter and take notice.
For anyone who grew up in Denver and the surrounding areas during the 70s and 80s (like me!) this was an instantly recognizable icon of awesomeness. This was Celebrity Sports Center. The indoor “theme park” in Denver where every little kid begged to have their birthday party. A mix of bowling alley, arcade and water park all rolled into one, it was one of my favorite places to visit when I was young. But, what did it have to do with Walt Disney World?
Turns out that Walt Disney was one of the original group of “Hollywood celebrity” investors who started the project in the late 1950s. This group not only included Walt and his brother Roy, but also famous folks like Jack Benny, Art Linkletter, George Burns and Burl Ives, hence the “Celebrity” part of the name. The project was very successful, and Roy continued to invest in the center even after Walt’s passing in 1966. According to Dave, it appears that Celebrity was even used as a training ground for some of the management team that eventually went to work at Walt Disney World during the early years.
The Disney connection to Celebrity Sports Center ended in the late 1970s as the company moved on to other projects but the center stayed open and remained quite popular through the 1980s. Unfortunately, it finally closed in 1994 and shortly thereafter was bulldozed to make way for a shopping center.
I have very, very fond memories of my visits to Celebrity Sports Center – from my first experience on a “scary” water slide to my killer streak at the Skee-Ball machine. Now knowing the history behind it, I guess it doesn’t surprise me at all that I loved it so much – it was my very own Colorado-based version of a Disney theme park!
During my research for this post, I came across a fabulous article about Celebrity and the Disney connection on BuckFifty.org, a site that’s chock full of interesting Denver history and trivia, that’s well worth a visit. Check it out when you have some time to spend!