Saving Storybook Landby David Koenig, contributing writer
A visit to Walt's Barn at Griffith Park affords visitors the opportunity to view a goldmine of railway-related treasures—miniature railcars, Walt's personal tools and handmade work benches, portions of his home's backyard track, and, of course, the barn itself—his personal workshop.
But in a nearby shed, hidden beneath a blue tarp and easily overlooked alongside the glorious combine of Walt's boyhood, sits a delicate, decaying piece of Disneyland history, only tangentially railroad-related (I say "tangentially," since it could be spotted from the Casey Jr. Railroad). It's a collection of original buildings from the Cinderella Village section of Storybook Land.
In addition to the 19-foot castle, Storybook's Cinderella Village consists of about a dozen buildings in five areas: (going from lowest to highest) the Tremaine House mansion, a tight cluster of cottages next to a stone archway marking the beginning of the mountain pathway, a large cottage marked with a single trefoil, a cluster of cottages off to the far right, and a final pocket of buildings centered by a cottage marked with four trefoils and ending with a stone archway leading to the bridge up to the castle.
That fourth pocket, including the gateway arch, now rests with the Carolwood Foundation, caretakers of Walt's Barn.
What happened was that over the years, as Storybook's original structures began to deteriorate, Disneyland started replacing them with near-exact replicas. The Cinderella Village section was rebuilt in the early 1980s, about the time all of Fantasyland was remodeled.
Carolwood Foundation vice president Fred Lack speculates that the miniature village was destined for the scrap heap. As Lack heard the story, "Originally it was going in a dumpster, but an employee saved them and said he was going to repair them. He never got around to it, so he finally put them on a pallet and shipped them to the Barn." (Several other artifacts at the Griffith Park, such as Ollie Johnston's rail station and an old C.K. Holliday cab, were similarly slated to be trashed.)
Another Carolwood volunteer, animator Rob Fendler (director of the Disney shorts series Swampy's Underground Adventures), is not so sure about the dumpster story, but confirmed the worker never got around to restoring the miniatures and finally donated them to Carolwood about two years ago.
"Consisting of four houses that are joined together to form a village block, it originally sat under Cinderella's castle, just below the pumpkin carriage," Fendler says. "These are the original models built by Wathel Rogers, Fred Jeorger, Harriet Burns, and others for the 1956 opening of the attraction. They were removed in the early 1980s and replaced by sturdier versions that wouldn't succumb to the elements like the marine plywood and polyurethane resin construction of these original models. The 57-year-old structures are now in pretty bad shape with major structural failures from dry-rot and from having been stored outdoors for over 30 years; however, they still retain so much amazing detail that they beg to be saved and restored as a piece of Walt Disney's, Disneyland's, and Imagineering's history."
"The buildings are rotting badly," agrees Lack. "One is in decent shape, the others are in sad shape. The wood and plaster are deteriorating. There's like black tar underneath. Dry rot, maybe? Termite damage?"
Fortunately, Fendler has convinced Carolwood to restore the buildings, hoping fans will donate the couple thousand dollars needed, just as they are stepping up to fund refurbishment of the combine. Fendler will personally oversee the restoration, drawing upon his formal training in sculpture, casting, and model making—skills he rarely gets to put to use in the animation industry.
Formal fundraising efforts, including a dedicated website, Facebook page and the like, are coming soon. In the meantime, show your support at the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society website and the Carolwood Foundation website. Walt's Barn is open free to the public every third Sunday of the month.
Behind the Ears
Hear great behind-the-scenes stories about Disneyland this afternoon (Wednesday June 26) at 4 p.m. PST/7 p.m. EST, when I appear as a guest on Stu Shostak's terrific nostalgia show.