Friday, July 11, 2008

Walt Disney's Apartment

I’ve been to Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure four times over the past three weeks—a new record even for me! As always. I had fun: white-water rafting with an unsuspecting family of kids who laughed hysterically every time I screamed; swing-dancing with Tim in the shadow of Sleeping Beauty’s castle; and “Soarin’ over California” with my sister.

But the most interesting trip, by far, was the insider’s tour Tim and I took during this year’s American Library Association conference in Anaheim. Though we were supposed to be absorbing Disney’s customer service ethic, our favorite part was entering the inner sanctum of Walt Disney’s private apartment, located above the fire station on Main Street. The apartment not only functioned as a “green room” for visiting dignitaries and celebrities, it was also something of a refuge for Walt, who frequently spent the weekends there with his grandkids.

We’ve known about the apartment for years, of course, but never imagined we’d be able to go inside. Our tour guide took us through a side gate and up a wooden set of stairs to the patio where Walt used to look out at the park, often (according to legend) with tears in his eyes.

The apartment was too small to accommodate all 20 of us at once, so we split up into two groups: ladies first and then the guys. Photographs were allowed, but only if people were in the shot.

I had seen pictures of the apartment before, but was still surprised at how feminine it was. Lillian Disney, Walt’s wife, decorated it in her favorite color (blood red) and multiple floral prints. The sofas doubled as beds, leaving the grandkids to sleep on the floor. The one-room space was too tiny for a kitchen, so a wet-bar sufficed.

We gals oohed-and-aahed and then returned to the patio, while the men took their turn. Our tour guide’s assistant told us stories about our long-deceased host. Apparently word traveled fast (“Code W”) as soon as the boss stepped foot into the park. I myself remember seeing Walt stroll through Frontierland, one damp December morning, when I was just seven years old. Then six years later, we saw him riding a surrey with his grandson, only a few weeks before he died. Luckily for us, his dream still lives on.

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