Walt Disney’s childhood home opens doors for first public tours

CHICAGO (AP) — A modest two-story home on North Tripp Avenue in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood. Despite its unassuming appearance, dozens of people queued outside it on Sunday, some dressed as Mickey Mouse, to get a glimpse inside the green and gray wood cottage.

This weekend, Walt Disney’s childhood home opened to the public for the first time as part of the Chicago Architecture Center’s Open House Chicago. Organizers hope to preserve Disney’s legacy, provide insight into how the pioneer of animated cartoon films grew up, and inspire other young people in the community to pursue their dreams.

“Because we live in Chicago’s inner city, we understand the importance of dreaming, doing, and achieving, because you never know who you’ll become.” “You never know who you’re going to inspire,” Angel Reyes, a home ambassador and Miss Illinois USA 2022, said.

Walt’s father, Elias Disney, purchased the property at 2156 N. Tripp Ave. in 1891. The following year, he obtained a $800 permit to construct the two-story wood cottage, and Flora, Walt’s mother, designed the architectural plans. The couple and their two sons, Herbert and Raymond, moved in in early 1893. Roy, their third son, was born soon after. Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901, in a second-floor bedroom.

“(Elias) was a builder who specialized in houses like this one, and he was the one who built it.” Flora created it,” said Rey Colón, project director of the Walt Disney Birthplace. “I thought it was very progressive that both Flora and Elias’ names were on the deed.” He didn’t just list her as his wife. She was an equal partner in his business endeavors.”

The tour started in the parlor on the first floor, where the family entertained. Colón stated that much of the original wood trim and walls had been removed over the years, with only one closet containing wood samples. He claimed that they recreated the original rosettes and trim from a single tree, “which we believe is the way Elias would have wanted it done.”

Inside the parlor, there’s also a colorized photo of Walt and his younger sister, Ruth, at the house in 1905.

According to tour guide Rich Frachey, Elias worked as a furniture maker, an orange farmer, and even a fiddler during his life. Inside the parlor, Frachey said it’s easy to imagine him playing the fiddle or telling stories about his time as a construction worker at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

“All the innovations that were debuted there, including the first Ferris wheel, Cracker Jacks, Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum, a machine that would wash the dishes, elevators, typewriters and more,” he said. “Did they sit in this parlor and read the book called ‘The Wizard of Oz’?”

According to some biographers, Elias’ stories about the fair influenced Walt’s creation of Disneyland and some of its popular attractions such as “Tomorrowland,” “Frontierland,” and “Main Street, U.S.A.”

The tour then moved on to the family’s dining room and kitchen, where items such as a washboard, a butter churn, and a rug beater could be found. Elias built a toilet inside what is now a closet on the first floor, which organizers said was innovative for the time.

People could see a larger bedroom belonging to Herbert and Raymond upstairs after climbing a set of steep stairs, while Walt and Roy shared a smaller one. The Disney family lived in a 1,200-square-foot house. Later, organizers said, additional rooms in the back of the house were added, which they now use as office space.

The Disneys left in 1906, moving to Missouri. They eventually returned to Chicago when Walt was a teenager in 1917. Walt attended McKinley High School and they lived in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

Despite the rain on Saturday, more than 550 people attended the tour, according to Colón. Even though attendance was lower on Sunday, he expected a sizable turnout. Previously, he said, they only did private tours.

Chicago attempted to designate the property as a historical landmark in 1991, according to Walt Disney Birthplace, but the owner fought the designation and won. Today, the new owners are collaborating with the city to restore the house to its original 1901 condition.

Colón stated that it took about ten years of fundraising to get the house to its current state, but that more contributions are needed to fully restore and furnish it. He stated that it is exciting to see so much interest in the home, and that they hope to organize more tours in the future.

“We’re still trying to figure out how, how do we go about the registration process, getting people in, how often do we do it,” said Colón.

The turnout, according to Reyes, who was born and raised in Hermosa, was “overwhelming but in a good way.”

“Just to see how many people are still interested in knowing the front story, when Walt began and what that looked like for him, we’re definitely thrilled,” she went on to say.

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