Walter Elia Disney had a probable connect with the 1904 World's Fair and a definite almost historical deal with the city of St. Louis.
Disney’s father, Elias, worked as a contractor on the World’s Columbian Exposition after moving his young family to Chicago in the early-1890s. He visited the Fair, and told stories to his son, as he grew up. Supposedly, he took his son, Walt (as a toddler), to the Louisiana Exposition. in 1904. Possibly one of the reasons why Disney returned to St. Louis in the 60's.
After Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955, and by the early 1960s, Walt Disney was looking to expand with another park easily accessible beyond the West Coast. St. Louis seemed a good choice, and not just because of its geographically central location or because Disney grew up in Missouri.
St. Louis was booming in the mid-sixties. The Gateway Arch opened in 1965. And Busch Stadium was being built a few blocks away, bringing both football and baseball downtown in 1966.
As Missouri winters would have created a lengthly hiatus during the cold months, Disney planned on an indoor five-story attraction: "Walt Disney's Riverfront Square" to cover two blocks in the heart of downtown, just a few blocks from the Arch grounds and the Mississippi River.
Riverfront Square was to be the second Disney park after Disneyland, and would have attractions and features that were present at Disneyland The costs for the park were projected at $40 million, with a targeted attendance of 25,000 visitors per day.
The entrance to the park would have been similar to Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A., with one side of the street based on Old St. Louis, and the other based on Old New Orleans. Disney planned to utilize the Audio-Animatronic technology that had recently been developed by his company for the New York World's Fair. The top floor of the park would have housed a banquet hall, restaurant, lounge, and bar, overlooking the Mississippi River, in addition to having concession stands and shops throughout the park. Several classic Disneyland and Disney World attractions were originally conceived for the St. Louis park, including what would later become Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and a "Western Riverboat" ride, whose design was later incorporated into Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Other planned attractions included:
Lewis & Clark Adventure, a ride based on the travels of Lewis & Clark
A ride based on folk legend Mike Fink
A New Orleans Square based on the one currently located at Disneyland
The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, complete with the Blue Bayou restaurant
A ride based on folk legend Davy Crockett
An attraction based on the Meramec Caverns of Missouri
Two Circarama theaters, at least one of which would show a film about St. Louis
An aviary-type exhibit.
An explorable pirate ship
An opera house
Dark rides based on Peter Pan, Snow White, and Pinocchio which are now all found at Disneyland in California
A wishing well
Some of the rides planned for St. Louis eventually became fixtures at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, including the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Disney himself met with St. Louis Mayor Raymond Tucker in March 1963 to discuss the proposal.
But, the idea fizzled. Legend was that the plan was thwarted because Anheuser-Busch beer baron August A. Busch Jr. insisted that the theme park sell beer, and Disney refused to do so. Disney may have been insulted after August Busch, Jr. publicly called him crazy for thinking his park would succeed without selling beer. Disney officially backed out in 1965.
But in a 2013 account of the St. Louis project for the Disney History Institute, Todd James Pierce wrote that any disagreement over beer had been worked out — money was the issue. Disney was willing to pay for the rides and attractions, but wanted St. Louis' redevelopment corporation to pay for the building. The corporation declined to do so.