Tower of Terror Construction Hollywood Studios Florida

Contrary to what the attraction’s story might want you to believe, the Tower of Terror was not built in 1917. ūüôā ¬†Disney’s construction crew cleared the site and broke ground in 1992. Discovery of a sinkhole necessitated a slight relocation of the build site. Construction continued until the ride and Sunset Boulevard opened together on July 22nd, 1994. (Source: Wikipedia article)

Tower of Terror Construction Hollywood Studios Florida billboard advertising

Early 90s Tower of Terror billboard advertising the upcoming attraction. Photo credit: Jack Spence

Exterior Construction

This aerial shot of the Tower of Terror’s construction is the earliest one I’ve fond. ¬†It gives a good sense of the scale of the building – look at those tiny trucks! ¬†The gardens are just a pile of dirt, and the building itself is little more than a steel skeleton. ¬†This photo is particularly noteworthy because it offers a rare glimpse into the area between the back lift shafts and the front drop shafts.

aerial photo of Tower of Terror construction in Hollywood Studios Florida

Photo credit: Vintage Disney parks

This next photo is somewhat of a rarity among Florida Tower of Terror construction photos because it’s crystal clear!

This photo, depicting the building’s left side (which is the side guests enter and exit) was taken shortly after the previous photo – you can tell by the completed rooftops in the back and the addition of the “front building” at the building’s front.

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Scaffolding surrounds the Tower during its construction in 1993/1994. Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

This photo of the Tower’s construction depicts some roofing details on the structure’s front, details that appear to be missing from the previous shot. ¬†Few other differences are noticeable, suggesting this photo was taken around the same time as¬†the previous one.

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The lightning-scarred facade becomes recognizable in this construction photo.

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Interior Construction

Taken just months before the attraction opened to the public in July, this May ’94 photo shows the hotel’s lobby midway through its own construction. ¬†The walls have been painted and textured, and the light fixtures added, but the floor tiles have yet to be grouted and none of the iconic dusty decor has shown up yet.

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The Tower’s hotel lobby under construction – May 1994. Photo credit: Disney Parks Blog

Cranking up the Thrills

Disney legend has it that a ride¬†designer rode an early version of the Tower and said, “If my tie doesn’t fly up in my face, it’s not good enough”. A descent at normal “freefall” speed wasn’t thrilling enough, so the ride’s design¬†eventually came to feature a “faster than gravity” pull. That’s right – you aren’t freefalling in the Tower, you’re being pulled down (at about 30 mph).

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Opening Day

The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror officially opened on July 22nd, 1994 featuring one gigantic drop. Reception was overwhelmingly positive, and the ride became an instant favorite for thrill-seekers and Disney fans. Over the following 20 years, the ride was reprogrammed a few times to add more drops, rumbles, and an element of randomization to differentiate repeat rides.

Disney soon started work on a second Tower of Terror…

Designing the first Tower of Terror

The story of Disney’s The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror attraction starts around 1985. A small team of Imagineers had been tasked with creating two new pavilions for EPCOT. Those plans included something called¬†The¬†Great Movie Ride.¬†Newly appointed Disney CEO Michael Eisner¬†liked the plans so much he decided that this new ride shouldn’t be in EPCOT, it should be part of¬†a completely new park!

This new park¬†would be a “studio back lot” themed park dedicated to Hollywood and entertainment.¬† And it wouldn’t just celebrate show business¬†–¬†it would help create it with real movie and TV production facilities on site.

Disney entered into a licensing agreement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and branded the park Disney-MGM Studios. (This would later become a point of contention, and modern-day readers will note that the park is now named Hollywood Studios.)

Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989.

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But the park was pretty small, and some say it was rushed to open in order to compete with the brand new Universal Studios, Orlando, which opened almost a year later in¬†1990. To really stand on its own, MGM-Studios would need an E-ticket attraction – something amazing to draw the crowds. In¬†1989, movie director Mel Brooks, Disney CEO Michael Eisner, park designer Marty Skylar, Imagineer C. McNair Wilson and a group of Imagineers met to discuss plans for the park’s first expansion and first thrill ride.

Early Ideas and Designs

Numerous ideas were kicked around for the new park section. One early and prominent idea was a “Castle Young Frankenstein” attraction, complete with Bavarian village and drawbridge leading to the castle. This idea morphed into “Mel Brooks’ Hollywood Horror Hotel”. Early in the park’s development, Imagineer Bob Weiss had pursued the idea of an art-deco high end¬†1930’s-style hotel near the park’s entrance.

Mel Brooks left the project, but the idea of a spooky hotel had stuck. Disney’s team looked at available movie and TV licenses and found a perfect match: The Twilight Zone.

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Early drawing of Sunset Blvd. and the Tower of Terror waiting at the end. Image credit: towerofterror.org

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A whimsical conceptual drawing actually comes pretty close to the spirit of the attraction’s final design.

Technological Innovations

With Sunset Boulevard and the The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror¬†attraction idea in hand, Disney’s Imagineering team was ready for the next challenge: finding the technologies that¬†would bring the attraction to life.

AGV Technology

Transitioning the elevator cars horizontally, from the back of the attraction to the front, via a corridor scene known as “The Fifth Dimension” was one engineering challenge. The elevator car would need to separate from its lift elevator and¬†safely¬†transition from one elevator “harness” to another. This tricky design challenge necessitated the refinement of a technology Disney had used before: the Autonomous Guided Vehicle.

The AGV is a self-guided passenger car capable of moving from one elevator (at the attraction’s back), through the 5th Dimension, and into the grand finale drop sequence elevator (at the attraction’s front), all on its own without any rails or tracks. The vehicle follows a pre-programmed path and communicates with the ride control system.

It’s an impressive technology, though not immune to breakdown as the occasional hat or park map dropped in the 5th Dimension has shown.

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A glimpse at the underside of the Autonomous Guided Vehicles in the Tower of Terror.

Elevator Technology

The world’s oldest and most famous elevator manufacturer, Otis Elevators, contributed to the design of the “free-falling” elevator. ¬†Otis had spent over a century refining and downplaying the sensation of riding in an elevator, but Disney was asking it to play it up – and play into people’s worst fears about elevators. Fortunately, Otis signed on anyway and lent its expertise to the project.

Continue reading:¬†Building the world’s first Tower of Terror