In 1953, while working at 20th Century Fox, Wilson E. “Bill” Martin received a surprise phone call: Walt Disney was seeking help to create his new theme park, Disneyland. Eager to expand his talent as an art director and set designer, Bill readily accepted the challenge. He went on to contribute to the designs of many attractions, including Sleeping Beauty Castle, Snow White’s Adventures, Peter Pan’s Flight, and more.
Born in Marshalltown, Iowa, on June 15, 1917, Bill and his family later moved to Los Angeles. In 1937, he graduated from Los Angeles Junior College and continued his studies in architecture at nearby Chouinard Art Institute and the Art Center School of Design.
After school, he landed a job as a set designer for 20th Century Fox. He left the studio during World War II to serve as a captain in the U.S. Air Force, where he trained pilots and bombardiers. Following the war, he worked for Panoramic Productions and eventually returned to Fox as an assistant art director.
When Bill first joined WED Enterprises, now known as Walt Disney Imagineering, he and other newly initiated Imagineers toured amusement parks across the country to fuel ideas for their new creative venture, Disneyland. Using the Studio’s animated movies as the inspiration for attractions, they then helped Walt develop his three-dimensional world of fun and fantasy.
When Bill and the small group of Disney designers brainstormed together, Walt never knew what sort of wacky ideas they would devise.
As Bill once recalled with a chuckle, “One of our first ideas for Main Street was a corset shop called ‘The Wizard of Bras.’ For some reason, Walt didn’t like it.”
Walt did like Bill’s creative genius, however, naming him art director of Fantasyland. Among his contributions included the layout of each Fantasyland attraction, and, later, the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail’s course around the Park. He also contributed design elements to Carnation Plaza Gardens, Bear Country, New Orleans Square, Pirates of the Caribbean, Autopia, and Haunted Mansion.
In 1971, Bill was named vice president of design at WED Enterprises, overseeing the master layout of the Magic Kingdom for Walt Disney World in Florida. His design projects included Main Street, U.S.A., Cinderella Castle, the utilidors beneath the Magic Kingdom, and the canal systems which crisscross Walt Disney World’s 27,000-acre property. He also designed various watercraft, including the Admiral Joe Fowler and Richard F. Irvine riverboats, steam launches, and side-wheel steamboats.
In 1977, after 24 years with the company, Bill Martin retired. He returned, however, to consult on such projects as the Mexico and Italy Pavilions for Epcot Center and the master layout of Tokyo Disneyland.
Bill Martin passed away on August 2, 2010.