My daughters are grown women now, but when the topic is “going to Disney” their eyes light up just as when they were little girls. I can’t count the times we have been to Florida’s Walt Disney World, with occasional visits to other Disney parks in California, Europe and Japan.
But before he became a destination resort and the symbol of a global megabrand, Walt Disney was a man, and one who had an interesting story. Now there is a place all about him.
The new Walt Disney Family Museum opens to the public today at the Presidio of San Francisco. The museum is housed in three renovated buildings inside the former Army base near the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I want people to know who he really was,” said Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller, who is a board member of the foundation that funded the $110 million museum.
Bloomberg.com reports that the collection includes “the 1939 “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” Academy Award featuring one full-size Oscar and seven miniature castings, a newly commissioned 12-foot model of Walt Disney’s original vision for Disneyland, a child-sized red car from the park’s Autopia ride, a book with a Salvador Dali drawing the artist gave to Disney, and assorted storyboards, a film innovation credited to him.” Visitors can also watch video clips of Disney himself and of his creations playing on more than 200 monitors throughout the museum.
The Disney family originally intended to simply bring together a few of the objects that reminded them of Walt to showcase in a small family office where they could conduct the business of The Walt Disney Family Foundation. But, gradually, the project expanded as the family came to see a full museum as the best way to share Walt’s story with the world.
Walt Disney’s grandson, Walter Elias Disney Miller, explained, "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 main collection is housed in an 1897 army barrack, and a nearby former gymnasium building now contains the Walt Disney Family Foundation’s offices, along with a 2,000-square-foot hall that will be used for concerts and other programs. The third building is a 1940s munitions shed that holds the museum’s mechanical equipment. The buildings, like many of the others that make up the National Historic Landmark at Presidio, have been empty since 1994.
The Presidio Trust, which oversees the facility, is pleased with the museum project. The Trust’s twin missions are to find public uses for the Presidio and to preserve its historic buildings. The museum helps to accomplish both of those aims.
Disney historian Paula Sigman Lowery reported that the family chose the site in part because it would be easily accessible to visitors but that what truly excited them about the location was “the idea of preserving a historic structure, putting something wonderful inside, and giving it new life.” Lowery added that Ms. Miller thought her father would have loved that.
My work regularly takes me to San Francisco, which richly deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and vacation-worthy cities of the world. The new museum adds another point of interest. I will have to keep my eyes open for an opportunity to bring the family to “go to Disney” once again, but this time in a different way.