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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.