15 August 2008

Myths and legends of an old world

With all the talk of Pleasure Island's past and future, I thought a glimpse into its history would be much appreciated. Below is the account of Pleasure Island given to Jeff Kurtti by the Imagineers. The report, along with more notes from Jeff Kurtti, can be found on pages 150 and 151 of Since the World Began.

In the late 19th century, an adventuresome Pittsburgh entrepreneur, Merriweather Adam Pleasure, moved to the island and founded a canvas manufacturing and sail fabricating industry. The Florida climate favored his business, and though the merchant sailing industry was in its twilight, pleasure yachting discovered his superior product and his success was made.

The earliest buildings on the island were a wood-burning power generating plant (collapsed and rebuilt in concrete in 1934), the textile mill where high-grade canvas duck was woven, the circular fabrication building where sail making was done, and the owner’s residence. During the First World War, the manufacture of military tents required several additions to the mill and fabrication buildings. After the war, the pleasure craft industry expanded and boathouses for yacht outfitting were added. Before the catastrophic decline of the St. John’s aquifer in 1928, yachting clientele were accommodated in a salubrious club. Pleasure commissioned the building after becoming acquainted with the work of the Messrs. Sir Edwin Lutyens, Charles MacIntosh and Eliel Saarinen during a visit to the Paris ateliers of the Ecole des Beaux Arts.

Demand for the outfitting of luxury watercraft ebbed during the depression, and although financially unscathed in the market crash of 1929, the founder of Pleasure Canvas and Sailmaking, Inc., left the business in the hands of his two sons and embarked on a late-in-life adventure to the far reaches of the earth. Aware of the westering circumnavigations of Irving Johnson and the youthful crews of his “Yankee Clipper,” Merriweather Pleasure commissioned the yacht ”Domino” (named for his then-favorite pastime), which brilliantly foresaw the awesome J-boat formula. With his daughter Merriam and her second husband, he embarked on a series of eastward ’round-the-world voyages. T hey returned from their many expeditions with a vast treasure of adventure and discovery. The trophies eventually overwhelmed Pleasure’s comfortable Bermuda-style house, and he built a warehouse to store and catalog them.
In 1937, Pleasure hit upon a novel advancement in amphibious aviation, and became consumed with the development of a secret device. He worked feverishly with a small staff of experts in a mysterious metal building he constructed just offshore in Lake Buena Vista.

The ”Domino” was presumably lost with Merriweather, Merriam, and all hands, having been reported pitchpoled in a howling summer storm while attempting a circumnavigation of Antarctica in December 1941.

With the outbreak of World War II, Henry and Stewart Pleasure’s sail and canvas business boomed, so much so that they added several large prefabricated steel buildings to house their expanded operations. The success continued after the war into the 1950s, sail making and chandlery being augmented by a flying boat service, until Stewart’s poor business decisions and Henry’s lavish lifestyle forced Pleasure Canvas and Sailmaking, Inc., into bankruptcy in 1955. As a note of finality, Hurricane Connie inflicted near-total destruction two weeks before the creditors’ sale, ripping the roof and siding off the 1937 amphibian building and leaving the island an unsaleable shambles.


Princess Fee said...

I love the 'history' of PI - thanks for sharing it with us. It's good to think about all the work the Imagineers put into the backstory and the ambiance of PI too.

Anonymous said...

I have that book. Thanks for posting the Pleasure Island history!