Disney Family Home
This home on Bellefontaine Avenue was the residence of world famous film animator Walt Disney and his family from 1914 to around 1922. Disney, his parents, and his siblings moved to Kansas City after spending five years in Marceline. It was here that Disney first developed a passion for entertaining and an interest in becoming an animator. Using a borrowed camera, he set up a makeshift studio in the family garage and experimented with making cartoons. Disney also established his first (short-lived) film company, Laugh-O-Gram Films, before going bankrupt and leaving Kansas City for good in 1923. Today the house remains a private residence and is not open to the public. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Backstory and Context
Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago on December 5, 1901 to Elias and Flora Disney. In 1906 the family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri. Walt’s years in Marceline are considered by many to be the happiest and most influential time of his childhood. In 1911 Elias, having failed at farming, sold the property and moved his family to Kansas City; Walt was nine years old at the time. Originally the Disney family lived at 2706 East 31st Street, before moving to 3028 Bellefontaine Avenue in 1914. The home on Bellefontaine was a simple Builder’s Vernacular style wood cottage built in 1905. Elias later expanded the house by building a new kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and a small garage.
Much of Walt’s time as a child in Kansas City was spent delivering newspapers for his father, who had purchased a local paper route. Every day Walt (and his brother Roy) would wake up as early as three-thirty in the morning to collect the papers and deliver them to each house. He also had to leave school early each day to deliver the afternoon papers. The work had a strong impact on Walt; decades later he would still have nightmares about missing papers on his route. Because his father kept most if not all of the money he earned delivering papers, Walt often worked odd jobs in between for pocket change. Two doors down from the Disneys on Bellefontaine lived Walt Pffeifer, who became a close friend of Walt Disney and later worked for his studio. The pair would often perform makeshift comedy sketches together. These early acts helped Walt develop an interest in becoming an entertainer.
It was in Kansas City that Walt made his first forays into animation. As a teenager he took drawing classes on Saturdays at the Kansas City Art Institute, and read books on cartoons and animation at the Kansas City Public Library. In 1919, after returning from a stint as a Red Cross ambulance driver in World War I, Walt worked briefly as an apprentice with the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio. There he became acquainted with fellow artist Ubbe Iwerks, and in 1920 the pair joined the Kansas City Slide Company (later the Kansas City Film Ad Company), which produced crude animated advertisements for local movie theaters. During this time Disney borrowed a camera from his boss, A. V. Cauger, and began experimenting with making cartoons in the family garage at Bellefontaine.
In 1922 Disney and Iwerks quit their jobs to open their own animation studio, Laugh-O-Gram Films. The company operated out of a building near Troost Avenue and employed eleven artists. Laugh-O-Grams was contracted to produce a series of fairy tale cartoons, such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, for a company called Pictoral Clubs. They also produced an educational film for a local dentist, and the pilot episode for a mixed live-action/animation series called the Alice Comedies. The studio became heavily indebted, especially when Pictoral Clubs refused to pay for its cartoons, and in July 1923 Laugh-O-Grams went bankrupt. After selling most of his possessions, Walt left Kansas City for Los Angeles, where he soon formed the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio and found success producing the Alice Comedies.The home on Bellefontaine Avenue was sold around 1922 after Walt’s parents, along with his brother Herbert and his family, moved to Oregon. Sometime during the 1940s it was purchased by Booker and Rebecca Young, and it has remained in the possession of their descendants to this day. Various alterations have been made to the exterior of the home over the years. The garage still stands in the backyard, although the original wood frame walls have been replaced with cinder blocks. Both the house and the garage were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The home remains a private residence and is not open to the public.
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Green, Ron. “The Roots of Animation in Kansas City.” Jackson County Historical Society Journal (Summer 2014): 15-19. Accessed June 9, 2018. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51181e81e4b04512ec820440/t/53d5510de4b02f566ee1b0e6/1406488845322/disneykc.pdf
“History.” Thank You, Walt Disney Inc. Accessed June 9, 2018. https://thankyouwaltdisney.org/history/
Karel, Victoria C. “Disney, Walt, Residence and Garage.” National Park Service. 1977. Accessed June 9, 2018. https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/78001654.pdf
KCPT. “Walt Disney’s Kansas City Connections | Arts Upload” (video). Posted September 18, 2015. Accessed June 9, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnMs-vI9ViI
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Images 1 & 2: http://www.imabloggerdottie.com/2009/12/walt-in-kansas-city.html
Image 3: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/326792516682541625/