Road Trip: Walt Disney Family Museum's L.A. Story

Photographer and journalist Eric Gladstone visited the Museum and uncovered many Echo Park and Silver Lake connections - as well as never before seen images from the Disney legacy.

It might sound ridiculous to recommend traveling 380 miles in order to know your neighborhood better. But there it is: The Walt Disney Family Museum is one of the best repositories of East side Los Angeles culture, despite the fact that it lives in the Presidio National Park in San Francisco. 

There are several reasons for that, but let’s just accept it and emphasize that the WDFM is so well done it’s worth a journey in itself, That is, of course, if you are at all a fan of Walt Disney or the incredible cultural reach of his work, much of which took place on Los Angeles’ East Side.

Photography is usually forbidden in the museum (and there are as many security guards here as in a major art museum), but because of the obvious connection, WDFM allowed Patch.com to take these exclusive shots throughout.

Masterfully envisioned by the Rockwell Group, the museum follows Disney’s entire life and career, from childhood, and his first published drawings through the posthumous construction of Walt Disney World and EPCOT. But after a preliminary room covering early years in Chicago, Marceline, Missouri and Kansas City (don’t miss the display case [WD2] with 15 of his 26 Oscars), you’ll take a “train car” elevator to Hollywood, where the magic really begins. Specifically, it starts in Los Feliz on Kingswell Ave just east of Vermont Ave, where the first Disney Bros. Studio was opened [WD7] On display is Walt’s letter on studio letterhead begging friend and collaborator Ub Iwerks to join him there, where they made Alice’s Adventures shorts (using a vacant lot on Rodney St. for the live action sequences) and Oswald the Rabbit

Oswald allowed Disney to expand to slightly larger quarters on Hyperion Blvd. in Edendale/Silver Lake, though soonafter in 1928 he lost rights to the character. Here, we see Iwerks’ first sketches for a new animal to compete directly with the then-huge Felix the Cat: Mickey Mouse. An adjoining wall displays 348 hand-drawn frames of the groundbreaking sound short Steamboat Willie and another holds a massive display case of the first huge wave of Mickey merchandise.

There’s a great deal more to see of the Hyperion studio: it’s gradual expansion to nearly every bit of space available (and several adjoining bungalows), production documents of Silly Symphonies, models and expression sketches of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio characters. Also here, an interactive wall featuring several of Disney’s original key animators, and even shelves of original paint pots designated for particular characters.

It was here where the groundbreaking Multiplane Camera was also developed [WD20, 21], the most significant technology in animation until computers came along.

Disney’s success necessitated expansion to the less-congested neighborhood of Burbank, but he continued living in Los Feliz for several years, spending hours in Griffith Park sitting on benches including the one here [WD27] as his daughters rode the historic carousel and he dreamed of an amusement park that kids and parents could enjoy together.

The Imagineering which led to Disneyland is captured in the next series of galleries, but not before you’ll see Walt’s own miniature live steam train (the barn he built to house it is now in Griffih Park too). By the end, nearly any visitor would be overwhelmed by the amount that Disney achieved before his death at 65 (the first Olympic opening and closing ceremonies? Who knew?). But for those of us who live on the East side of Los Angeles, it means even more to know that so much of it happened right here. 

Ronald van Ammers August 27, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Fascinating, one of the top 100 artists of the 20th century once lived and worked in Silverlake (in the part now called Los Feliz)
Anthea Raymond August 27, 2012 at 01:24 PM
@Ronald--The coolest! AR


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