During a Disneyland vacation in December 2017 Carol and I decided to avoid the Anaheim theme parks on the weekend, knowing that they’d be terribly busy. We decided to designate Saturday and Sunday as “Walk In Walt’s Footsteps” days . . . not the tour in Disneyland that goes by the same name . . . we did that years ago. Instead, we hopped in our rental car and drove around the Los Angeles area seeing sights that had a special Disney significance.
Our first stop was only about two miles southwest of Disneyland; the Stanley Ranch Museum and Historical Village at 12174 Euclid Street. The historical village is operated by the Garden Grove Historical Society and is the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio. When Walt and Roy first arrived in Los Angeles in 1923 they roomed with their uncle, Robert Disney and set up their studio in his garage. In 1984 that historic old garage was donated to the Garden Grove Historical Society and moved from 4406 Kingswell Avenue to the village on Euclid Street.
The society does not have a web site, but when I did an Internet search the night before Tripadvisor.com indicated that they opened at 9:00 a.m. We arrived at about 9:15 a.m., eager to kick off our ‘Disney day’. As we walked from the small parking area toward the entrance of the historical village we were stopped by a lady who was stretching a flag-draped rope across the entrance, to block access to the village
“Are you here for a tour?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, “we’re looking for Robert Disney’s garage.”
“We’re closed right now.” she replied, “You’ll have to book a tour and come back on the first or third Sunday of the month.”
We were disappointed as we hopped back in the car and drove north about 30 miles, through Los Angeles, to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. We were trying to track down Walt’s grave site near the Court of Freedom. Forest Lawn is a huge cemetery, about 300 acres, and the receptionist who greeted us at the entrance gate was very helpful. She highlighted our route on a map of the grounds and gave us some helpful driving hints.
Within a few minutes we arrived at the Court of Freedom and began our brief search for his final resting place.
If you stand at the back of the Court of Freedom building and see the wall and statue pictured below, Walt’s grave is in the corner to your right.
For a man who had such a profound impact on so many people, who left such a rich legacy behind, we were surprised at the humble family plot.
We spent a few minutes paying our respects to this incredibly gifted man, then carried on to our next stop.
A quick 3-mile drive took us to Walt’s old home at 2695 Lyric Avenue. He built it in 1926; in fact, Walt and his brother Roy built identical homes side-by-side on Lyric Avenue. Roy’s home at 2697 Lyric was a mirror image of Walt’s!
On our way to our next stop, about three miles from Walt’s first house, we had a terrific view of the famous Hollywood sign. That’s no co-incidence since our next destination was the stone gates built in 1923 to mark the entrance to the new real estate development known as Hollywoodland.
The sign originally read Hollywoodland, but it deteriorated over the years, and when it was first refurbished in 1949 the last four letters were dropped, creating the iconic Hollywood sign we know today.
Do you see the bus in the picture above? It’s the same bus as the one in the picture below. It’s parked at a bus stop right beside the 1923 stone gates we were looking for. They’re just steps from the corner of Beachwood Drive and Belden Drive.
Look carefully at the picture . . . do the gates look familiar?
Close your eyes and imagine that you’re at Walt Disney World and you’re approaching the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. On your left you should be imagining a stone building that used to house the FastPass dispensing machines. On the right you should be picturing a stone tower that houses restrooms.
That’s right; those buildings in Florida are replicas of these old 1923 structures in Hollywood.
Next time you’re at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida look around and you might just find a replica of this brass plaque that has marked the Hollywoodland entrance in California for almost a century!
Our next stop was only two miles away at 1660 North Highland Avenue, just around the corner from Hollywood Boulevard. It is only steps from Disney’s El Capitan Theatre, Disney’s Soda Fountain, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards.
The building pictured above, at 1660 North Highland Ave., was purchased in 1928 by Max Factor who was the most sought-after cosmetologist in tinsel town! The building was totally transformed in Art Deco style and re-opened in 1935 as the Max Factor Makeup Studio. Today the taller portion, on the left, houses the Hollywood Museum and the shorter portion, on the right, is home to Mel’s Drive-In.
Does the building seem familiar to you? Next time you’re at Disney’s Hollywood Studios look very carefully at the buildings along Hollywood Boulevard as you walk toward Grauman’s Theatre. In the midst of all those Art Deco facades on the left you will find a replica of the Max Factor building.
Around the corner from Max Factor was the stop Carol had been looking forward to! Disney’s Soda Fountain has recently been renovated and is now operated under license by Ghirardelli’s.
We spent a few minutes walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard looking at the stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. These Disney-related stars are all within a block of the El Capitan Theatre and the Disney-Ghirardelli Soda Fountain.
Directly across the street from the El Capitan Theatre is the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards, and beside the Dolby Theatre is the familiar building pictured below.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre has been a Hollywood landmark since it opened May 18, 1927. The handprints, footprints and autographs of nearly 200 Hollywood celebrities are pressed into the concrete of the theatre’s forecourt.
The replica of Grauman’s Theatre in Disney’s Hollywood Studios has housed the Great Movie Ride since the park opened in 1989 but closed in 2017 and is scheduled to re-open soon as Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Our last ‘Disney’ experience of the day was a quick drive-by at 5370 Wilshire Boulevard where Carol snapped the picture below as we slowly cruised past ‘The Darkroom’.
The building’s facade features a 9-foot tall replica of a Minolta Camera and it has been a Hollywood landmark since it opened as a camera store in 1938. Today the building houses a restaurant, but if you want to see how it looked back in 1938 look for the replica at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s a remarkably good reproduction!
We enjoyed a quiet evening back at our Anaheim ‘home away from home’ the Candy Cane Inn. The next morning we were up bright and early, enjoyed a relaxed breakfast beside the pool then took it easy until about noon.
Our first stop was at 6671 West Sunset Boulevard, the Crossroads of the World. This one should look familiar to every Disney fan. This is the first thing you see after you enter Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The only difference is that the Florida version is a bit taller and Mickey Mouse stands on top of the globe.
The Crossroads opened in 1936 as a shopping mall and office complex. Today it is primarily offices, most of them associated with the entertainment industry.
From the Crossroads we drove around the western side of Griffith Park to visit the Los Angeles Live Steamers Club and see Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn.
Since the barn is only open on the third Sunday of each month we knew that we wouldn’t be able to get close to the barn or see inside, but we were hoping to see it from a distance. As we walked through the entrance gate there were other guests buying $3.00 tickets for a ride through the property on one of the model trains.
The picture above, from the Steamers web site, shows a model train similar to the one we rode.
We asked the two people in the ticket office if we would be able to get a glimpse of Walt’s barn from the train ride, and they said that we would see it twice, once from the front and then again from the rear.
As we bought our tickets we explained that we were visiting from Canada and wouldn’t be around to see the barn when it was open on the third Sunday but we’d be happy if we could get even a glimpse of the barn from a distance.
A few minutes later, as we waited in line to board the next train, the lady who sold us the tickets called out to us through the ticket window. I went back, and as I leaned down to listen, she whispered, “If you go to the back door of the office my partner Jack will walk you back to Walt’s barn.”
Yes, even though it wasn’t open to the public we were going to get close to Walt’s barn! We were flabbergasted! I don’t know how many times we said thank you . . . but it was a lot!
As we walked toward the barn our guide Jack, who was a fairly new member of the Steamers, explained about the trains and artefacts we passed by. He told us about Walt’s barn. It’s registered as an official museum and designated as an historic site so it will be preserved for eternity. The barn is administered by a special sub-group within the Steamers organization, sort of a ‘club within a club’.
We spent about 15 minutes with Jack, walking around Walt’s barn, and taking in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area.
(Don’t tell anyone, but Carol and I actually touched the barn!)
We even had the chance to talk to a few of the other railroad buffs who were busy tinkering with their trains. As we gazed around we got a sense of what a dedicated bunch they are.
The props and detailed scenery around their track network are all wonderfully done. There are a lot of man-hours, no doubt all volunteer, wrapped up in the scenes alongside those tracks!
After thanking Jack for the fortieth or fiftieth time we lined up again for our train ride. The circuit took us for three complete loops around the property which contains about 4 ½ miles of track in two different gauges.
The lady in that fuzzy picture above (shot from our moving train) had just finished decorating her train for Christmas and was taking it out for a joyride. Doesn’t she look happy?
Our train had an ‘engineer’ up front operating the locomotive and a ‘conductor’ at the rear who explained the sights and exhibits as we passed them.
There were bridges, tunnels, trestles, turntables, water towers, ghost towns and so much more . . . all built by dedicated train fanatics.
If you have a few hours to spare in Los Angeles, take a trip to Griffith Park and enjoy a train ride. We had a blast!
Oh yeah – Jack, thanks again for the special tour!
We took a leisurely pace as we Walked In Walt’s Footsteps. We could have seen all the sights in one day but we stretched it over two days; we wanted to take our time and savour the experience. We are always fascinated to see the same places that Walt saw and to understand the things that influenced him a little more clearly. I hope you enjoyed riding along with us!
There are plenty of other locations in the Los Angeles area that we also hope to visit, places that are meaningful for all Disney fans. This blog just gives a small sampling, based on what Carol and I did that weekend a few years ago.
We’re really hoping to get back to the Los Angeles area on the third Sunday of the month so we can visit Uncle Robert’s Garage and see the interior of Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn. They’re both still on our bucket list!
When you want to take a short break from the theme parks in Anaheim there are plenty of other ‘Disney sights’ for you to see. You can probably uncover some ‘Disney magic’ that Carol and I haven’t discovered yet!
Gary is a retired banker who lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1977 and has returned many, many times over the years. Since retiring he and his wife Carol enjoy the parks a number of times each year. They especially like staying at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground with their Shetland sheep dogs.