Note: On the upcoming RetroWDW Podcast Episode 78 – Wonders of Life Part II we discuss the arches, but it didn’t seem right to just share our findings in the podcast. This article is a companion to this episode and will prep you for the upcoming discussion which may be hard to follow at times!
We’ve all heard the story of how the Wonders of Life (WOL) entrance arch was repurposed as the Magic Kingdom Toll Plaza arch. Where did that come from? Imagineer? A book? A lazy storyteller who stretches truths? This claim seems pretty legit on the surface as it is very easy for anyone to say they are the same arch and subscribe to what I call the Assumptive Hypothesis, which goes something like this:
- They are both arches
- They both span a distance
- One appeared after the other was removed
- Different colors, but paint is easy and cheap
- Re-using saves money
- Part of something that used to exist still does
- This makes for a great story
The Assumptive Conclusion here is that they are the same arch. Or are they? In grade school, we learned the scientific method and I’m sure most of you have done hypothesis testing at some point during your education. So let us have a little fun here and test the theory that they are the same arch; we’ll follow this set of steps.
- State Hypothesis
- Collect data
- Perform Tests & see if they support the hypothesis
- Decide whether to accept or reject the hypothesis
- Present your conclusion
Ok so to start off we need a hypothesis to test, so let’s use the exact thought that is out there in the wild. Our hypothesis is that the WOL and TP arches are the same. Ok, that was easy, let’s move on and get some data!
Collect Data & Perform Tests
Ok, this seems daunting. where can we get data on the arches? Well let’s start with the easy stuff we already know and test some theories and see if they support our theory:
|Data to Collect
|They are both arches||Are they arches?||Yes||Pass|
|They both span a distance||Do they both span a distance?||Yes||Pass|
|One appeared after the other was removed||Removal and appearance dates||WOL arch was removed somewhere between August and late September 1991 and the MK Toll Plaza arch was installed by 1994||Pass|
Most folks would stop here and say, it passed the test! It’s true!! But this doesn’t look conclusive to me, so let us employ Google Maps, FL Department of Transportation Aerial photography and photos to collect more data!
- Taking a peek at the photo, we know traffic lights are 12-inch diameter; we test this theory of size by lining them up against the back of the impala waiting at the booth. Impala is 72″ wide, and we’re nearly exactly 6 traffic lights wide with the car, some margin for error as the car is closer to the camera.
- Since we’ve confirmed this, we can count the number of pixels the lights are wide in the photo, then come up with a ratio of pixels to inches, which turns out to be 1.83
- Using math, we can use our pixel ratio to find out that the stop sign in the photo is 28.4 inches, a bit off from the 30-inch standard. Hmm, that doesn’t seem right, but then when you take the angle of the photograph, what plane the stop sign aligns as compared to the light and any lens distortion, we’re pretty close. Using our ratio we find out that the license plate is nearly exact, so we’re very close but as previously mentioned there is some wiggle room here.
- With the ratio confirmed we then focus on the arch itself. Using the ratio we compute that the sign is 83 feet wide and the beams are 8.3 feet long; remember they are not in the same plane as compared to the traffic light. This length doesn’t match the Google Maps and the FL DOT map that have a measured length of 70 feet. I don’t know about you, but I trust high-tech satellites over my pixel ratio, but how can we confirm that 70′ is correct? If we know it’s 70′ wide we can correct our ratio just for the stop sign (remember that was off, by 1.6 feet) to make that stop sign exactly 30″, and then measure, in pixels the beams, and some math and viola the length is 70′, the individual beams are 7′ long. Now what about the depth, knowing our FL DOT measurements are exact, we get the depth from those aerials and find them to be 3 feet long.
Now, what about the WOL arch? Well here is a wonderful almost straight-on shot:
- Using the same theory as above we identify a light bollard in the photo. They come in different sizes, but this one seems to be of the 8″ diameter variety. Ratios and math again here tell us from that photo the width of the sign is 54′ and the beams a 4.36′.
- To verify, we head over to the FL DOT Aerial Survey from 1990 where we can measure the width of the sign. However, the tool doesn’t measure in feet! Back to google maps to get the length of the rear of the WoL building (which has not changed since it was built), using that and measuring in the FL DOT tool we make a new ratio just for that photo.
- We next measure the sign and compute the sign at being, 54.7′. The beams we then compute based on this adjusted ratio, just as we did for the Toll Plaza sign and they come in at 4.4′
- In step one we computed 54′ and 4.36′ and using the other method we got 54.7′ and 4.4′ – pretty darn close!
So what did we learn?
|Data to Collect||Test||Results||Support
|They are the same length||Use FL DOT, Photos, and Google Maps to determine the length||TP: 70 feet
WOL: 54.7 feet
|They are the same depth||Use FL DOT, Photos, and Google Maps to determine the depth||TP: 3.0 feet
WOL: 4.4 feet
Well, this isn’t looking good… Let’s do some more research and tests!
|Data to Collect||Test||Results||Support
|They have the same radius||Compute the Angle Subtended||TP: 66 degrees
WOL: 87 degrees
|The bracing is the same||Use photos to determine how each was braced||TP: Cabling
WOL: Diagonal tubes
|They are made up of the same geometric shapes||Use photos to determine how each was formed from geometric shapes||
TP: 10 trapezoids [7 feet] (or 20 triangles) with rectangular sides
|They use the same Space Truss ball connectors||Use photos to determine how each uses space truss balls||
TP: 5 connections per ball
|They have the same number of geometric faces||Use photos to count the number of faces||
|They attach to the Space Truss balls at the same angle||Use photos to measure angles||
TP: 35-degree angle
|They use a similar number of beams||Use photos to determine how many beams are used for each arch||
TP: 78x 7′ and 42x 3′
|They have the same total linear feet||Use the count of beams and length of beams in previous steps to determine total linear feet.||
TP: 672 linear feet
Some photos here for you to think about as you read the table above:
But wait! They took the entire WOL arch down, dismantled it, and re-assembled it as the MK arch!!
Now some may say oh they just cut the beams from WOL to make the Toll Plaza arch and reassembled it all. Let us take a look at the materials:
|Data to Collect||Test||Results||Support
|TP small beams were made from WOL beams||Count beams and use math to see if it works||42 beams from WOL could have been used to create 42 3′ TP beams||Plausible|
|TP large beams were made from WOL||Count beams and use math to see if it works||The remaining 156 WOL beams could have been cut and welded to make 78x 7′ beams for TP||Plausible|
|Space Truss Balls were re-used from WOL to TP arch||Review space truss balls, number of connections, and angles||Angles are different, # of connection points different||Fail|
|The arches are each mounted the same way||Review photos to see how each is mounted||
TP: Mounted at 3 points, transfer of weight through 3 poles to 3 booths
Acceptance or Rejection of Hypothesis
Well, here we are… If you’re reading this you either think I’m off my rocker, you scrolled to the bottom and ignored most of this article, or you’re salivating to read the rest because you want to go to Twitter and win a friendly bet. Going back to the beginning of the article our hypothesis was: The WOL and TP arches are the same. We used this hypothesis because that is the “rumor” or “unverified truth” that is circulating out there. So after gathering all that evidence, all that testing and math I’m pretty sure you know where I’m going with this. I reject the hypothesis that The WOL and TP arches are the same.
From all of the above, I think we can say with pretty high confidence that The Wonders of Life and Toll Plaza arches are NOT the same. Surprise!
Could the WOL arch have been cut, welded, sanded, primed, painted, reinforced with cables, and installed on the Toll Plaza? Sure; I’ll give it a nod that this is plausible, but not probable. Think about it, if you had an arch, why would you go through the expense of dismantling and reassembling it only to make another arch that is completely different from the one you started with? Angles, faces, design, colors, and mounting points…all different, and quite possibly the toll plaza has a different weight requirement than the two concrete blocks outside of the WOL pavilion. Almost certainly it is easier and more cost-effective to buy a new space truss system that meets all of your requirements and is safe and meant for the space it is installed in.
So why is everyone convinced that they are the same? Some of the facts we presented make it blatantly obvious they are not the same, but in a tweet or passing conversation, it is easy to acknowledge as truth. Your brain says “Oh look, two similar arches and this person says they are the same therefore I believe them!”. We as humans love nostalgia and “fun facts”, regardless of their validity or plausibility and it’s not often that we seek to verify what we read. Throw in the “Disney factor” and by that, I mean there is an overall fascination with history at Walt Disney World and its fan base seeks out “truths” to nearly every facet of the park, its design, and its operation. It is true that some items at WDW have been reused or repurposed, I’d never deny that. But because of this known reuse, it inadvertently helps support other theories that may not be sound in detail but appear truthful on the surface.
There may be welders, painters, or Imagineers that are out there with facts that I don’t have. I welcome anyone who would like to try to prove my theory otherwise, photographic proof is highly recommended. I’m exhausted and I think we have a pretty good case here.
Update October 26, 2022. Imagineer Tom K Morris put the final nail in the coffin:
I designed the Toll Plaza arch in 1990, so I would say no.— Tom K Morris (@TomKMorris) October 26, 2022