Over the weekend Patrick and I were lucky enough to tour the Walt Disney Studios thanks to our friends Danielle and Anees. Disney offers tours of the Studio in a variety of ways. One is through Adventures by Disney, with their Disneyland Resort and Southern California tour. Another way is through the Disney fan club D23, although it is typically limited to those with the Gold Family membership. Which Anees has and he was kind enough to invite Patrick and myself to join him and Danielle.
Patrick and I had previously visited the studio, simply because, well, we could! As a Cast Member of the Disneyland Resort I was granted access to the Studio Lot and we visited to have a closer look at the Walt Disney Archives display, and dined at the commissary. But the visit over the weekend was a little different, as it was a guided tour. We not only visited the Archives, but we visited Walt Disney’s office as well, which only recently has been restored and opened to the public for tours.
The following is a pretty picture heavy post! So just a heads up!
What many may not know is that the Disney Studio wasn’t always located in Burbank. In 1923 Walt and his brother Roy started what was then called The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in their uncle’s garage on Kingswell Ave. in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Today the garage is on display at Stanley Ranch Museum in Garden Grove (I have yet to visit). Later they rented office space at another location on Kingswell. The Disneyland Resort pays homage to these early years by naming the Photopass location Kingswell Camera Supply in Disney California Adventure. In 1925 Walt bought property on Hyperion Ave. and moved the Studio there in 1926, and once again California Adventure pays homage to that location with the Hyperion Theater, which does live, Broadway-like performances of animated Disney films. However this location on Hyperion was still far from ideal. After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Walt had enough money to buy property and build his dream studio where it stands today. Here Walt created the campus like environment he always wanted, but he also had several buildings from the Hyperion location moved to the new Burbank location, likely for sentimental reasons. The Hyperion Bungalow is one of these moved buildings, and where we began our tour.
While the Walt Disney Company is known mostly for their animated movies, and they were early pioneers within the realm of live action as well, and the property features several sound stages. Some of which are named after prominent Disney stars. Stage 1 is named after Annette Funicello, as it is where The Mickey Mouse Club was filmed. Stage 2 is named after Julie Andrews, as it is where Mary Poppins and then The Princess Diaries were filmed.
Within the main lobby of the Disney Archives there are several display cases that rotate their displays regularly. During our visit two of those display cases featured shoes from various Disney movies and TV shows, as well as from the theme parks. Some of my favorites were cowgirl boots worn by Mousketeers Doreen and Annette. As well as shoes of another sort, the iron kind which were worn by the pack mules that Guests could ride through Nature’s Wonderland at Disneyland. You can read more on the Pack Mules from the Disney Parks Blog here.
The Research Area of the Archives also features several display areas, which are changed out regularly s well. During our visit it featured items dealing with the Company’s relationship with space and sci-fi, including items from Tomorrowland, films, and the 1955 Disney special Man In Space, a personal favorite of Patrick’s. You can read more about Man in Space from D23 here.
The Director of the Archives also shared a very special item, a guest book from an event that Walt attended in which Walt signed with an illustration of Mickey.
The Animation building that was built at the new Burbank location was a large, eight wing H shape designed to allow for as much natural light as possible. The building featured an underground tunnel to the Ink & Paint Building and Camera and Cutting, which limited the artwork’s exposure to the elements as well as dust, which was a big issue, as one small spec of dust would appear as a massive blemish once photographed and blown up for the cinema. It was neat to travel down the ramped tunnel underneath the building.
An additional historical note of the Animation building that was not discussed in the tour, but I found out afterward was that the rooftop was home to the Penthouse Club, a male, “members only” club. It is important to note that during these early years only men were animators, while only women worked within the Ink & Paint Department. The Penthouse Club featured a gym, complete with personal trainer for the animators, massage table, billiard and poker tables, and the men were known for nude sunbathing. The nude tanning became an issue when St. Joseph Hospital (complete with nuns) moved in across the street. And on the same nude note, there was quite the mural within the walls of the Penthouse, one done by animator Freddy Moore, and featured multiple nude women and a single man. You can read more about the Penthouse Club and see picture of the mural from The Disney History Institute here.
All of Disney animated feature films were done within this building until the failure that was The Black Cauldron in 1985. As part of the fallout of The Black Cauldron, the animators were kicked out and moved to a group of old buildings and trailers a couple miles away in Glendale, where Disney also has property for Imagineering. The original Animation Building became home to corporate offices and the remaining space was rented out to other companies. In 1990 the Team Disney Building, the corporate building for the Walt Disney Company, was built, however the Animation building continued to be rented out. It wasn’t until 1995 that Animation returned to the Studio Lot with a brand new building on property. That building however we did not go into, as Disney likes to keep things hush-hush. To learn more about this interesting time with Walt Disney Animation, I highly recommend the documentary Walking Sleeping Beauty.
Also located within the walls of the Animation building is Walt’s office, and stepping into it was a true joy. I learned Walt had two offices – a regular office that was used for meeting with important figures and signing contracts, and a “working office,” which is where he hashed out plans with his employees. The regular office also featured a piano that the legendary Sherman Brothers (known for their work on Mary Poppins an the tune for the attraction “it’s a small world”) played on.
Walt’s working office had many scripts and other papers for upcoming projects. It also had a large arial photo of Disneyland showcasing where upcoming or recently opened attractions were located. Along side it was an early concept illustration for Walt Disney World, known then as the “Florida Project.” The working office also featured a kitchen with a motorized sliding panel to hide it from view.
Walt’s office is also a treat for the design nerd, like myself, as Walt’s furniture was designed by the renowned Kem Weber. Weber’s famous “Airline Chair” designed in 1934 was a favorite of Walt’s and is obviously influential in the design of the buildings on the studio lot, with their rounded features.
We ended our tour at the Legends Plaza, directly in front of the Team Disney building. The Legends Plaza is the Disney version of the handprints of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and to be inducted is a huge honor.
For the visit I wore my Snow White and the Seven Dwarves charm bracelet, a fitting selection from my collection of Disney related charm bracelets (which you can read more about here), as Snow White was the first feature length animated film from Disney, and, as mentioned previously is what helped Disney move to this beautiful location.
The Walt Disney Studio is pretty much the Mecca for Disney fans, and something I highly recommend doing if given the chance. It is truly rich with Disney history, and still alive with the wonders that the Walt Disney Company continues to produce.
Dress: Stray Cat, Fullerton, California
Snow White Charm Bracelet: I don’t remember…
Purse: Lux de Ville