Walt Disney’s inspiration lives on in entertainment with movies and theme parks, and now you can get a glimpse into his own creative inspiration. Walt Disney’s personal office suite, on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, has finally been restored by the Walt Disney Archives. Located in the original Animation Building, suite 3H includes Walt’s formal and working offices, as well as personal items, awards and his famous piano where many of the Disney classics were first played.
Safely stored in the Walt Disney Archives for the past 45 years, each and every one of Walt’s personal belongings were archived by Disney Legend Dave Smith and now sit back in their original position just as Walt left them when he passed in 1966. Disney allowed us to take a look inside the details of this new, permanent exhibit.
As a guest, you enter the office just as you would have in 1966, into the secretary’s waiting room. Here you’re greeted by original desks and cabinets as well as a wall of Walt’s Oscars and awards, including a replica of the Honorary Award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a prop used in the film Saving Mr. Banks.
The secondary room is Walt’s formal office. One wall is lined with books that he used for reference, as well as original books signed by the authors themselves like gifts signed by Upton Sinclair and C.S. Lewis. Walt Disney always looked up to Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, so the office is filled with memorabilia of his heroes that he used for inspiration.
The main focal point of the formal office is the grand piano. The piano was built in 1914 but the case was designed by Kem Weber who created much of the studio’s furniture. The piano case matches the office furniture, and displays sheet music just as Walt left it in 1966. Here the Sherman Brothers would play pieces for Walt to review and at the end of a long workday he’d request his favorite song, “Feed the Birds.”
Walt Disney’s family was a huge part of his life and he loved his daughters who often visited the studio. Incorporating their photos and memorabilia is a big part of what makes his office feel like home. His daughter Diane’s baby shoes serve as bookends on his desk while daughter Sharon’s photos decorate the walls.
Another key element of the formal office are the singing birdcages that Walt found in Paris and New Orleans. These were the inspiration for audio animation that would lead to future ideas for Mr. Lincoln, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.
Moving into the Working office, this is the place where plans were made and Walt got down to business. On this tour we were lucky to be joined by Bob Gurr, a Disney Legend famous for building some of the most iconic attractions at Disneyland and someone who spent long hours in Walt’s office.
Gurr explained that all of Walt’s desks were shorter than most due to the fact that he had so many ideas and projects going on at one time. He required a short table so that during meetings, they could all lean over it to see all the piles of paperwork. Gurr also explained that one key component of Walt’s desk was missing, a small triangular sign that said “Be Yourself,” a reminder for people who were in awe of Walt Disney’s presence that there was work to be done and not to get caught up in the pageantry.
Along the office wall is a giant map of Disneyland circa 1966. Here the land in parceled out into yellow and red coded areas. The yellow represented attractions to come like Tomorrowland and the Haunted Mansion, while the red showed recently opened areas like Swiss Family Treehouse and Tahitian Terrace. The map provides an interesting look back into Disneyland history.
Some of the best parts of the offices are the small details. Notes from Disney executive Card Walker about domestic grosses, Walt’s personal travel bag, as well as penciled notes to himself. Walt was an avid collector of miniatures and around the office, you get to see his personal favorites and gifts from friends and family, even a small deer that Walt hand-carved himself.
Inside Walt’s working office is an ode to futuristic 1966. With the push of a button a secret automated kitchen in revealed. One of the first buildings to have air conditioning back then, the office kitchen was also equipped with GE electrical metal cupboards. These cupboards were usually stocked with his favorite simple Midwestern tastes, foods like canned chili, Spam, and Jell-o. Walt was so busy he rarely ate and often had to be told to go to lunch by his secretary ringing the bell on his desk to remind him to eat.
Bob Gurr told tales of how Walt desired a friendly, personable campus. He insisted on everyone using first names and casual attire, no ties or even fancy cars. He was all about the quality of work and getting the best from the creative people he hired.
By touring the office suite, you get a feel for Walt Disney’s creativity. Constantly surrounded by books, toys, and music, more than anything he was inspired by people and their stories. His willingness to explore inspired others and still does to this day, and the tour is a heart-warming tribute and a true treat for fans of Disney history.
Tours of Walt Disney’s office suite begin in 2016 as part of the D23: The Official Disney Fan Club offer to their Gold Members. In addition to the permanent office exhibit, there will be rotating exhibits on display to celebrate Disney anniversaries, films, and events. The first exhibit is dedicated to Kem Weber, the architect who designed chairs, lamps and drafting tables for the studio, as well as Walt’s personal office furniture.
Check out more photos of Walt Disney’s office suite in the gallery below and let us know your favorite Disney memory in the comments.
All images: Jenn Fujikawa