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Automatic Food

The Space Bar's architecture was delightful (Photo: Daveland, from the Dick Gardner Collection)
Flying cars and drive-thrus were still in the future, but the art directors at WED Enterprises had some ideas for a restaurant in Tomorrowland. The key to food in 1986—the futuristic setting that the land of tomorrow, the world of the future was meant to represent—could be summed up in a single word. Not plastics...the word was automation.

Two visionaries in Philadelphia in 1902, Frank Hardart and Joseph Horn, pioneered an innovation in serving food to people in a hurry, and it still seemed futuristic in 1955. Workers in the kitchen would put finished dishes—a bowl of jello, a plate of fried chicken, a ham sandwich—in cubbyholes. On the dining room side, guests could see the food displayed behind hygienic glass, select it by depositing coins, and put it on their tray.

"The glass-fronted compartments and shiny, nickel-plated fittings created an impression of clean, sparkling conditions and also gave an illusion of effortlessness; all the labor went on behind the scenes," wrote Philip Langdon in Orange Roofs, Golden Arches (1986). Horn and Hardart called their restaurant an "automat." The newspaper called it "a boon to thousands of hungry business men and women."

The cubbies, glass doors, and coin mechanisms were the product of a German firm that made food vending machines for European train stations. A decade later, Horn and Hardart designed and built their own version of the mechanism for their new flagship on Times Square in New York City.

WED rendering of the StratoSnak (© Disney. Source: The Story of Disneyland, 1955)
The StratoSnak was intended to present fully-automated food service to Tomorrowland visitors. Designers at WED imagined the ultra-clean array of glass doors found at an east coast Automat, executed in sci-fi, mid-century modern materials. The art directors' lack of retail entertainment experience was revealed by Walt Disney Productions' partner, United Paramount Theaters.

Vending machines on either side of a grab stand. (Photo: Daveland)
UPT operated thousands of theaters that sold popcorn, candy, soda, and hot dogs in large quantities at high markups. Granted the food concession for Disneyland, UPT ensured that there were sufficient joints—two per land, except Adventureland and Main Street—to satisfy hungry and thirsty guests.

UPT opted for a basic "grab stand," a term from the carnival and traditional park industry. A grab stand is a 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen with a serving window. Hamburgers are grilled, potatoes fried, and syrup mixed with carbonated water in the kitchen. Soda canisters and kitchen trash are outside in the back or in an enclosed yard. Customers pay, grab their food, and find a seat at a table nearby. No waitresses, no silverware or dishes. A cook, a cashier, a utility man, and someone to handle trash in the table area—grab stands are very profitable to operate.

The grab stands on opposite sides of Fantasyland never had names, just Fan I and Fan II. In Frontierland, the Chicken Plantation Restaurant was a grab stand with more windows. In Tomorrowland, the stands were by the Rocket to the Moon and the Tomorrowland Boats, so they were called the Space Bar and the Yacht Club. (The Yacht Club was physically moved in 1957 and renamed the Yacht Bar, for the same reason Vicks changed DayCare to DayQuil.)

Cheap shade. (Photo: Daveland)
StratoSnak, the "super-automatic eating place of the future," became the Space Bar, a basic grab stand with the addition of a row of vending machines—super automation! The tables and chairs at the Space Bar were even more "advanced" than at other food joints in the park. These were molded fiberglass chairs with a table top attached (later seen in college lecture halls). The chairs were corralled by a semi-circle of planters and the hot asphalt paving was mitigated by minimalist shade squares on steel frames.

As bleak as it sounds, the architecture of the Space Bar was delightful. A tower made from a simple pipe frame held all kinds of colorful spinners and the facade was enlivened by a zig-zag made from taut canvas. The animated tower predated Rolly Crump's Tower of the Four Winds at the New York World's Fair (1964) and the dashes of shape and color were not unlike Jon Jerde's designs for the Los Angeles Olympics (1984). Not bad for such an inexpensive—yet profitable—building.
A basic "grab stand," but with kinetic, colorful architecture. (Photo: Daveland)

Everything on the tower moved with the breeze.


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