Fire Department / Walt's Apartment
BACKSTORY: The Disneyland Fire Department is located in Town Square, Main Street U.S.A. adjacent to City Hall. The Chemical Wagon (pictured above) was in service on opening day, with horses pulling guests up and down Main Street. Today, it sits inside the Fire Department for guests to view. Disneyland still has a fire engine that cruises up and down Main Street, U.S.A. giving guests rides between Town Square & Central Plaza. It is modeled after fire engines actually used in the early 1900’s. Above the Fire Department is Walt’s Apartment. Walt lived in Holmby Hills, which was a bit of a drive to Anaheim, so while Disneyland was being constructed, he needed a place to stay so that he could easily see how the construction was going. The tiny apartment includes a small bathroom/shower and kitchen. The original decorator of the apartment was Emil Kuri, a Disney set designer (“20K Leagues Under The Sea”), who chose the same Victorian look that can be seen on the Lilly Belle today. The apartment also has a private outdoor patio, where Lillian & Walt entertained guests. The patio was also decorated accordingly. When Walt was at the apartment, he would often work at a desk near the window facing Town Square. Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, has said that she remembers hearing the loud engines of the Jungle Cruise boats, as the attraction was located directly behind City Hall.
The day Disneyland opened, Walt watched from his apartments window how the crowds poured through the gates. Mousketeer Sharon Baird remembers:
“On the opening day of Disneyland, we (Mouseketeers) were in Walt Disney’s private apartment above the Main Street Fire Station when the gates of the park opened for the first time. I was standing next to him at the window, watching the guests come pouring through the gates. When I looked up at him, he had his hands behind his back, a grin from ear to ear, I could see a lump in his throat and a tear streaming down his cheek. He had realized his dream. I was only twelve years old at the time, so it didn't mean as much to me then. But as the years go by, that image of him becomes more and more endearing.”
Lillian removed most of the original furniture, however, park designers have tried to remain faithful to its original styling. To this day, a lamp stays lit in the window above the Fire Department in honor of Walt.
Prices for high quality photo prints of the images on my site can be found on my main Photography page. Click the social media buttons below for more Daveland creativity and fun!
BACKSTORY: Walt Disney had an apartment built above the Fire Station on Main Street, decorated by his wife Lillian. During the construction of Disneyland from 1954-1955, Walt had the Fire Station built first (along with his apartment) so that he could oversee the building process every step of the way (sometimes in his bathrobe!). Walt would often stay here to observe guests below and to have quick access to the park before it opened to the public. Originally, the fire pole was actually used by Walt, until a guest used it to gain access into the apartment. After that, it was sealed off. In memory of Walt’s passing, the lantern that appears in the front window of his apartment facing Main Street is usually left on. Disneyland legend says that the light in the apartment window was always on when Walt was inside. This apartment is off limits to guests of the park.
In the photo at left, National Geographic gave readers a previously unseen view of Walt's Apartment. The caption for this photo from the August 1963 issue said:
Disney's supersecret hideaway, an apartment above the firehouse in Disneyland, has never before been photographed. Furnishings of the early 1900's match the mood of Main Street. Grandchildren play under the eye of Mrs. Walt Disney, as grandfather telephones.
My relative, The Whitneys, once owned Playland at the Beach in San Francisco. Walt Disney visited the park around 1953, during the time when he and his people visited parks all over the world to gather ideas about Disneyland.
Playland was a typical beachside amusement park. In other words, it was one of those places where Walt learned what he did not want to do in Anaheim!
He stayed the night in our family’s home and that’s where he saw the music box. He thought that Lillian would love it. Walt went through a man named Laurie Hollings who had done some work for the Whitneys at Playland.
Walt hired him and he worked for WED for a number of years. He left WED and went to San Jose where he designed Frontier Village. He later did more work for the Whitney's in the 1960's. Laurie Hollings was apparently the "go between man." I’m not positive about this, but Walt may have used him as the buyer because he knew that if George Whitney knew that Walt was the buyer, Whitney probably would have raised the price. I laugh at this because this now makes me think that George was probably surprised when he saw it in Walt’s apartment.Not that George would have been angry though—he was infamous for doing this himself amongst other collectors. When it arrived in southern California, Walt gave it to Lillian as a wedding anniversary present. Walt also purchased a bunch more antique music machines that were installed in the Penny Arcade. Most of those have since been sold off. I have no idea if anything that’s currently there came from Playland or not. Walt eventually also purchased four carousel horses. Three of them are on the King Arthur Carrousel; I have no idea which ones. The fourth one currently belongs to Michael Broggie, author of “Walt Disney's Railroad Story: The Small-Scale Fascination That Led to a Full-Scale Kingdom.”
Anyhow, I was discussing “lost” Playland treasures with a cousin of mine (since deceased) and he mentioned the music box in Walt’s apartment. He had the privilege of visiting Walt’s apartment when Walt was there!
Update to six months ago. I was planning our Disneyland trip which happened last week. I knew that nobody gets into Walt’s apartment, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to call and ask. So I called and talked to the Disneyland operator; she took my message and promised to ask about it. Several days later I got a call saying that my request had been declined. I just figured that was the end of that and actually forgot about it. Several weeks later I got a phone call saying that my request was approved! Believe me I was absolutely shocked. Considering that the Disney family owns everything that’s inside, I suspect approval must have come from the family but nobody ever told me who actually approved it. I really didn't believe the visit would happen until we crossed the threshold of the apartment entrance. I was totally awed by the experience. Seeing a bit of my family's past inside the apartment of the great Walt Disney was beyond incredible! Someone on your site mentions how small it is. The entire space is smaller than the living room in my small condominium. It’s a true studio apartment. There is no kitchen—just that space with the folding doors that hides a small sink, a few cupboards, a hot plate, and a toaster. All the dishes are still there from Walt’s time. There wasn't a need for a kitchen, anyway. The family would just eat in the park or have somebody send something up to the apartment. There is a small refrigerator as your photos show.
If you look at the photo on your site that shows the hide away sink, to the right in that photo, just out of view, is the apartment’s front door. There is also a coat closet that’s currently locked. Part of the problem with admitting the public to the apartment is the steep narrow stairs that doubles back on itself halfway up. No guests with mobility problems can get in. Even if they put an elevator for the disabled off the exterior deck, (which they actually did install at one point but I think that's been removed) there's that narrow doorway, then you have those steps as you would step down into the apartment. Thus there's no room for a wheel chair etc. I do wish that somebody would do a replica of the interior like WDW has of Walt's office. That way everybody could see it. They have the room for it on the esplande between the parks and they have the money to duplicate everything.
As for beds, the original couches in the room had pull out beds. We were allowed to sit on the current couches, so I suspect those don’t date to Walt’s lifetime. The lamp in the window isn’t the original one. According to the guide, as one faces the famous window, Walt slept on the left and Lillian on the right. There were pictures of their respective mothers on either side of the window: Walt's mother on the left and Lillian's Mom on the right. The current pictures are just pictures of plants. The small exterior deck is bigger than the apartment interior.
The bathroom has one unusual feature. Most Disneyphiles know that Walt had a bad shoulder or back due to a polo injury. The shower has what’s called a full body shower. The shower has three vertical heads. The top one would get the top of the body wet, the middle one would get the middle part wet, the lower one would get the lower part wet. These became popular in the 1960's when Lyndon Johnson installed one in the White House but some older homes have even older ones. My parents had one when they purchased their home. I hated the darn thing. It was supposed to deliver a massage but didn't do much good. I doubt that Walt got much relief from his (my parents removed theirs).
The only other one that I've actually seen is in the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA.
The fold out desk with the large exterior mirror is actually a replica. The only reason why I know that is because I saw the original on temporary display at the Oakland Museum several years ago. The writing under it stated that the one currently in the apartment at Disneyland is a replica. Otherwise, I wouldn't have known that. The firepole is still below in the fire department, but the portion that was in the apartment wassupposedly removed by Walt after some kids climbed the pole while he was there It would have been where the desk currently sits, next to the small hiding kitchen. The Edison phonograph is original. It was there during Walt's time.
That's about all I can say. I was given a privilege that I had no reason to expect would actually happen. I am also keenly aware that it will not happen again.
Many thanks to Warren Crandall for sharing his April 2009 trip to Walt’s Apartment!