Because of it, Disney fans will soon be able to visit Walt Disney’s childhood home.
The modest, two-story frame house, located at 2156 North Tripp Avenue (formerly 1249 Tripp Avenue), was built in 1893 by Walt’s father, Elias, and designed by his mother, Flora. Elias Disney built two other homes on the same block, in addition to St. Paul Congregational Church. Elias, who had moved with Flora from Florida to Chicago to work on the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, originally bought the lot in the sparsely populated neighborhood — it had just two paved roads — for $700. Walt was the couple’s fourth son, born on the second floor on December 5, 1901.
And Thursday, on what would have been Walt’s 112th birthday, the restoration and preservation of the home officially kicked off with a press conference held at the historic site in the hermosa (Spanish for “beautiful”) neighborhood.
I was tucked in among the media reporting on the momentous event (yep, still geeking), along with Alderman Rey Colon; new homeowners and Los Angeles-based animators Brent Young and Dina Benadon; Director of the Illinois Film Office, Betsy Steinberg; Preservation Architect Charles Pipal; Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson; and a number of community leaders. The year-long process of restoring the home to its turn-of-the-century glory and turning it into a historical landmark and private museum is slated to take a year.
As part of the celebration, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed it Walt Disney Day in Chicago.
“One of the world’s most iconic and celebrated men, Walt Disney played many roles including but certainly not limited to those of animator, director, screenwriter, and entrepreneur,” the mayor said in a statement. “This historic home, the birthplace of cultural juggernaut Walt Disney, will henceforth be preserved for the ages contributing to the greater social and historical education of all Chicago residents through multifaceted outreach programs and initiatives.”
Young and Benadon bought the house for $173,000 and hope it will serve as a “community resource with a mission of enhancing and exploring childhood creativity” through The Walt Disney Birthplace Project.
The couple has worked in the theme park industry for more than 20 years and credits the Disney family for inspiring their careers. They purchased the home as a way “to give back and protect the site where the Disneys were nurtured as boys, leading them to become pioneering giants of family entertainment.”
Plans for the home’s restoration include reimagining it to look just as it did when a young Walt would have run through its halls with his brothers and sister, creating tours, curating exhibitions, and collecting personal anecdotes from the community-at-large who may have interacted with the Disneys over the years.
The couple says their ultimate goal is to inspire parents “to raise more Walts,” and they launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising at least $500,000 to cover the costs associated with the project.
With that, take a look at a retrospective of the home — yesterday, today, and tomorrow:
"If you can dream it, you can do it." 1 of 12
Walt Disney knows.
Elias and Flora Disney 2 of 12
Elias Disney was a carpenter and builder. Originally living in Florida with wife Flora, Elias moved the family to Chicago to work as a carpenter on the construction of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Amazing. 26 million people ended up attending the fair, checking out exhibits showcasing innovations for the future. A young Walt may have had his creative juju jumpstarted by his father's stories of the momentous event.
In 1891, Elias purchased the small corner lot at the corner of Tripp and Palmer in a new neighborhood being developed on Chicago's northwest side. The following year, he built a simple frame house — drafted and designed by wife Flora — with his own two hands. He went on to build two other houses on the sparsely populated block, in addition to the St. Paul Congregational Church (Walt Disney was baptized there), which still serves the existing community under a different name. The original cornerstone still bears the church's original name and founding date.
Walt and Ruth Disney 3 of 12
On December 5, 1901, Flora gave birth to the Disney's fourth son, Walter Elias Disney, on the second floor of the home. Two years later, on December 6, 1903, Walt's little sister Ruth was welcomed to the family in the same way.
It's not clear whether Roy Disney was born in the home, though he probably was, and Walt's older brothers, Herbert Arthur Disney and Raymond Arnold Disney, were already young children when the family moved into the house in 1893.
The Original Disney House 4 of 12
Old photos fascinate me, and this one is no exception. Captured among shade trees and a newly paved walkway is the original house that Elias built, circa 1930. It's this yesteryear look that Young and Benadon hope to recapture through their extensive renovations to the property.
The Disney House Today 5 of 12
The Tripp home is the stuff of Disney legend. Rundown but tidily kept, one can only imagine what amazing architectural secrets are underneath its many added-on layers. Efforts to turn it into a community center or cultural treasure have failed repeatedly in recent years, and in the interim, the home has been occupied by renters.
Get this. Did you know the Disney family came back to Chicago for a number of years? Yep. When Walt was 15, the family took up residence at 1523 W. Ogden Avenue as Elias had invested in a jelly-making factory. Walt attended McKinley High School and had a passion for photography and drawing. He attended the nearby Academy of Fine Arts to hone his skills.
And yes, that's me. Geeking.
By The Numbers 6 of 12
The number on the front of the house may have changed, but that's the result of a city-wide street name and numbering system that went into effect in 1909. By that time, the Disney family had already moved to Marceline, Missouri.
The Walt Disney Birthplace Project 7 of 12
And so, the preservation of the birthplace of one of the most influential men of the 20th century begins.
"It's an amazing story that keeps unfolding, and every day we learn something new," Benadon says of The Walt Disney Birthplace Project. "Our dream is that the home will serve as a place to inspire creativity in our children for generations to come."
The Disney House Tomorrow 8 of 12
This beautiful rendering shows what The Walt Disney Birthplace Project hopes to accomplish by the fall of 2014. And though the Disney family is not currently involved with the project, Roy Patrick Disney, grandson of Roy O. Disney and Walt's great nephew, gave his blessing in a statement:
"On behalf of the Disney family, we are so pleased to see Walt Disney's historic birthplace and family home being restored to its humble origins in the City of Chicago. The outpouring of support and excitement we've seen from both city officials and Disney fans alike has been simply wonderful, and this is truly a fitting way to honor both Walt and Roy O. Disney, the pioneering brothers who forever changed the face of family entertainment, and, of course, will forever be two of Chicago's most prominent native sons."
Happy Birthday, Walt! 9 of 12
Fourth grade students from nearby William Nixon Elementary School sang "Happy Birthday" to Walt as part of the celebration. Several children were also celebrating their birthdays and held balloons proudly to show that they share a very special date with one of the most recognized people in the world.
Having local kids experience this new source of community pride was fitting, considering how much joy Walt Disney brought to children around the world. And while The Walt Disney Birthplace can never be a traditional museum — it's smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood after all — it can certainly become a local asset to serve its community.
This Old House 10 of 12
See that? It's the original siding that Elias Disney put on the house by hand more than a century ago! Young and Benadon pried off a piece of the existing siding to symbolize the start of the project.
If Walls Could Talk 11 of 12
And yes, everyone's mind was blown by the unexpected discovery. There was a lot of smiling. And clapping. Who knows what other amazing secrets might be buried within the house's walls? Peeling back the layers of history will be an adventure in amazing, no doubt.
The Icing On The Cake 12 of 12
Chicago bakery TipsyCake proudly unveiled a birthday cake created in honor of Walt's birthday, designed to look like the home did at the time of his birth. And yes, everyone who was there got to eat a slice. You know the kids were all over that, especially Young and Benadon's three-year-old son, Truman, who was on hand (accompanied by his grandparents) to witness his parents start their future endeavor.
To learn more about The Disney Birthplace Project, visit thewaltdisneybirthplace.org.
Photo credits: Pilar Clark, Walt Disney Family Museum (portrait of Elias and Flora Disney, Walt and Ruth Disney, and original photo of the home only)
Travelhound Pilar wouldn’t mind being at Walt Disney World eating the ears off a Mickey ice cream bar right about now. But, since she can’t be at her “second home” year round, she curates happy thoughts on Disney Social Media Magic, a virtual springboard where breaking news and other Disneyfied thingamabobs are shared. For more mouse-minded geekery, join Pilar on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and personal site, One Mom Media.