While Walt Disney moved around a lot during his life (he was born in Chicago, and raised in idyllic Marceline, Missouri—he drew inspiration for Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland on his time there—as well as Kansas City) Los Angeles will always be the city closest associated with him. He arrived in LA in 1923 at the age of 21, with plenty of life experience under his belt: He’d already started his first animation company with Ub Iwerks and served as an ambulance driver in France after World War I. Between his pioneering work in short films, feature films, television series, merchandise, and Disney Parks, he would change the face of popular entertainment and Hollywood forever. Here are his many stomping grounds around the city:
1. Walt Disney Studios
Some of the staff moved from the Disney studio on Hyperion Avenue (#5) into the Burbank studio as early as 1939, but the move was fully complete by May of 1940. Instead of the loosely-coordinated cluster of buildings that made up the Hyperion complex, Walt wanted things to be much smoother and more efficient at the studio’s new home. Instead of different animation departments being spread out, the Animation Building housed the story department, along with directors, producers, background artists, layout artists, and in-betweeners, in an effort to encourage collaboration and communication. The fabled underground tunnel between the Animation and Ink & Paint Buildings allowed the teams to be connected without the fear of inclement weather. (Later, the tunnel and connected basement spaces were used in filming the ABC spy series Alias.) While the emphasis was on efficiency, Walt didn’t want an “industrial” look for the new lot, which at one point contained a backlot area, and still houses massive soundstages (the first of which was built to serve as a multi-use production stage and was used to film the live-action portions of Fantasia in 1940), and an iconic water tower (once home to 150,000 gallons of water). There’s so much history at the Burbank lot, it’s staggering: Portions of Disneyland were constructed at the studio before being moved to Anaheim (before WED Enterprises, today known as Walt Disney Imagineering, was set up down the street in Glendale, it was housed at the studio lot), the original Mickey Mouse Club was shot there, and films ranging from Armageddon to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Mary Poppins to The Princess Diaries to Captain America: Civil War have been shot, in part, at the studio. While the Walt Disney Studios have gone through many changes over the decades, its charm and warmth haven’t faded. (And yes, the tunnel is still there.)
2. Walt’s Barn and 3. Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round
The Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, located between the Los Angeles Zoo and the Los Feliz entrance to the Park Center, was a frequent haunt of Walt’s. He took his two daughters often and it was on a bench (one of those benches is now at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco) across from the merry-go-round where he first conceived the idea for a family theme park, which would eventually become Disneyland. And elsewhere in Griffith Park, adjacent to the Travel Town Museum (where you can see amazing trains from different eras of American history), is a section operated by the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum. This is where you can visit Walt’s workshop barn, which was in the backyard of Walt’s home at Carolwood Drive. This is where he actually worked on his trains, which would inspire everything from the Disneyland Railroad to the PeopleMover to the Disneyland Monorail. (The public can only visit the barn on the third Sunday of every month.)
4. Tam O’Shanter
Since the Hyperion studio didn’t have a commissary, employees had to find their own lunch spots, and they did so in the Tam O’Shanter, a restaurant on Los Feliz Boulevard. Los Angeles’ “oldest restaurant operated by the same family in the same location,” (according to the restaurant’s website) was also frequently used for meetings and business lunches. This “studio commissary,” as employees lovingly dubbed it, specializes in authentic Scottish cuisine. Walt loved the restaurant. If you visit the restaurant now, there’s plenty of history to soak in: one wall features a sketch by Imagineering legend John Hench (of the restaurant’s co-owner, surrounded by familiar Disney characters), while another has a photo of Disney Legends Marc Davis, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston on one of their last visits to the restaurant.
5. Walt Disney Studios on Hyperion Avenue
As far as Disney studio sites go (technically speaking the one on Hyperion Avenue) located between Griffith Park Boulevard and Monon Street on Hyperion Avenue, was actually the second Disney studio in Los Angeles. (The previous studio was in a small office building on Kingswell Avenue, where many of the early Alice Comedies were produced.) The Hyperion studio, adorned with the iconic neon that proclaimed it the home of “Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies Sound Cartoons,” was where some of the most iconic work from the studio was done: the last of the Alice Comedies, all of the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts, the early Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and portions of Fantasia and Bambi. Walt and Roy built several additions to the original property, including large buildings for animation development, bungalows for story staff, and facilities for inking and painting. The Hyperion studio would be the rambunctious home of Walt Disney’s creative endeavors for more than 14 years. In June of 1938 though, the Disney brothers would begin the process of equipping their new studio in Burbank (a few of the Hyperion buildings would be moved to the new lot). The original Hyperion studio lot is now home to a grocery store, but there’s a photo inside the store of the original facility and the site was deemed “a historical-cultural monument” in 1976. The Hyperion name lives on in a number of ways, too, including the Hyperion Books division of Disney Publishing Worldwide and the Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure, current home to the spectacular Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.
6. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Opening in May of 1927, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now the TCL Chinese Theatre) was the passion project of Sid Grauman, who had also constructed the Egyptian Theater and was a friend of Walt Disney’s. The Chinese Theatre is where the first color Silly Symphony, “Flowers and Trees,” premiered. It was a sensation. “When ‘Flowers and Trees’ appeared at the Chinese, in July 1932, it created the sensation that Walt had hoped for. [It] got as many bookings as the hottest Mickey Mouse cartoon. Walt decreed that all future Symphonies would be in color,” Bob Thomas wrote in his book Walt Disney: An American Original. The theater was home to the premiere of Mary Poppins (as dramatized in Saving Mr. Banks), and The Jungle Book (1967) among many others, and a replica of the theatre in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World holds the iconic Great Movie Ride attraction. Also of note: In the early ‘80s, Donald Duck appeared with Clarence “Ducky” Nash to add his signature foot and handprints outside the theatre, as part of Donald’s 50th anniversary celebration.
7. Walt Disney’s Last House
Walt lived in a number of homes in Los Angeles–his uncle Robert’s, a small house he built next door to Roy’s on Lyric Avenue, and a 12-room house on Woking Way–but the most famous house Walt lived in was the house on Carolwood Drive, in the Holmby Hills section of town. The parcel of land was purchased in 1948, and construction of the house (in between Beverly Hills and Bel Air, overlooking the UCLA campus) took over a year to complete, with Walt and his family finally moving in in 1950. Architect John Dolena designed the 17-room home. The house had a swimming pool, a 1,566 square foot recreation room with motion picture projection equipment, and a ice cream soda fountain. But the biggest draw to the house was the Carolwood Pacific, Walt’s miniature railroad, that ran along the perimeter of the property and included tunnels and tracks at different elevations. (All of these schematics, by the way, can be glimpsed at Walt’s barn at Griffith Park.) Walt told reporters that he got the power company to move existing electrical lines, so as not to obstruct the view from his train. And the two men whom he had helping him design the track and executing its layout, Jack and Bill Evans, later did the same thing at Disneyland.
8. Hollywood Walk of Fame
The famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, which celebrates the entertainment industry’s brightest stars (through literal stars embedded in the sidewalk—more than 2,500 of them), stretches for more than 15 blocks on Hollywood Boulevard, plus another three blocks of Vine Street. And while there are plenty of Disney characters honored there (Mickey Mouse was actually the first fictional character to be honored on the Walk in 1978), both Walt Disney and Roy O. Disney have their own piece of the legendary celebrity crawl. Walt was actually awarded two stars on the same day–February 8, 1960. One (at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard) for film, the other (6747 Hollywood Boulevard) for television. Roy’s was posthumously awarded on June 24, 1998 (at 6833 Hollywood Boulevard).
9. Carthay Circle Theater
Designed by architect Dwight Gibbs and opened in 1926, the 1,500-seat theater was the home to some of the biggest premieres of Walt Disney’s career. In 1929, after facing resistance from more conservative theaters, Disney premiered “The Skeleton Dance” (the first Silly Symphony) there. In 1937 he premiered his first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the theater. And in 1940 Fantasia played at the Carthay Circle. (For Fantasia’s exhibition the theater was outfitted with Fantasound, a cutting-edge audio system that accompanied the film, involving different channels of audio that were played on separate speakers.) And while the theater was demolished in 1969, it lives on in a pair of Walt Disney-affiliated locations: At Disney California Adventure it was resurrected as the Carthay Circle Restaurant, one of the very best places to have a relaxing meal in that Park; in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida, as a gift shop.
When Walt first started thinking about an all-ages theme park, he initially thought of locating it either at the Walt Disney Studios lot or near to it (roughly where the current Walt Disney Animation Studios/ABC buildings are today). When that idea didn’t prove feasible, Walt doubled down on research, studied other, similar parks around the world, and hired Harrison “Buzz” Price, a research economist from Stanford Research Institute. “His ideas, which spread widely and created the basis for my 50-year consulting career, included custom stage-set design, clean, safe landscaped park environments, seven to eight hour stays, the concept of a visitor as a guest,” Price, now a Disney Legend, would later write. Walt then picked out 160 acres of what was then mostly orange groves in Orange County, California, southeast of Los Angeles. Anaheim would be the site of Disneyland, which began being cleared on July 21, 1954, with earthmoving starting on August 30, 1954, and would open less than a year later. As we all know, Disneyland is still entertaining guests of all ages, more than 60 years later.
This week, Disney Style is celebrating Los Angeles and the multiple forms of Disney street fashion to be found here. Take a look:
Have you been to any famous LA locations that are tied to Walt Disney?