Walt Disney Museum Presidio San Francisco scheduled to open in August 2009.
In being adapted for use as the Disney Museum, the brick exterior of this barrack will be seismically strengthened, cleaned, and re-pointed, and its detailing painted. This rehab will scarcely change its appearance.
This month, workers are busy converting three historic buildings in San Francisco’s Presidio, a National Park, for the future Walt
Disney Family Museum.
“People are very surprised,” says Carolyn Kiernat, principal at Page & Turnbull,
the San Francisco
firm overseeing the project. “Their first question tends to be ‘Why in the
Two years ago, Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Miller, and her husband, Ron, asked
Jay Turnbull to design a museum near their home in Northern
California about her father’s life and work.
The family found the site ideal, Kiernat says. “Walt Disney was a huge fan of
the military and Gen. Pershing [who commanded the Presidio] in particular.” In
addition, she says, the museum building “recalls the Main Street USA in Disney
Construction began in May on the 1897 barracks, which, along with a
glass-and-steel addition, will serve as the exhibit hall. A 1904 gym will become
offices and archives, and a 1940s munitions shed will house the complex’s
All three buildings, and many others that make up the National Historic
Landmark, have been abandoned since 1994. Last year the museum signed a 40-year
lease for the federal property.
“We’re working very closely with the [nonprofit] Presidio Trust to make sure we
don’t damage or remove any historic fabric,” says Lada Kocherovsky of Page &
Enclosed by a courtyard, the new addition will have views of the
and San Francisco
“We were trying to take some cues from the historic building as far as height,
but really our approach was one of subtle contrast,” Kiernat says.
The project is scheduled to be completed in 2009.
Some Highlights from the Collection of the Future Walt Disney Family Museum
The proposed Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio will have many priceless objects and artifacts that evoke special moments in Walt’s life and career. Many of these were collected by Walt himself; others are gifts or awards, while some have been acquired by Walt’s family in recent years.
Red Cross Ambulance
One prized possession in the collection is a Ford Red Cross ambulance, similar to the one that Walt drove while working as a Red Cross volunteer in the
aftermath of World War I. Using an ambulance just like the one shown here, Walt drove officers and supplies all over northern France.
Below is an animator’s work desk from the Burbank Studio, specially designed by the industrial designer Kem Weber under Walt’s personal supervision�as was every detail of the new Studio. The desk was specifically designed for the task of animation, with such handy features as a backlit glass platen on which the animator could place his drawings as he worked.
Walt was always fascinated by miniatures, and collected them from all over the world. At one point, Walt even planned to have a miniature traveling exhibit that would have been called “Disneylandia.” This table set is an example of Walt’s extensive private collection. The Museum exhibit will also include this exquisite model of the Mark Twain, a Mississippi paddle boat custom built for
The Optical Printer
Since its earliest days, the Disney studio would often experiment with the
combination of animated characters and live action against filmed or painted
backgrounds. The special Optical Printer, designed by Ub Iwerks in 1942, offered
a breakthrough in the way Walt could blend these different elements in his
The Red Car
The sleek red sports car was one of 40 Autopia vehicles introduced at
in promotional shows for Disneyland. It was
then modified for use by Walt’s grandchildren, who called it “the red car” after
it received the addition of a reverse gear, custom hubcaps, and red paint with
The Lilly Belle
Another prized possession is the Lilly Belle, Walt’s miniature train which was
designed for his new home on
Carolwood Drive in Holmby Hills. The train track ran
all around Walt’s house. Walt called it the Carolwood Pacific. At the very end
of the train is a yellow caboose. It was built by Walt himself in the red barn
on the property that served as his workshop.
The ‘Snow White’ Academy Award
The future museum will also include many of the hundreds of awards that Walt
received during his lifetime from organizations throughout the
and around the world. One famous award is the special Academy Award which Walt
received for his first feature-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs.” The award was presented to him by none other than Shirley Temple.
In 1969, the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of a special Commemorative
Medal which was presented by President Richard Nixon to Lillian Disney some
three years after Walt’s death.
Be sure to revisit this website and see our new monthly feature “News About The
Museum” to find out more about the proposed Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio and its collection
The History of the Presidio
Today, the Presidio in San Francisco
is associated with the large military complex that was built between the two
world wars. But the site actually has a rich history that goes back more than a
It was the home to a native people known as the Ohlone when the Spanish arrived
in 1776. The Spanish built missions, houses, and a military garrison, known as a
“presidio” in Spanish. At that time, the Presidio was the northernmost
settlement of Spanish-held territory in the West, at the end of a long line of
Spanish barracks and missions running all along the coast from Mexico.
The purpose of the Spanish presidios was to maintain law and order in the new
Spanish settlements and to protect the coast from any British or Russian
invasion. The Spanish presence eventually grew to five missions and four
pueblos, or towns, in the Bay Area.
In 1821, after the Mexican Revolution, the Presidio was occupied by Mexican
soldiers. But the scarcity of local resources prompted one commander, General
Vallejo, to abandon the Presidio in favor of another headquarters near Sonoma.
During the war with Mexico,
American soldiers landed in 1846 and captured the Bay Area, including the
Presidio. Two years later, California
was formally transferred by treaty from Mexico to the United States.
By then, many immigrants had settled in and around the Presidio, including
Russians, Chinese, and Japanese.
The Gold Rush of California greatly boosted the population growth of the San Francisco settlement.
The Presidio became an American command center for frequent raids against Indian
tribes throughout the Northwest.
After the San Francisco
earthquake of 1906, the Presidio set up a huge tent camp for the thousands of
refugees made homeless by the destruction in the city.
Though hardly touched by the Civil War, the Presidio was expanded during the
First World War. But its heyday was World War II. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Presidio became the headquarters for the
Western Defense Command. Its hospital became the largest debarkation hospital in
the country for casualties of the Pacific theater.
After the war, the Presidio was the headquarters of the Sixth U.S. Army, housing
a complex of some 350 buildings. Only in 1989, near the end of the Cold War, did
the Pentagon decide to close the Presidio and transfer the buildings to the
National Park Service.
The Origins of the Walt Disney
by Paula Sigman Lowery
The following article, which gives great insights into the origins of a
bricks-and-mortar Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio, was excerpted from
the recently released
Disney Insider Yearbook 2005.
The original idea of the museum, which is a project of The Walt Disney Family
Foundation, was a little family office where Walt’s awards, memorabilia and
memories would be showcased. Walter Elias Disney Miller, President of the
Foundation and grandson of the man for whom he was named, envisioned it as a
place “where we would conduct our Walt Disney Family Foundation business while
surrounded by an atmosphere that was all about Walt and Lilly, family and
They thought of having small groups of schoolchildren visit the office, to learn
a little something about the man behind the name. But the family soon realized
their idea of an office was impractical, for like another well-known “field of
dreams,” if you build it, they will come. How in the world could their little
office/museum accommodate all the people for whom Walt Disney is important?
Meanwhile, the public’s interest in Walt Disney continued to increase�as did
misconceptions and misunderstandings about his life. Walter explains, “The
interest in my grandpa never seems to go away. When I meet people and they learn
that Walt Disney was my grandpa, usually a big warm smile comes across their
face, and they tell me how much Bambi, Mickey Mouse, or
meant to them as a child growing up. People remember where they were on Sunday
nights; they never forget crying during “Old Yeller” or the thrill of running
down Main Street
for that first ride of the day at Disneyland.
“However, inevitably difficult or misunderstood questions surface: ‘Is he really
frozen?’ ‘Did he draw all of those characters?’ ‘Was he anti-Semitic?’ ” In
spite of numerous books and films about the life of Walt Disney, nonsensical and
even hurtful rumors continue to abound about his personal life, the way he
treated his employees, and about the type of person he really was.”
Walter continues, “My grandpa was an extremely curious man, and with his legacy
the public has grown to be curious about him. Who is Walt Disney, and what made
him so successful and talented at what he did? Yet there is a whole generation
that does not know that he was a man, a very decent man: a man who worked hard
all of his life, a man who loved people, and who is much more than a corporate
symbol, or a picture on toys and video packaging.”
The family began taking steps to demystify Walt. In 1998 they produced a
biographical CD-ROM, followed by a documentary film in 2001 entitled Walt:
The Man Behind the Myth. They also launched the Walt Disney Family Museum,
a virtual museum, hosted online by the Walt Disney Company at
Still, the family felt they could do more. They returned to the thought of a
As time went on, the family’s initial dream of a small museum expanded
dramatically in scope. Its mission is to present the life and career of Walt
Disney in an honest and entertaining manner, with a museum that will fulfill the
needs of serious scholars of the man, his work, and his times.
When asked how the family will accomplish this, Walter Miller is quick to
answer. “We hope to tell the story of the man during his life, through his own
voice, his family, friends, employees, historians, scholars, and those who were
close to him. We want to give the public his life story by those who knew him
best.” He has specific goals for the project: “I feel personally that I owe him
so much, as a grandson who admires his grandpa, but mostly for what he gave to
the world in his short life. We hope the museum will give to the visiting public
an experience that they will hold onto emotionally . . . something to grasp onto
and leave with, learn from, be inspired by, and have a sense of accomplishment
and inspiration as they walk out the doors. Or, simply, to understand what he
was about and how he went about it.”
The Museum also has begun building a collection of art and artifacts that will
be useful in telling Walt’s story. Still, even more important than the images
and artifacts are the stories behind them. “The art is beautiful, but it’s more
important to get the words,” notes Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s daughter. “The
truth is so important to me. Not an exaggeration or a beautification of his
The Museum will present the story of Walt’s life in the context of the world in
which he lived. It is also the story of the men and women with whom he worked.
And it is the story of the people � artists and astronauts, fans and filmmakers,
scientists, and even urban planners � who were inspired by his life’s work, and
continue to carry on his legacy today.
Assisting the Family Foundation is a cadre of noted historians and filmmakers,
teachers and scholars. Walter says, “As my grandpa did time and again, he
handpicked the team and made it work. I believe now . . . we have the team in
place to make this museum the best it can be.”
In searching for a site for their project, the Disney family considered a number
of options. Then Diane and husband Ron Miller, who live in San Francisco, heard that
its famed Presidio was closing as an Army base and might be leasing some of its
historic buildings in the spirit of civic rehabilitation. The Presidio was once
the U.S. Army’s premier West Coast base, serving the nation in that role from
1846 until the 1990s, when it was transferred to the National Park Service as a
National Historic Landmark District. Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation
Area, it is the world’s largest national park in an urban setting.
When Ron and Diane visited the Presidio, they saw its potential as a home for
the museum. San Francisco
is an international city with great public transportation, so it would be an
easy destination for visitors. But even more important is the idea of preserving
a historic structure, putting something wonderful inside, and giving it new
life. That aspect is something Diane felt her father would have loved. And
they’re helping to develop one of the country’s newest national parks.
Walter agrees: “It truly is one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
With the Pacific at our feet and the great city of San Francisco at our door, it is a perfect
fit. I love that you can stroll down to the water’s edge, hike through a
eucalyptus forest, visit the Golden Gate Bridge, or picnic on the parade grounds
. . . all by foot from our door.”
The Museum will continue the legacy of Walt Disney, sharing not only the truth
of his life but also his passion for art, creativity, and innovation. In that
spirit, it is hoped that the museum also will become a place for future thinking
about the ideas and philosophies that infused his life.
Source: Walt Disney Family Museum