Walt Disney's original office on the studio lot was restored to painstaking authenticity and detail in 2015. Tours are open to Disney employees by lottery. I got in.
Walt built his ideal production studio in 1940 and occupied suite 3H of the main animation building until his death in 1966. The Disney Archives Department was created with its first task of documenting and preserving the contents of the office. Most everything was saved from work papers, collectibles, and awards, to the paperclips and box of tissues.
The office was occupied by Disney's successors up to the 1990s, and then by various film producers. Through those decades, the space had been remodeled multiple times, so archivists referred to their extensive photo documentation to recreate it in Walt's vision, placing his things where he had kept them.
We were able to shoot and share photos, but could not take video. Let me show you around.
Inside the original animation building (now occupied by company administrators) on the third floor, the hallway is dedicated to Walt's legacy in photo after photo of him building his empire. Outside his office is a modern waiting area designed with a touch of the classism of the office within, and with a photo of Walt at his desk. I felt giddy waiting to go in.
Before entering Walt's personal space was a reception area where visitors were met by his two lines of defense - a receptionist and two secretaries. This area was only partially restored to its original glory.
There was a single simple secretary's desk, and other original furniture designed specifically for the office. Designer Kem Weber was the principal architect of the studio and is credited for creating most of the original furniture.
On the secretary's desk was an original appointment book open to a date in April 1966, the year of Walt Disney's passing. He died on December 15th. Most people could only get into Walt's office by appointment only.
Visitors were also greeted by an extensive trophy cabinet showcasing Walt's greatest awards. Most here were original awards but some, like the Academy Awards, were replicas as the originals are in the Disney family museum.
Walt Disney's Double Offices
He held two adjoined offices, a "formal office" and a "working office". The formal office was used for greeting visitors and was kept in stringent orderly fashion. The working office was where Walt could let the room get overrun with projects.
The Formal Office
This is Walt's most well known working space. It's where he met with celebrities, presidents, foreign dignitaries, and of course multitudes of Hollywood elites and creatives. Having held the office for 26 years, it changed to his tastes over time. It was restored to its mid-1960s aesthetic.
Walt was a collector of things and loved miniatures. He displayed some of his prized figurines as inspirations of imagination, nostalgia, cultures, and childlike wonder. Some he picked up on his own, often during travel, and many were gifts.
In the opposite corner from the desk sits a grand piano custom designed to match the decor. The sheet music displayed is how Walt last kept it.
The bookshelves also stock the very same books from his time with each one placed in its original location.
The office also had multiple seating areas and more displays of collectibles. Photographs of the most meaningful people in Walt's life hung all around, including several of his daughters as they grew up.
The Working Office
This office was where Walt would roll up his sleeves to get stuff done with paperwork, snack bowls, and used ashtrays strewn across the room. The low desk was designed for collaborative work sessions.
He kept fewer collectibles in this room. The various airplanes are models of Walt's private planes that he used for most of his travels.
The desk held a pile of pens that Walt Disney actually used, including a red China marker of which he was fond. It made me wonder what famous creative idea he might have written down using one of those actual pens.
On a large bulletin board, hung an arial photo of Disneyland after opening but while many attractions were still being constructed. Walt often kept updated versions of theme park plans in this spot.
The bulletin board also displayed a concept map for Walt's original EPCOT vision. Around the room were more family portraits, like one of Walt and his brother, Roy, his original partner in building the business.
The working office also had a small kitchen custom built by GE with cabinets that lit when opened. It was kept stocked with foods in Walt's unrefined taste - canned chili, Jello, and Spam.
He had one of the best views of the studio water tower, not so much on the rainy day I was there.
Walt also had his own bathroom and an attached small bedroom at the studio. Those areas were not as heavily archived after his death, so they were not recreated at all. In their location stood a portrait and caricature gallery with drawings pulled from many sources and eras. The tour concluded here where we could ask questions about Walt Disney's working life.
I grew up a fan of Walt Disney like millions of others around the world. But as a young cartoonist, I was struck hard by his influence and inspiration. I didn't just look up to his animation feats, but also his sense of innovation and daringness to take chances. Walt's life taught me through example to always push my creativity into new places in pursuit of my best work. He did that in his career, much of it stemming from these very rooms.
At one point, I put my camera away, faced his desk and took in the meaning of where I stood. Momentarily tuning out the tour guide, I felt a sense of deep inspiration, the cumulation of decades of admiration converging at point that took me closer to Walt Disney than I could have imagined, even though he showed me how imagine anything.