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Friday, June 7, 2013

Walt Disney Family Museum Location Discussion

Now that I have placed my endorsement for the next leader of the Walt Disney Family Museum, I’d like to provide a little background for another discussion that is resurfacing as a result of this current situation – the location of the Museum.

There are those in the community of Disney fans who believe that a Walt Disney Museum would be better served if it were located closer to where much of Walt’s legacy was created.  That would be somewhere in the Los Angeles area, and many of the advocates of that location are residents of that area, and they feel there would be a greater attraction to a Walt Disney museum that was located in an area where Walt spent most of his creative life.  There are also some who think that the Museum is something that the company he and his Brother Roy created is somehow responsible of creating.  Now, I will admit I have developed my own bias for the Museum’s locations at The Presidio of San Francisco, as it is just a bit under 50 miles from my front door, and easy for me to visit.  But, I think I understand some of the reasons it is where it is located. 

First and probably foremost, it is called the Walt Disney Family Museum, and not the Walt Disney Museum.  This is because the Museum is Walt’s family’s tribute to his legacy and of their creation.  It has very little to do with what has become the company Walt and Roy created, but, for legal reasons, the Walt Disney Company does have certain controls over what happens and what is displayed at the Museum; they don’t own or operate it.  That is solely under the direction of Walt’s surviving family.  In addition, the vast majority of artifacts on display are the property of Diane Disney Miller or her family, and many of those artifacts were stored in a warehouse on The Presidio grounds for many years.  I have heard stories of Diane taking guests to that warehouse for personal viewings, since she and her husband Ron live in the area.  It makes certain sense that when uses for The Presidio, after it was turned over as National Park Services resource, were being considered, that Walt’s family would look there first, as well as The Presidio Trust approaching the family as being a location for their Museum.

I also mentioned there were legal issues which affected the Museum.  During his lifetime, Walt created a private company, which ultimately became Retlaw (Walter spelled backwards) to protect certain property and copyright claims for his naming rights.  Upon his death, control of Retlaw passed to his wife Lillian.  In 1982 the family sold much of Retlaw to the Walt Disney Company, which consisted of certain rides at Disneyland and control of Walt Disney’s naming rights, which I understand included ownership of Walt Disney’s name, image, and voice materials.  I honestly don’t understand the reasoning behind this sale, but, I do understand there were some internal conflicts developing within Walt Disney Productions, some of which, according to my observations, seems to still exist today.  But, the main outcome is that Walt’s public company gain control of his name, image, and voice.  This has created an environment where the Museum must obtain certain approvals for what is displayed at the Museum.  So, what affect might this have on the location?  It creates a separation – geographically – between Walt the Man and Walt Disney the company, and is less likely  to have the Museum overshadowed by Disneyland or the Studio.  It also keeps the Museum closer to the family in Northern California.

Some have claimed that the Miller’s simply put the Museum at The Presidio because it was convenient for them to have close to them, without giving much thought to any other location.  They claim that Walt carefully researched – through Buzz Price – the location for Disneyland to maximize its potential visitation.  I’d like to point out that his actual first choice was a parcel location adjacent to the Studio, but the dream ended up exceeding the space all too quickly.  With the brilliant analytical skills of Buzz, Walt went on to look for a larger parcel on which to build his dream, and settled on the Anaheim location, not because it was the best place at the moment but because of the future plans in place for the area.  We should also note that the location was still relative close to Walt’s base of operations, making his oversight and development of Disneyland’s progress much easier process.  Even the Walt Disney World location was based on, in part, the local future plans being developed for the area, and not what was currently in place.  Now let’s apply a little of Walt’s thinking to the thought processes of Ron and Diane’s locating the Museum, after all Diane grew up as the daughter of this creative genius, and Ron was groomed by the master to take his place, it would make sense that some of the creative thought process would have been transferred.  First, I understand from a couple of reliable sources that there were a location of locations looked at in southern California.  No reasons given for them being excluded, but, there was some thought given to SoCal.  Next, as I said earlier, many of the artifacts were already being stored on The Presidio. 

But that fact aside, The Presidio Trust has been looking at all the way to preserve the base while making it a valuable resource for the people of the United States, since The Presidio Trust Act was passed in December of 2001. So while I have no evidence to support it, I would not be surprised to learn that it was the Trust the approached to family about creating the Museum at The Presidio.  So, let’s go back to the creation of Disneyland for a moment, because some have made the comparison, while others have dismissed this comparison as being wrong.  We all have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to make the claim that Walt’s choice of Anaheim was a brilliant decision.  But, let’s remember that none of the access highway that were part of the basis for the decisions were actually in place or even out of the planning stage when the choice was made on Anaheim.  Since it is my belief that Walt Disney’s Family is looking at this Museum as a long term tribute to their amazing Father and Grandfather, it would make sense to be that they would look for a location, like Walt, that had a fair well developed plan for future growth, and someplace where they can more easily maintain oversight of its development and growth.

So there’s my basic synopsis of the location issue, as I understand it.  But, there are people out there who know much more than I, so if they’d like to share.  I’d be more than happy to listen to what they have to say.

So stay tuned as I try to learn more about what’s next for the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

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