A couple of months ago, my marriage to Patrick paid off in a big way when his cousin invited me on a private tour of Walt Disney’s newly refurbished office suite on the Disney lot in Burbank. Although we’d seen some of its contents displayed at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios over the years, I was excited to see the complete office re-created in its original location on the lot, almost exactly as Dave Smith found it when he created his now-legendary catalog of every single item in it, down to the Kleenex box! The suite is only open to Disney cast members, studio visitors, and the occasional D23 Gold Member tour.
Patrick’s cousin John Bengston is the foremost authority on the filming locations of movie greats Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and this gets him invited to a lot of nifty events. One of his friends is an executive at the Walt Disney Company, and he generously allowed John to bring me along to lunch at Disney’s executive dining room, The Rotunda, and a private tour. We were joined by the owner of a preeminent collection of historic Hollywood photographs and one of the writers of The Lion King. Needless to say, I didn’t even try to make conversation at lunch!
The Rotunda is located atop the Michael Graves’-designed and rather over-named Team Disney – The Michael D. Eisner Building, a.k.a. The Seven Dwarfs Building. The pergola on the right is part of Disney Legends Plaza. (I have a complete tour of the Disney Lot here, if you’re curious!)
You can see one of the windows of Walt’s office suite on the top floor here…
We checked in at security and were let up to the top floor, where our host was to meet us in the elevator lobby. Check out this view from one of the conference rooms up there!
Access to the executive dining room in The Rotunda is limited to those at the Director level and above. I tried, Dear Reader, to get permission to photograph The Rotunda for you. I even took my patented “Ask a different cast member, get a different answer” approach, but no luck. Somehow, this person was able to shoot inside The Rotunda, though, so if you’re interested in the interior, check out that report. She even ordered the same meal I did!
Or just close your eyes and imagine you’re inside a Michael Graves teapot. If you remember what the interior of the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel looked like before its blandification… it’s like that!
After lunch we ambled over to the old Animation Building (which is now offices rented out to various production companies). Walt’s office is actually a suite of five rooms, all behind these doors.
Immediately on the left when you enter is a room that is now used for a rotating display of artifacts. We’re going to work our way through the suite clockwise, so we’ll get to that room last.
A niche holds a model of Blaine Gibson’s Partners statue for the Hub at Disneyland, which has subsequently been re-created at all but the Chinese Disney parks.
The doorway at the end of the hall leads to Walt’s secretary’s nook. To the immediate left, out of frame, is a small security office where we were instructed to leave our bags. A guide from the Disney Archives joined us to lead the tour.
I was excited to discover the original Millard Sheets painting of Sleeping Beauty Castle, done for United Airlines. We picked up a reproduction at Van Eaton Gallery’s Disneyana auction, last year.
I gotta be honest with you. I was so preoccupied with snapping hundreds of photos that I only listened to the tour with one ear. So I apologize that I don’t have more descriptions and trivia to go with all these photos. Also, because it was an unstructured, private tour, the guide didn’t seem to have a spiel like you’d get on a D23 tour. She’d give a brief description of the purpose of each room and then ask if we had any questions. One other bummer was that the stanchions were still up from the previous weekend’s tour—apparently private tours normally have more run of the place than D23 tours, or at least the chance to get stanchion-free shots!
As I recall, most of the things in Walt’s secretary’s nook are not original, and several came from the set of Saving Mr. Banks.
However, they do have Walt’s original appointment book on display. I turned the photo right-side up so maybe you can read it better!
Full disclosure: I turned this photo right-side up too!
These are reproductions of Walt’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Oscars. The originals are at the Walt Disney Family Museum.
These awards are real, though!
Walt’s Formal Office
Because I took sooooo many photos, I’m breaking this report up into a few parts. This part will focus on Walt Disney’s formal office, the place where he received visitors. Although both offices were partially re-created together at Disneyland years ago, they’ve mostly been on separate coasts for the last decade or so. It was very cool to see them back together, and how they flowed into each other.
When you enter, the seating area and piano are on the right. This is THE piano, the one Richard Sherman would play for Walt on Friday afternoons. You hear that story a lot, the one about how Walt would tell Sherman simply, “Play it,” and he’d launch into Walt’s favorite song, “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins. But it gets me every time. And this is the place!
Back in the corner, above the sofa (and unfortunately out of decent focal length for my lens) is THE mechanical songbird Walt & Lillian picked up in New Orleans, which ignited Walt’s passion for what eventually became AudioAnimatronics!
Another one sits on the coffee table.
Looking back toward the entrance…
I can imagine Walt hollering through this door at his secretary, Tommie, when he needed something!
An antique praxinoscope, the successor to the zoetrope.
On your left as you enter the office is Walt’s formal desk.
I spy… Mary Poppins.
His daughter’s bronzed baby shoes!
A model of Walt’s plane.
Tommie rang this bell every day at 12:30pm to remind Walt it was lunchtime!
I give you… The Curtains! You know, just in case you’re trying to replicate Walt’s office at home…
I adore these portraits of Diane and Sharon. It reminds you how much Walt doted on them, in contrast to his sometimes stern demeanor with employees.
Let’s see what Walt was reading in those days…
A Mousecar Award…
….and The Little Mermaid!
Next time: Stepping through this door into Walt’s Working Office!