From the World’s Fair to Disneyland: Pavilions as Temples

Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp


This paper explores the visual culture of recreated temple structures in the entertainment settings of international exhibitions and Disneyland. It examines the material and conceptual construction of temple mythology in world’s fairs and amusement parks through the reproduction – or rather, simulation – of Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec, Cambodian, and Hindu structures. Disneyland in southern California has been interpreted as the hybrid descendent of world’s fairs and colonial expositions, the result of continuities and ruptures within the exhibitionary and entertainment traditions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Given this well-established link, some of the architecture in the Adventureland section of the park can be likened to the pavilions of the colonies in French and British expositions, especially those from the late nineteenth century through to 1939. The creators of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure ride from 1995 have claimed they were directly inspired by images of temples found within National Geographic magazines of the 1930s. A skim through these attributed sources of information turns up period photographs from world’s fair temple-pavilions. This paper posits that the Disney temple, then, exists as a simulacrum: a copy for which there is no original. However, the author traces its overlooked formal and conceptual precedents in American, French, and British reproductions of Aztec and Mayan temples and palaces, ancient Egyptian temples, and the Cambodian Angkor Wat temple compound. In the colonial villages of expositions, the pavilions of Mexico, Egypt, and Indochina were rendered as regional temples with archaeological displays inside them. This paper goes some way toward addressing the question: what is a pavilion when it takes the form of a temple?

pavilion, Disney, world’s fair, temple, amusement park, colonialism, Orientalism.

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Biographical note
Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp received her MA degree in Art History from Williams College and her BA from the University of California, Berkeley, with a major in Near Eastern Studies specializing in Islamic Civilizations. Her interests include Islamic art and architecture, Orientalism, visual culture, and the Arabic, Persian, and Tajiki languages.