Walt Disney's Hollywood Homesby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
The D23 website recently posted a map titled “Walt Disney’s Hollywood” that featured 16 locations in the Los Angeles area that were associated with Walt Disney, and brief descriptions of them. (By the way, I loved the caricatures of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse that accompanied the piece.)
In this column, I thought I might expand on the information in regards to Walt’s homes for those intrepid fans who might want to visit those locations.
However, it is important to remember that all of these locations are private property and are not tourist attractions. If you decide to visit the area, please be respectful of that fact and the owners of the property.
I am always reminded of the experience a friend of mine had more than two decades ago. He is an extremely nice guy, even to this day, and a huge Disney fan.
In a burst of enthusiasm, he decided to track down many of the places connected to Walt Disney, including the two story house in Chicago, Illinois, where Walt was born.
That house, located at 2156 North Tripp Avenue, is currently undergoing some massive restoration and I personally urge all of you to support the project, which is being done with great care and proper procedures. The people involved love and respect Disney history and I eagerly look forward to the completion of the project so that it can be enjoyed by Disney fans.
However, when my friend visited, it was under private ownership. With a huge smile, he eagerly bounded up the path and knocked on the door. An older woman answered.
“Do you know whose house this is?” he gleefully asked.
“Yes,” replied the woman tersely. “Mine!”
She then proceeded to turn on the sprinklers to drive him away and slammed the door.
Apparently, she had had just one too many Disney fans who wanted to genuflect at the site. I don’t blame her in the least and, of course, there could have been much stronger consequences than wet clothes, including a charge of trespassing.
Keeping that story in mind, here are some places where Walt lived that you may want to try to visit. All of the places have changed significantly since Walt was there, but a couple still have some of the “feel” of what they were like when he was alive.
Uncle Robert Disney’s Home: 4406 Kingswell Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90027
This is the Los Feliz location where Walt’s uncle, Robert Samuel Disney (the younger brother of Walt’s father, Elias) lived. Walt stayed here in August and September of 1923 as he searched for work in Hollywood. His uncle charged Walt $5 a week rent to stay there, and it was often paid by Walt’s older brother Roy as a “charity loan.”
On the left hand side of the house was a small wooden garage (since relocated to Garden Grove) that Walt used as his first studio.
Walt and Roy lived briefly in a one-room apartment at the Olive Hill apartments in October and November.
In December 1923, Walt and Roy shared a room together at 4409 Kingswell in a house owned by Charles Schneider. It was directly across the street from Uncle Robert, and the room was $15 a month.
After a year, the brothers had gotten on each other’s nerves. Roy decided the best way to get a place of his own was to ask his fiancé to come to Los Angeles.
Roy and Edna Disney were married at Uncle Robert’s house on April 11, 1925. Walt was the best man and Lillian Bounds was the maid of honor.
Walt did not like living alone and he got married to Lillian on July 13, 1925 in Lewiston, Idaho. The newlyweds rented a one-room apartment at 4637 North Melbourne Avenue (one street up from Kingswell), but it was much too small and later the couple moved to 1307 North Commonwealth Avenue. The entire 1300 and 1400 blocks of North Commonwealth Avenue no longer exist.
Walt Disney’s First House: 2495 Lyric Avenue, Los Angeles, California, 90027
In June 1926, with the money coming in from their new cartoon studio, Walt and Roy put a $200 deposit down on adjacent lots (Roy and Edna lived at 2491 Lyric Avenue that was next door to Walt and Lillian) at the bottom of the Los Feliz hills near their studio.
By August, they had purchased those lots for $1,000 dollars each. Walt’s lot was a corner lot and was roughly 2,875 square feet.
"We built two houses. They were the ready-cut [prefabricated] type of houses," Roy later told an interviewer. "The lot and the houses cost us $16,000." (That price was $8,000 for each house, including the lot. The construction was completed in December 1926.)
The Disney brothers had both purchased Pacific Ready-Cut homes for those lots. These were ready-to-assemble and shipped to the site, complete with knotless Douglas Fir framing, cabinets, nails, doors, windows, screens, hardware, paint, sinks and an instruction manual. All together it totalled approximately 12,000 pieces. Eventually, Pacific Ready-Cut sold more than 37,000 houses in Southern California.
The interior of the prefabricated homes was small, less than 1100 square feet, with only two bedrooms, a living room, bath, dining room and kitchen. The two houses were mirror images of each other.
Shortly after they moved in, Walt had Lillian’s mother also move in to keep Lillian company while he worked long hours at the studio.
It was at this home, in the garage, that work was done (like cel painting) on the first Mickey Mouse cartoon (Plane Crazy) to avoid prying eyes at the Disney Studio. The house was denied historic status on July 21, 2000.
Walt and Lillian lived in the home from 1927 to just before the birth of their first child in 1933 when they moved to Woking Way.
Roy and Edna in 1934 moved out of their Lyric Avenue home and relocated to 4365 Forman Avenue in North Hollywood/Burbank area.
In 1997, the interior of Walt’s corner house was in such disrepair that the owner had it gutted to bare studs, with new electrical and plumbing installed throughout the house.
Walt Disney’s Second House: 4053 Woking Way, Los Angeles, California, 90027
This $50,000 twelve-room French-Norman style house was built in the summer of 1932 in a mere two and a half months to be ready in time for the arrival of Walt and Lillian’s first child.
Walt designed the home with architect Frank Crowhurst, who worked on a tower addition to the Hyperion Studio.
The primary work force was out-of-work day labor construction workers who were happy to find any type of temporary job during the Depression. The situation was comparable to people today picking up freelance handymen outside of a Home Depot or a Lowe’s to help on a home project except that according to Walt, the workmen showed up at the actual site each morning hoping to be selected for a few hours of paid work.
“We had been living in a little place where I couldn’t turn around,” Walt told an artist at the studio in 1944. “So I made the architect add three or four yards to every room in the house.”
Unfortunately, Lillian miscarried. However, the Disneys were blessed with a daughter, Diane, slightly more a year later in December 1933.
The house was about 6,300 square feet and was originally on almost 1.5 acres. It had a broad lawn that went down a hill to the street. The location had winding, narrow and sometimes steep streets.
Walt told newspaper columnist Hedda Hopper in 1964 that “I found a graduate of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and had him paint my whole ceiling!
Walt had a pool installed where he personally taught his daughters how to swim and often invited animators from his studio to come over and use it.
“He hung this swimming pool up on the corner of this darn thing,” recalled his older brother Roy in 1968. “It’s a granite hill and we were taking bets to see if it would stand. It’s 35 years and it’s still there.”
Walt commuted to the new Disney studio in Burbank when it opened several years later by taking Riverside Drive around Griffith Park.
He had one of the bedrooms converted into a screening room primarily to view dailies (film footage shot on a particular day for later review) from his first live-action film, Song of the South (1946).
“The making of this picture was the reason for the conversion of the downstairs guest room and bath-library wing to a projection room and small wet bar. Dad wanted to be able to watch the dailies at home,” his older daughter Diane Disney Miller told me.
However the room was also used, like many celebrity home screening rooms, to watch popular movies of the day borrowed from other studios without having to go out to a regular movie theater.
She said that the interior Juliet balcony was named by her and her sister as “Christmas Tree Point” because on Christmas morning they opened the doors of their bedroom and stood there looking into the two-story living room with vaulted beamed ceiling and saw the huge decorated Christmas tree and all the presents beneath it.
She also remembered a special memorable gift from Santa when she was in elementary school:
"One Christmas, Santa Claus brought us [Diane and her younger sister Sharon] a playhouse and I just knew that Santa Claus did because it just appeared Christmas morning out in our backyard. It was this darling little playhouse.
“It was designed at the [Disney] Studio and the studio carpenters put it up. It was a little one room, about the size of a good-sized closet. It had little leaded glass windows and one of those little mushroom chimneys on it, though there was no fireplace, and a sink with running water.
“It had a little tank inside the cooler that you filled then you could turn on the faucet and the water would come out. It had a little cooler all stocked with little tiny canned goods. You know, the small cans that you can buy. It had a telephone in it that would connect with our phone in the kitchen.”
Lillian Disney, in the McCall's article "I Live With a Genius" (February 1953), also recalled that little dwarf cottage: "After Snow White came out (in 1937), it was so successful we felt flush about buying presents for the kids. The studio carpenters had spent days building a replica of the dwarfs' house for them. Then they [Diane and Sharon] started playing train with the boxes the things had come in."
The exterior of that cottage still exists today although the original interior was gutted long ago.
Walt and Lillian socialized with actor Spencer Tracy and his wife at the house for afternoons of swimming and badminton. Interestingly, these invitations were sent by letter or telegram and never by phone.
During this time period when Walt’s parents moved from Oregon to Los Angeles, Elias and Flora Disney briefly lived in a rented apartment on Commonwealth Street until their sons, Walt and Roy, moved them into a new home at 4605 Placedia in North Hollywood near where Roy lived. This is the house where Flora died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heater in November 1938.
The Woking Way house was featured in the January 1940 issue of Better Homes and Garden magazine.
The Disney family moved out in 1950 and into a new home in Holmby Hills. (A very sad historical trivia note is that Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, both victims of the Charles Manson murders in 1969, were living at the Woking Way house at the time of their deaths.)
Over the years part of the land was sold including the section with the original pool that is now part of another property. The pool that exists today near the house was built in 1963. The interior of the house itself has also undergone renovations including changing Walt’s workout room into a nursery and eventually a billiards room.
Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; Wanted) is the current owner of the house.
“This is an iconic house. It should be treated like a museum,” Bekmambetov told the media.
Bekmambetov is committed to preserving the memory of Walt and artwork, historic photos and other artifacts decorate the rooms. He is a big Disney fan and has occasionally opened up the home to private events, some from the American Film Institute and the Disney Studios (including a press day connected to the recent BluRay releases of the Disney films Maleficent and Sleeping Beauty).
Walt Disney’s Last House: 355 Carolwood Drive, Los Angeles, California, 90077
With the Disney daughters becoming teenagers, Walt and Lillian decided they needed more room and joked that this new home was their 25th anniversary present to themselves. They officially moved in February 1950.
Lillian Disney telephoned Harold Janss about purchasing a parcel of property in his new subdivision that he was developing called Holmby Hills. After viewing the location, the Disneys, on June 1, 1948, acquired a parcel of land to build their dream home, and it took well over a year to complete.
Many celebrities lived in the Holmby Hills area over the years, including Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and many others. The Disney parcel was on a knoll between Beverly Hills and Bel Air with a view of UCLA.
Architect John Dolena designed the two story split-level main house of 5,669 square feet. The home flared out into two wings on either side sometimes described as a “horseshoe type” of configuration.
It had 17 rooms. However, it was not really palatial, especially when compared to the homes of other studio moguls and even other residents of the subdivision. In fact, Walt had assisted with the design so that the rooms would be easier to clean and would be practical for his growing family.
In addition, Walt built a 22 by 45 foot swimming pool.
Beyond the pool was a two-story building, featuring a 1,566 square foot recreation room with motion picture projection equipment (so it served as a screening room), as well as a fully equipped ice cream soda fountain and liquor bar. Below the recreation room was a four-car garage and service area.
One of the reasons for Walt selecting this particular lot was that he determined that there was enough land to put his soon to be famous miniature railroad, the Carolwood Pacific, named after the nearby street.
The measurements for the right of way and trackage were done by architect John Cowles, Jr., who was also responsible for the design on the red barn on the property that Walt used as his workshop and control room for the railroad.
The railroad ran from December 1950 to spring 1953, when an accident involving a young girl being briefly burned by steam from the engine resulted in Walt removing it from operation.
“I got the power company and paid them a good price to remove or build a new power line behind me,” Walt told an interviewer so that the sight of electrical lines would not intrude on the railroad experience.
Landscaping for the estate (and the railroad) was done by Jack Evans and his younger brother Bill, whose work so pleased Walt that he hired them to landscape Disneyland.
Both Walt and Lillian continued to live in the house until their respective deaths.
Gabriel Brener, chief executive of private investment firm Brener International Group and co-owner of the Houston Dynamo soccer team purchased the property from the Disney estate for $8.45 million in 1998, a year after Lillian Disney’s death.
Brener razed the original house, telling the media that there was structural damage and a plethora of asbestos so the house could not be saved, and erected a brand new 35,000-square foot mansion in 2001. He also acquired the lot next door, adding more acreage.
He did keep the original gate, some of Lillian’s rose garden and the tunnel for Walt’s miniature Carolwood Pacific railroad which had been buried and decorated with landscaping. The entrance was marked by an ivy-covered miniature stone archway with the date “1950” (the year the railroad officially began operating) on it.
Walt’s barn and the track were relocated to Griffith Park. Recognizing the historical and emotional importance of the barn, Diane Disney Miller began the process of rescuing it before escrow closed.
With the help of Michael and Sharon Broggie, founders of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society, it officially opened July 19,1999, as part of the Los Angeles Live Steamers Museum in Griffith Park. It is open to the public the third Sunday of every month or by special arrangement.
The Carolwood Estate came to market quietly in October of 2012 with an asking price of $90 million and eventually sold for $74 million in June 2014.