BACKSTORY: The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California are the international headquarters for The Walt Disney Company. Construction began in February 1939 with Frank Crowhurst acting as Chief Contractor and Disney Legend Bill Garity as supervisor. The Disney staff began to move from the old Disney studio at Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake on December 24, 1939. Designed primarily by Kem (his name was formed with the intials of his full name: Karl Emanuel Martin) Weber under the supervision of Walt and his brother Roy, the Burbank Disney Studio buildings are the only studios to survive from the Golden Age of filming and the only major film studio not to run backlot tours. Kem Weber was an art director for Barker Bros. Furniture in Los Angeles, and he also designed modern film sets and private residences. The Studio is situated on approximately 51 acres of land.
The Walt Disney Studios was originally designed around the animation process, with the large animation building in the center of the campus and adjacent buildings for the story department, the music department, the ink-and-paint departments, and the other various functions of the studio. The Disney feature “The Reluctant Dragon” (1941), starring Robert Benchley, served as a tour of the then-new studio, which was also frequently seen and toured on the various Walt Disney television programs. The Water Tower once held 150,000 gallons of water and was built at a cost of $300,000; most have 4 support legs, but Roy Disney specifically requested 6 for this 135.5' tall structure.
In the late 1940s, the studio began regular work on live-action features. Lacking the money to do it themselves, Jack Webb offered to put up some of the money to build live-action stages in exchange for their use. Webb used it to shoot much of the Dragnet TV series. During this time, back lots were also built and remained standing at the studios until the management change of the mid-1980s. Soundstage 1 is where the live action footage for “Fantasia” was filmed; soundstage 2 is where “The Mickey Mouse Club,” “Mary Poppins,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” was shot.
In 1986, after the corporate restructuring of Walt Disney Productions into The Walt Disney Company, the buildings were remodeled to accommodate more live-action production space and administrative offices. The Studios are now made up of multiple office and administration buildings and ten soundstages. The primary building is the Team Disney Burbank building, completed in 1990 and designed by Michael Graves. The Team Disney Burbank building contains the office of President and CEO Robert A. Iger, as well as the boardroom for the Board of Directors. The building is sometimes called the “Seven Dwarfs Building” because of its seven dwarfs statues holding up the roof of the building.
On January 23, 2006, in honor of Michael Eisner's 21-year leadership of the company, the Team Disney building, was rededicated as Team Disney - The Michael D. Eisner Building. During the restructuring, the animation facilities were spun off to officially create Walt Disney Feature Animation as a subsidiary of the company, and its operations were moved to the Air Way warehouse in Glendale. In 1995, a new Feature Animation building was completed, across the street from the main lot. The new studio is a colorful piece of architecture, adorned by a giant Sorcerer’s Hat, which once housed of the office of Roy E. Disney, former head of WDFA.
More recently, after Disney's purchase of ABC, a new headquarters for the television network was constructed across Riverside Drive next to the Feature Animation Building. The ABC building was designed by Aldo Rossi and is connected to the lot by a blue serpentine bridge that crosses over Riverside Drive. The ABC building also houses the offices of other subsidiaries such as ABC Studios and Buena Vista International.
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