Walt Disney’s Office Restored

Last year’s big news for Disney history fans was the restoration of Walt’s office at the Burbank studios and the opening for D23 members to tour. We were among the first to check out this historic location.

The suite that housed the office had been used by many people over the years (a few years ago it was Marc Cherry’s office while he worked on Desperate Housewives). The restoration was a huge effort to return the rooms (because of course Walt Disney had more than one office in his office) to their mid-century glory. Painstaking efforts were made to match paint, carpets, and make sure everything was in there exactly as it had been when Walt worked there.

Luckily for the team Dave Smith had been on the lot the day Walt died. The company asked him to photograph and catalogue the entire office, a task that paid off when it came time to restore it. Dave’s photos and notes as well as the Archive team’s preservative efforts ensured that every object is back in its rightful place. The books are even tilted the same way.

The Secretary’s Office

The keep the room from being overly disturbed small groups are led through on their tour. We started in Walt’s secretary’s office. This was an appropriate place to begin since anyone coming to meet Walt would have to check in here.

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The secretary’s domain. A ledger is opened up on the desk with a detailed schedule and accounting of Walt’s plans for the day. A state-of-the-art (for its time) typewriter for paper communication sits to the side of the desk on a rolling cart. Check out the watermark stamp on the left edge of the desk, perfect for official communications.

This was another instance of great documentation and preservation bringing history to life: Walt’s secretary kept detailed logs of his schedule so we can see what he did on any given day for literally years. There’s one log open on the desk where you can see her detailed notes.

 

 

 

In a cabinet was a display of some of the company’s Oscars. While everything else in the suite is real these are not. The reason is that the real ones are on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

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Custom chairs and an ashtray for guests waiting for their appointment. Roped off to prevent any modern-day guests from taking a seat.

All of the furniture was made custom for the studio. The animators’ desks are legendary among artists and animators for their revolutionary style and function. The same designer who made those made chairs, tables, and other pieces just for use at the studio.

Office Number 1

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Walt’s desk. On it you can see his ship’s bell (a gift from the Coast Guard), and a model of the company jet (which he never got to fly in as he died after placing the order). Behind the desk are his miniatures and photos of his daughters. 
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Walt’s custom-built piano (it’s pretty small in real life but it’s a baby grand) and a couch for lounging. There are more family photos on the piano. Walt had a lot of knickknacks, which you can see here and there in the office.
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Some sheet music sits at the ready. Annette Funicello’s got a new song it seems. “A Blue Poke Bonnet and a Stove Pipe Hat” is notable as the inspiration for Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet, an adorable animated short. Babes in Toyland was filmed in the 1960s, actually with sheet music neighbor Annette Funicello. There’s also a mini version of Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid statue. Walt is said to have wanted to do the fairy tale as a feature film but the sad ending of the Andersen story stymied him and his writers.

 

As I mentioned within the suite there are multiple rooms for business and meetings. This first room had a desk for Walt to work at but is notable for the custom piano. Whenever the Sherman brothers were visiting Walt would invite them up and ask for his favorite song: “Feed the Birds.”

There’s a seating area for guests and nearly all the rooms have similar seating arrangements. Obviously Walt entertained a lot of visitors.

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Among Walt’s miniatures you might see some familiar faces. Dormouse looks like he could use another nap. Or ten.

Behind his desk is his collection of miniatures. After a polo accident left him with chronic pain it was suggested that Walt should take up a safe hobby. His was collecting and then making miniatures. Guests often brought him new additions for his collection.

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Whenever it was lunchtime this bell was rung. It was gift after the filming of the documentary short Men Against the Arctic.

On the desk is a large ship’s bell, a gift from the US Coast Guard in recognition of one of Walt Disney’s True Life Adventure serials. The bell is notable in that Walt’s secretary used it to call him to lunch. One day he complained that he had missed lunch because he was so busy and his secretary hadn’t interrupted him. He told her to ring the bell to let him know in the future. So she did and everyone at the studios would know that Walt was at lunch.

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Don’t let Lady and the dwarves distract you, the real piece of history is this clockwork bird. I’m guessing Walt said to someone one day, “What if we made something like this but life-sized? Think we can do it?”

On the coffee table is a clockwork bird that looks like a mere decoration but was really the genesis of the Enchanted Tiki Room animatronics and thus all animatronics. This was a gift and Walt was so delighted by it and it’s ingenuity that he sought to create a larger, more life-like version. This little bird is where all of Disney’s animatronics came from.

Office Number 2

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While the first office was more for entertaining, this one is clearly for work. There is a set of cubbies in the back for Walt to sort scripts for review. Behind his seat are the books he was actively reading at the time of his death. Some were for fun but others were up for consideration for filming.
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Among the books Walt was reading were the books that would later become Bedknobs and Broomsticks. There are a few engineering and civic design books too, as Walt was trying to make Epcot a reality as a livable city.

A man as powerful as Walt Disney needed more than one office to accommodate all his activities. This second office is much more of a working office than the first. Behind the desk are some of the books he was reading at the time of his death (Bedknobs and Broomsticks is there. He optioned the film rights but never got to see it get made). On the wall are plans for Disneyland and the Florida Project aka Walt Disney World.

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How Disneyland looked as they planned the New Orleans Square expansion. Notice the Now Open (red) and Coming (yellow) attractions. 
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This is a rare shot of the Flying Saucers attraction that once made its home in Tomorrowland. If you rode Luigi’s Flying Tires in Cars Land you got an idea of what these were like. This is neat because it shows how they got the vehicles to line up rather neatly for loading and unloading: an arm that swept the floor to push vehicles to one side. Nifty!
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Tacked to the side is an announcement about the building of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) campus in Valencia. Yup, Disney helped build this college and many animators (not just Disney and Pixar) have graduated from here. Busy Bumble spent an amazing summer here in high school as part of the California Summer School for the Arts studying animation under the tutelage of animation’s legends. 

 

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A preliminary design for what would have been the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (aka Epcot).

General Electric built a kitchen in this room for Walt to use and entertain in. It is hidden behind an automated wall panel that keeps it hidden. Everything in its automated and custom-built.  The Archives staff have filled it with Walt’s necessary ingredients for his famous chilli.

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Our guide shows us how the kitchen works. The kitchen was hidden behind automated sliding panels when not in use. Whenever a door was opened lighting inside turned on. There was everything you’d want in this tiny, mid-century chic kitchen: an electric stove, oven, dishwasher, and more. Walt could have lived out of his office in the event of an emergency. Also, check out the food stash: Walt was a fan of Spam.

The suite also houses makeshift personal quarters for when Walt needed to see his physical therapist (that polo injury seriously debilitated his physical health, which was something he hid well from the public) or happened to spend too long on a project. You really get the sense that this was a real person’s second home, full of the clutter and miscellany that accumulates when home and work mix.

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A few of Walt’s personal effects: a custom necktie, a polo mallet, ID cards, even a battered sun hat. 

The full studio tour features a tour of the suite. If you are attending a D23 screening or party you won’t be able to take a look. Make sure to grab studio tour tickets when they become available and you’ll get a chance to step inside living history.

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