Have you ever had a friend ask what makes Disneyland unique from the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World? Aside from size (yes, I’ve heard that Disneyland can fit in the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot) and location, there is a very big difference with the parks. Disneyland is the only Disney theme park that Walt Disney actually walked in.
This connection to Walt Disney and the history of the theme park is what sets Disneyland apart. There is an abundance of history in the California park and hidden detail. One of the most special items is Walt Disney’s apartment located above the fire house on Main Street.
Disneyland’s Guest Relations department now includes a trip to the apartment as part of the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps guided tour. It is a rare opportunity to see a seldom visited area in the theme park. It is also a very personal place for the Disney family.
The apartment itself is a very small studio. I’d assume it is under 500 square feet. The living room area has two couches that fold out into beds. There is a kitchenette area and a bathroom with a shower. There is also a nice outdoor patio area where you can gaze out on Main Street.
The apartment was photographed for the first time in a 1963 edition of National Geographic. The photo gives a rare look at Walt Disney, Lillian and the children enjoying the apartment.
In a Huffington Post article, Diane Disney Miller shares some memories of the Main Street apartment:
Could you tell me a little bit about the apartment? What your favorite part was, the important features?
It was their refuge, it was their little place. The decor, it was all little things that they picked up when they were traveling around the country various times, and it was decorated by Emile Kuri, who had decorated many of the films, including “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and it was lovingly done. It was really a very cozy, family place.
Did a lot of people get to go up there, or it was a very private place?
Very private. It was for them. It was their residence there and they would invite people up, if there were special people in the park, mother and dad would go out and they would invite them up. Early, it was during “Davy Crockett,” I remember there was some event there that day and Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen were both out there for it, and dad was looking out that window and saw them and he said, “Hey, come on up!”
He told them how to get around, back behind, and get up to the apartment and there was a fire pole in it, it’s not there now, but there was a door into the closet area that had a fire pole, like the firemen would have, and he showed it to them and said, “Why don’t you guys slide down that?” And they did! People would say, did your father ever do that? I’m sure he didn’t.
Today, the apartment looks very similar to how it appeared when Walt used it. However, the vast majority of the original furniture and personal items were removed by Lillian Disney. The story goes that Lillian and Michael Eisner had a falling out years ago. Lillian removed almost all of the original Disney family items from the apartment and from Club 33.
The Disney company has refurnished the apartment with several antiques that fit in the same time period. They’ve also made some minor cosmetic fixes like paint and new carpeting to keep up appearances. The photographs in the apartment are now from the Disneyland archives (scenes of Walt in the park) instead of the family photographs that once were on display.
Aside from the couches, the Victrola record player is one of the few original pieces that still remains in the apartment. The cylinder shaped records are stored in a small cupboard behind one of the couch’s pillows.
In front of the window that overlooks Main Street is a small table with an electric lamp. The tradition is that this lamp is always lit as a symbolic way of saying Walt Disney’s spirit is still alive in the park. During the holidays, the lamp is replaced with a small Christmas tree.
The kitchenette area was really more of a wet bar area for Walt. Although the Disney company likes to downplay this part, Walt Disney did have a fondness for alcohol and the bar was always fully stocked. The Tom & Jerry punch bowl and cups is a reference to the popular Midwestern drink (remember, he was from Illinois). It does not have any connection to the Tom & Jerry cartoon characters.
The Orange County Register has a great virtual tour of the apartment. If you play the audio portion of the tour for the kitchenette, you’ll hear about Walt’s grilled cheese maker and fondness for raisin toast.
Update: The Daveland blog has some great photos as well.
The apartment still has a unique Regina music box which is a beautiful antique. I was never able to find anyone who knew much about this item. But the Orange County Register virtual tour says this was a gift from Walt to Lillian.
It might sound strange, but the bathroom was always a highlight of the tour for anyone who visited Walt’s apartment. The bathroom was rather simple in design. The tile work is definitely from its era. The main feature is the shower with its multiple showerheads. This design was very extravagant for its day. The story is that Walt had difficulty bending due to arthritis or because of his polo injury. He saw this style of a shower while traveling in Europe and had it designed as part of his apartment.
The outdoor patio is a treat because you have a perfect view of Main Street’s town square. The lattice work gives you some privacy from prying eyes. During VIP receptions in the apartment, guests were always asked to put their alcoholic beverages in plastic cups so that the beer cans and bottles would not be visible to the public below.
If you want to see Walt’s apartment for yourself, the guided tour is a great way to go. It is pricey at $108 per person. But if you are interested in hearing some of the rich history that makes Disneyland special, and in seeing one of Disney’s closely guarded secrets, the tour will likely be worth every penny.
Photos via Dis Unplugged