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Los Feliz home where Walt Disney set up his first studio could be demolished

Disney garage
Now relocated to Garden Grove, the garage from the Los Feliz property once owned by Robert Disney, uncle of Roy and Walt Disney, was used by Walt as a studio in 1923.
(City of Garden Grove)

Los Angeles officials are using a rarely used legal maneuver in an attempt to block demolition of the Los Feliz home where Walt Disney founded his first studio.

On Wednesday afternoon, City Councilman David Ryu secured an “emergency” historical designation for the single-family home in the 4400 block of West Kingswell Avenue that puts a 75-day stay on tearing down the house.

“The action is used very rarely, in cases like this where all other options are no longer available,” said the councilman’s spokesman Estevan Montemayor.

As first reported by LA Magazine, city records show an application to demolish the home was submitted July 8.

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The home once belonged to Disney’s uncle, Robert. In the early 1920s, he let the young artist live in the detached garage, where Disney experimented with animation techniques that would secure his status as a cultural icon. He stayed there in August and September of 1923 and paid $5 a week in rent, according to the Disney blog Mouse Planet.

Though the home is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a city survey to identify potentially historic properties across Los Angeles last year concluded it was worthy of the designation.

“While living there, Disney started making short films in the garage. For this reason, the Walt Disney Company refers to this garage as ‘the first Disney Studio,’ ” the survey reported.

“Alice’s Day at Sea,” an early animation effort, was produced in the garage, the Disney blog reported. It was there that Disney used plywood boxes and spare lumber to build a stand to draw his cartoon characters.

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The garage where Disney lived was moved by a private group years ago and turned into a museum, leaving behind the single-family dwelling.

Property records show it was sold to its current owners in May for $750,000.

The new homeowners knew the property had some vague ties to Walt Disney, but didn’t think too much of it, said Hyunbae Kim, who purchased the home with his sister and brother-in-law.

The family said they checked with the National Register before buying the home to make sure they could tear it down. 

Kim said his sister and brother-in-law work in Los Angeles but live in the North Hollywood area and want to move closer to their jobs. They want to tear down the Disney home and build a single-family, two-story modern-style house, he said.

“It was actually being rented when we bought it. The tenant said that Disney had moved the garage five or six years ago and we were like ‘uhh, OK,’ ” Kim laughed. “We assumed that because Disney took the garage as the museum, they felt that was the most important thing.”

In fact, it was not the Disney company but a private group called The Friends of Walt Disney that rescued the garage from demolition in 1984 and had it relocated to Garden Grove, where it’s part of a historical ranch. 

Kim learned that detail Wednesday when he returned from a camping trip to find his phone full of voice mails from media and Disney fans.

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 “There was one, it was just a lady yelling,” he said. “She didn’t leave a number so I couldn’t call her back.”

Kim said he is scheduled to meet Thursday with representatives from a local museum who have expressed interest in saving the home.

“If the guy I meet … took the house, oh, that’d be great. It’d be so much easier,” Kim said. 

Montemayor said the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission will also review the home’s history and consider recommending to the City Council that it become a designated historical site. 

“We got to wait and see what happens,” Kim said.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.


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