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An interview with a former General Contractor for Walt Disney World

Last week I got an amazing opportunity to talk with Pete Markham a former General Contractor for Walt Disney World, and former Vice President of Project Management for Walt Disney Imagineering. In this post you can read the full interview by clicking "click here to read more of this article" above.

Pete Markham's Window on Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom.

Besides playing a huge part in the construction of Walt Disney World, Pete Markham is also a senior member of both the National Society of Professional Engineers and the Florida Engineering Society.

Upon doing research before interviewing him, I found Southern Star Amusement Inc. founder Danny Rogers describe him by saying, "Mr. Markham represents the caliber of individual we are bringing on board so that we can turn this park into a world class venue." Southern Star Amusement have recently made plans to develop the former Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans, which Pete Markham has been involved in.

He came to be a part of the building of Walt Disney World by leading the Buena Vista Construction Company, which was formed to serve as the General Contractor for the construction of the Resort. But he tells the story best so lets get straight to the interview.


The Orlando Vacation Tips Blog: So first things first, where were you born and what did you study in school?

Pete Markham: I was born in London, England. After graduating from high school I joined the British Army and served for three years in the 3rd Tank Regiment in Germany. After leaving the Army I went to Canada and then down to the US and attended the University of Conneticut for four years graduating in 1961 with a degree in Civil Engineering.

OVTB: How did you come to work for Disney?
Magic Kingdom Construction.

PM: After serving a tour of duty in the US Army Corps of Engineers, I went to work for a Geotechnical Consulting Engineer. Disney was a client of this engineering company and I was the Project Manager for Disney Projects. When work started on the site drainage for Walt Disney World I visited the project monthly to assess progress. At that time Disney only had a lawyer and Joe Potter on their payroll and I pointed out to Disney that they really needed someone with engineering knowledge to monitor the operations and they agreed and hired me as the Resident Engineer.

Main Street USA Construction.
In late 1968 Disney mobilized JB Allen Construction Company (the General Contractor who built Disneyland) to start construction of the Magic Kingdom. Each month Roy Disney and the Executives from The Walt Disney Company visited the project to review progress. JB Allen was not doing a good job of spending Disney's money. At a meeting in 1969 I pointed out to Roy and the Executives that Allen was not being good stewards of Disneys money. After the meeting, Roy Disney and the Executives went back to California. Two days later I recieved a call from Admiral Fowler who asked me if I had my professional engineers license in Florida and I replied "Yes Sir." he then asked me if I had my General Contractors license in Florida and I replied, again "Yes, Sir." He then said, "I thought so, we have just fired JB Allen and we have formed Buena Vista Construction Company and you are it. Allen is taking all his supervisory people back to California so hire the people you need, get all the subcontracts assigned to BVCC and we WILL open October 1 '71 can do?" and I replied with the only answer the Admiral would accept "YES SIR!"

OVTB: What projects did you work on at Walt Disney World? What projects were your favorite?

PM: I worked on The Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Cinderella's Carousel, Mr. Toads Wild Ride, The Haunted Mansion, Hall of Presidents, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and all of the original shops and restaurants. I didn't have a favorite ride because we were doing several at one time. They were just construction projects to me. They weren't "Peter Pan's Flight" or "Snow White's Scary Adventures."

Cinderella Castle Blueprints.
OVTB: A lot of Guests traveling to Walt Disney World for the first time remember the feeling they got when they first saw Cinderella Castle. What were your first feelings when you saw the finished piece?

PM: When the castle was finished, I was happy that we had completed a complex project on time. When I see the castle I see schedules, estimates, and problems.

OVTB: Did you ever get chance to meet Walt Disney before he passed away?

PM: No, but I met Roy every month. Walt had already passed when we started construction.

OVTB: Did you get chance to meet any other famous/ influential people in the Disney Company?

PM: I met all of the Senior Management of The Walt Disney Company, they came down every six weeks to see what was going on.

Life Magazine cover
on Opening Day 1971.
OVTB: What were your memories of opening day in 1971?

PM: My biggest memory of opening day was pushing all my construction workers, with paint brushes and paint cans in their hands, out of the park while the guests were coming through town square.


Well it's clear to see the hard work that went into (and still goes into) constructing the parks at Walt Disney World and all of the Disney Parks around the world. It was a pleasure to interview Pete, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he will do in other work in the future.

Thanks must go to his Grandson for connecting me with him.

For more tips and advice for really getting ahead of the crowds at the Orlando Theme Parks check out 175 Orlando Vacation Tips available for a short time only on the Orlando Vacation Tips Blog! Click here.

Construction pictures of Magic Kingdom.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 and is filed under ,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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