Last month, just before Christmas, Carol and I were in California enjoying ourselves at Disneyland. When the weekend rolled around we knew the parks would be very busy . . . much busier than we like! What else could we do Saturday and Sunday?
We had tickets for a D23 event at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank on Sunday so we decided to spend Saturday driving around the Los Angeles area looking at some of the places that would have been familiar to Walt Disney. Places where he worked, places where he lived, places where he played! We made a list of places we knew Walt would have seen, plotted them in our GPS and away we went!
Our first stop was only about two miles southwest of Disneyland; the Stanley Ranch Museum and Historical Village at 12174 Euclid Street. This historical village is operated by the Garden Grove Historical Society and is the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio. When Walt and Roy arrived in Los Angeles in 1923 cash was very tight! They roomed with their uncle, Robert Disney, at 4406 Kingswell Avenue and set up their tiny animation studio in his garage. In 1984 that historic old garage was donated to the Garden Grove Historical Society and moved from Kingswell Avenue to the village on Euclid Street.
The society does not have a web site, but when I did an Internet search the night before, tripadvisor.com told me that they opened at 9:00 a.m. We arrived at about 9:15 a.m., eager to kick off our ‘Disney day’.
As we walked from the small parking area toward the entrance of the historical village we were stopped by a lady who was stretching a flag-draped rope across the entrance to block access to the village
“Are you here for a tour?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, “we’re looking for Robert Disney’s garage.”
“I don’t know a Robert Drimbley.” she said rather gruffly.
“No, Robert Disney, he was Walt Disney’s uncle and Walt had his first animation studio in his uncle’s garage.”
“We’re closed right now.” she snapped, “This is private property you know! You’ll have to book a tour and come back on the first or third Sunday of the month.”
I quickly surmised that this lady must be either a volunteer or a highly skilled rope stretcher; she had certainly not been hired because of her people skills!
After her less-than-cheery greeting we slunk back to our car . . . hoping for a warmer reception at our next stop!
We drove north about 30 miles, through Los Angeles, to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. We were trying to track down Walt’s grave site near the Court of Freedom.
Forest Lawn is a huge cemetery, about 300 acres, and the receptionist who greeted us at the entrance gate was very helpful. She highlighted our route on a map of the grounds and gave us some very useful driving hints.
Within a few minutes we arrived at the Court of Freedom and began our brief search for Walt’s final resting place.
For a man who had such a profound impact on so many people, who left such a rich legacy behind, we were surprised at the humble family plot tucked off in a quiet corner.
We spent a few minutes paying our respects to this incredible man, then carried on to our next stop.
A quick 7 mile drive took us to Burbank, the current home of the Walt Disney Studios complex. It was a just a reconnaissance mission, we wanted to get the lay of the land before coming back the following day for a D23 event.
The complex houses the Disney Animation Building, the Team Disney Building, many of the movie studio stages, ABC Television Studios and Carol’s favourite – the Walt Disney Studio Store.
After a quick peek at the Disney Studios property we took a 2 mile jaunt on the Ventura Freeway to Griffith Park. If you’re a Disney fan you’ve probably seen that film clip of Walt, where he reminisces about sitting on a park bench dreaming of a park where parents could have fun along with their children.
That park bench, in Griffith Park, was where Walt was originally inspired to build Disneyland.
Today Griffith Park is the home of Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn. The barn was originally in Walt’s backyard at 355 Carolwood Drive. Walt had a lavish model railroad in his yard; he named it the Carolwood Pacific Railroad and in 1998 when the Disney family sold the Holmby Hills estate the barn was dismantled and reconstructed as part of the Railroad Museum maintained in Griffith Park by the Los Angeles Live Steamers club.
Like our stop at Walt Disney Studios, this was an investigative foray only. We knew that the museum is only open to the public on Sundays and that Walt’s barn is only open on the third Sunday of each month. We planned to visit again tomorrow and, since it wasn’t the third Sunday, we knew we would likely only be able to see Walt’s barn from a distance.
A quick 5-mile drive took us to our next stop at 2695 Lyric Avenue where we found the house Walt Disney built in 1926.
In fact, Walt and his brother Roy built identical homes side-by-side on Lyric Avenue.
Roy’s home at 2697 Lyric was a mirror image of Walt’s!
On our way to our next stop, about three miles from Walt’s first house, we had a terrific view of the famous Hollywood sign.
That’s no co-incidence since our next destination was the stone gates built in 1923 to mark the entrance to the new real estate development known as Hollywoodland.
The sign originally read Hollywoodland, but it deteriorated over the years, and when it was refurbished in 1949 the last four letters were dropped, creating the iconic Hollywood sign we know today.
Do you see the bus in the picture above? It’s the same bus as the one in the picture below. It’s parked at a bus stop right beside the 1923 stone gates we were looking for.
Look carefully at the picture above. Do the gates look familiar?
Close your eyes and imaging that you’re at Walt Disney World and you’re approaching the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. On your left you should be imagining a stone building that used to house the FastPass dispensing machines. On the right you should be picturing a stone tower that houses restrooms.
That’s right, those buildings in Florida are replicas of these old 1923 structures in Hollywood.
Next time you’re at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida look around and you might just find a replica of this brass plaque that has marked the Hollywoodland entrance in California for almost a century!
Our next stop was only two miles away at 1660 North Highland Avenue, just around the corner from Hollywood Boulevard. It is only steps from Disney’s El Capitan Theatre, Disney’s Soda Fountain, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards.
The building pictured above, at 1660 North Highland Ave., was purchased in 1928 by Max Factor who was the most sought-after cosmetologist in tinsel town! The building was totally transformed in Art Deco style and re-opened in 1935 as the Max Factor Makeup Studio. Today the taller portion, on the left, houses the Hollywood Museum and the shorter portion, on the right, is home to Mel’s Drive-In Restaurant.
Does the building seem familiar to you? Next time you’re at Disney’s Hollywood Studios look very carefully at the buildings along Hollywood Boulevard as you walk toward Grauman’s Theatre. In the midst of all those Art Deco facades on the left you will find a replica of the Max Factor building.
Around the corner from Max Factor was the stop Carol had been looking forward to!
Disney’s Soda Fountain, beside the El Capitan Theatre, has recently been renovated and is now operated under license by Ghirardelli’s. We had stopped at the soda fountain several times before and always enjoyed their unique ice cream sundaes, and the special Disney pin that came with each sundae. They always had special Limited Edition pins that weren’t available anywhere else. Carol was a big fan of the Soda Fountain pins and she really enjoys Ghirardelli chocolates . . . it sounded like a marriage made in heaven.
Unfortunately, the ‘new and improved’ soda fountain was a big disappointment. It had lost all of the ‘Disney feel’ and now it’s just another chocolate shop. They didn’t have any pins with their sundaes and Carol couldn’t find a single pin she wanted to buy. She was done shopping very quickly . . . surprisingly quickly.
It’s too bad that new is not always synonymous with improved!
We spent a few minutes walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard looking at the stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. These Disney-related stars are all within a block of the El Capitan Theatre and the Soda Fountain.
Directly across the street from the El Capitan Theatre is the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards, and beside the Dolby Theatre is the familiar building pictured below.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre has been a Hollywood landmark since it opened May 18, 1927. The handprints, footprints and autographs of nearly 200 Hollywood celebrities are pressed into the concrete of the theatre’s forecourt.
The replica of Grauman’s Theatre in Disney’s Hollywood Studios has housed the Great Movie Ride since the park opened in 1989 but it closed in 2017 and is scheduled to re-open as Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
By early afternoon the colds Carol and I had been fighting for the last few days were really getting us down, so we decided to cut our tour short and pick up the bit we missed when we were back in the same area on Sunday.
On our way back to our hotel we did a quick drive-by at 5370 Wilshire Boulevard and Carol snapped the picture below as we slowly cruised past ‘The Darkroom’.
The building’s facade features a 9-foot tall replica of a Minolta Camera and it has been a Hollywood landmark since it opened as a camera store in 1938. Today the building houses a restaurant, but if you want to see how it looked back in 1938 look for the replica at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s a remarkably good reproduction!
We felt a bit better when we got underway again at about noon on Sunday. Our first stop was the one we skipped the day before, at 6671 West Sunset Boulevard, the Crossroads of the World.
This one should look familiar to every Disney fan. This is the first thing you see after you enter Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The only difference is that the Florida version is a bit taller and Mickey Mouse stands on top of the globe.
The Crossroads opened in 1936 as a shopping mall and office complex. Today it is mostly offices, many of them associated with the entertainment industry.
From the Crossroads we drove around the western side of Griffith Park to visit the Los Angeles Live Steamers Club and see Walt’s Carolwood Barn.
As I mentioned earlier, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to get close to the barn or see inside, but we were hoping to see it from a distance. As we walked through the entrance gate there were other guests buying $3.00 tickets for a ride through the property on one of the model trains.
The picture shown above, from the Steamers web site, shows a model train similar to the one we rode.
We asked the two people in the ticket office if we would be able to get a glimpse of Walt’s barn from the train ride, and they said that we would see it twice, once from the front and then again from the rear.
As we bought our tickets we explained that we were visiting from Canada and wouldn’t be around to see the barn when it was open on the third Sunday but we’d be happy if we could get even a glimpse of the barn from a distance.
A few minutes later, as we waited in line to board the next train, the lady who sold us the tickets called to us through the ticket window. I went back, and as I leaned down to listen, she said, “If you go to the back of the office my partner Jack will walk with you back to Walt’s barn.”
Holy Cow! Yes, even though it wasn’t open to the public we were going to get close to Walt’s barn! We were flabbergasted! I don’t know how many times we said thank you . . . but it was a lot!
I couldn’t help but contrast our greeting today with the reception we got the day before at the Garden Grove Historical Society. The ‘train folks’ are sure a lot friendlier than those ‘historical village folks’!
As we walked toward the barn our guide Jack, who is a fairly new member of the Steamers, explained about the trains and artifacts we passed by. He told us about Walt’s barn. It’s registered as an official museum and designated as an historic site so it will be preserved for eternity. The barn is administered by a special sub-group within the Steamers organization, sort of a ‘club within a club’.
We spent about 15 minutes with Jack, walking around Walt’s barn, and taking in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area.
(Don’t tell anyone, but Carol and I actually touched the barn!)
We even had the chance to talk to a few of the other railroad buffs who were busy tinkering with their trains. As we gazed around we got a sense of what a dedicated bunch they are.
The props and detailed scenery around their track network is wonderfully done. There are a lot of man-hours, no doubt all volunteer, wrapped up in the scenes alongside those tracks!
After thanking Jack for the fortieth or fiftieth time we lined up once again for our train ride. I think the circuit took us for three complete loops around the property which contains about 4 Â½ miles of track in two different gauges.
The lady in that fuzzy picture above (shot from our moving train) had just finished decorating her train for Christmas and was taking it out for a joyride. Doesn’t she look happy?
Our train had an ‘engineer’ up front operating the locomotive and a ‘conductor’ at the rear who explained the sights and exhibits as we passed them.
There were bridges, tunnels, trestles, turntables, water towers, ghost towns and so much more . . . all built by dedicated train fanatics.
If you have a few hours to spare in Los Angeles some Sunday afternoon, take a trip to Griffith Park and enjoy a train ride. We had a blast!
Oh yeah – Jack, thanks again!
From Griffith Park we took a short drive to Walt Disney Studios at 500 South Buena Vista Street in Burbank.
It was time to ‘Light Up The Season’ with some other members of D23 so our tour of ‘Walt’s Hollywood’ was over.
Our mission to “walk in Walt’s footsteps” was certainly time well spent. We had a great time and I’m sure we only scratched the surface. There’s so much more to see!
I think the next time we visit Disneyland we’ll try to find a few new spots to visit. Perhaps we can time it so that we’re there for the third weekend of the month. That way we can see Walt’s barn in Griffith Park while it’s open and maybe that rope-stretching lady in Garden Grove will allow us to see Uncle Robert’s garage!