The Disney Studios Archives has restored Walt Disney’s offices to their original location at 3H, on the third floor in the historic Animation Building on the Disney Studio lot. They have been recreated to appear as they did when Walt Disney last used them in 1966.
The two main rooms, Walt’s formal and informal offices, will be familiar to millions of guests who viewed them as they were displayed for many years in the lobby of the Opera House in Disneyland. Some of the furnishings of the informal office were displayed at the Disney Studios theme park in Walt Disney World, and the formal office was part of an Archives exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.
In addition to the offices, the restoration includes a reception room and Walt Disney’s private kitchenette, adjacent to the informal office. An adjoining room, once used as a bed-sitting area, has been converted into a small exhibition space for rotating displays. The inaugural exhibit is devoted to Kem Webber, the principal designer of the Disney Studio.
On hand for the Monday, December 7 dedication were Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger, Disney granddaughters Joanna Miller, Jennifer Goff and Michelle Lund, and great-grandson Nick Ranieri. Great-nephew Patrick Disney was there to represent the family of Walt’s brother Roy. In addition to the family, studio personalities were also there: composer Richard Sherman, actress Kathryn Beaumont, former Imagineering head Marty Sklar, former Disney archivist Dave Smith, and producer Dave Bossert. A private ribbon cutting ceremony was held with Bob Iger and the granddaughters.
In his dedicatory comments, studio head Bob Iger said, “I’ve always considered myself extremely fortunate to run the company Walt Disney founded just over 90 years ago.” He lauded the project, saying, “Thanks to our Archives team, Walt’s office has been restored right down to the tiniest detail—a painstaking process to put everything back exactly the way it was the last time Walt used his office in 1966.”
He went on to say, “We put this permanent exhibit together to serve as a source of inspiration for us, a reminder to have a great ambition, to take bold, creative risks, to constantly innovate and push the limits of possibility, to relentlessly pursue perfection, and to tell fantastic stories that touch peoples’ hearts. That was Walt Disney.”
Iger also quoted Walt Disney himself: “There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting.”
Joanna Miller spoke on behalf of the family. She began by saying, “It’s kind of overwhelming to be back here in grandpa’s office. Dad was here for a while, and then Roy was here in this office for a while.” She warmly shared personal memories: “We did homework in there. We got to watch dailies down the hall. We’d come on weekends and drive our Autopia cars around the lot. I can’t believe that grandpa let six, seven, and eight-year-olds free on the lot.”
“I think one thing to take away from this is that it’s a humble place,” she concluded. “The design of the furniture is modern—was modern at the time he built the studio—but it’s not a big office. It’s a very cozy, humble place with things that he loved in it, and things that we remember from our childhood.”
Touring the restoration, one is struck by how personal it is. It is a tribute to the team at the Walt Disney Archives that they have managed to create a space that is both an accurate historic recreation, as well as a snapshot of Walt Disney the man. What is even more remarkable is the fact that this was even possible. When Walt Disney died in 1966, the office doors were shut, and the contents kept in place. The studio’s first archivist, Dave Smith, took documentary photos, and indexed the complete contents. In 1973, the main offices were removed and placed on display in the Opera House at Disneyland as a centerpiece of The Walt Disney Story. The office spaces were then used, in a slightly different configuration, by various Disney studio executives and producers for the next forty years or so.
According to Disney, the new, permanent exhibit is dedicated to the creative genius of Walt Disney and presents the history of the man and the company he founded through artifacts and images. There will also be rotating exhibits on various Disney subjects to celebrate anniversaries, films, and events throughout the Company’s history from 1923 to the present day.
Walt Disney’s office will be open to Disney employees, cast members, and studio visitors. In 2016 it will be added to tours of the Studio lot and Archives that D23: The Official Disney Fan Club regularly offers to its Gold Members. The experience will include a short orientation video in the reception office, tours through both the formal and working offices, and the exhibit space.