Walt Disney Family Museum
The Walt Disney Family Museum was established by the Disney family to honor and preserve the legacy of Walt for future generations. It opened in 2009 at the Presidio in San Francisco, a historic former military post. Through a series of interactive galleries, the museum explores the life of Walt Disney and his influence on American society. The museum works to educate the public through a series of lectures, classes, field trips, and workshops on art and animation for people of all ages. It also contains a movie theater, gift shop, and café.
Backstory and Context
After the death of Walt Disney in 1966, many of his possessions were stored away in a warehouse by his family for decades. Around the early 2000s, the Disney heirs began making plans to create a museum in his honor. These efforts were spearheaded by Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and her son, Walter Elias Disney Miller, who became the co-founders of the museum. They were motivated to create the museum partly due to a growing perception among younger people that Walt Disney was not a real person, merely a corporate-created mascot; it was also partly a response to the emergence of biographies that were more critical of Walt.
Because Diane and her family lived in San Francisco, it was decided to build the museum at the nearby Presidio of San Francisco. The Presidio was formerly a military post, first established by the Spanish Empire in 1776. It eventually came into the possession of the U.S. Army in 1847; in 1994 the post was closed and transferred to the National Park Service, which incorporated it into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Disney family chose Barracks 104, a brick Army barracks built in 1897, to house the museum, as the interior had already been gutted. After $110 million of construction, the Walt Disney Family Museum was officially opened to the public in October 2009. It was designated a 501(3) non-profit organization and is a separate entity from The Walt Disney Company.
The museum focuses less on the story of the Disney Company and more on Walt Disney himself. A series of ten permanent galleries traces the life of Walt Disney from his childhood growing up in Missouri; to his early career making Alice in Wonderland and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons; to the growth and success of the Walt Disney Studios; to the creation of Disneyland and Walt’s development into an American icon. The museum contains thousands of items, some belonging to Walt himself, and some collected by his heirs over the years. Items of note include Walt’s 248 awards; a Red Cross ambulance similar to the one he drove in World War I; rare drawings and cells from early Disney cartoons and movies, including the earliest known sketch of Mickey Mouse; and various Disney memorabilia. The museum also presents temporary exhibits on the history of Walt, the Disney Company, and art and animation. All of the exhibits and galleries incorporate interactive features and video screens.
In addition to preserving the memory of Walt Disney, the museum is dedicated to educating and inspiring future generations through a variety of programs. It offers classes and workshops on art and animation for students of all ages, and hosts the annual Teen Animation Festival International. It also hosts talks and lectures by Disney animators, artists, Imagineers, and historians. Classic Disney films and new short films are screened regularly in the museum’s 114-seat theater.
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“History of the Presidio.” Presidio Trust. Accessed April 24, 2018. https://www.presidio.gov/visit/history-of-the-presidio
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McMannis, Sam. “Discoveries: Walt Disney Family Museum spins tale of mouse and man.” Sacramento Bee. May 2, 2015. Accessed April 24, 2018. http://www.sacbee.com/entertainment/living/travel/sam-mcmanis/article19959846.html
Rosenfeld, Seth. “Presidio museum to feature work of Walt Disney.” San Francisco Gate. April 1, 2009. Accessed April 24, 2018. https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Presidio-museum-to-feature-work-of-Walt-Disney-3246473.php
Rothstein, Edward. “Exploring the Man Behind the Animation.” New York Times. September 30, 2009. Accessed April 24, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/01/arts/design/01disney.html?pagewanted=1&mtrref=en.wikipedia.org&gwh=0FA725802DA72CDB9AC37DA51EC36DD5&gwt=pay
“The Museum.” Walt Disney Family Museum. Accessed April 24, 2018. https://waltdisney.org/about/the-museum
The Walt Disney Family Museum. “The Walt Disney Family Museum on CBS Sunday Morning News” (video). Posted September 30, 2009. Accessed April 26, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blN8WbtBydk
The Walt Disney Family Museum. “The Walt Disney Family Museum: Animating a Legacy” (video). Posted September 12, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVyLKyRsev4
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