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Thursday Treasures

February 12, 2015

Walt's Barn by Justin J. Smith

When moving to CA in June, one of the very first adventures I embarked on was taking a trip to Griffith Park to see Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn.

Walt's Barn

Unfamiliar with it? Well, three years ago so was I. See, after the filming of So Dear To My Heart in 1949, Walt had rekindled his fascination with barns that he developed from having grown up on a farm in Marceline, Missouri. So that same year he built a barn in his own back yard. Being a train-buff, he also built a scale-model train which he built and controlled inside the very same barn.

By having his own space to build trains, it was not only a chance for Walt to bond with some of his employees who were fellow train-buffs like Nine Old Men-animators Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball and mechanic engineer Roger E. Broggie (often referred to as "the first Imagineer") but it gave Walt a hobby, and it was at this very barn that Walt developed many of his ideas and inspirations that he would later employ at his little theme park in Anaheim.

This train-equipped barn was often crowded as it was quite popular with Walt's family members, neighbors, even celebrities, as Frank Sinatra, Salvador Dali and Kirk Douglas are all reported to have visited with their families, taking a ride on the train in Walt Disney's backyard.

Walt's Barn

After Walt's passing, though, the barn remained largely unoccupied. In the late 1990s, the Disney family sold the house to new owners and the fate of the barn looked bleak as it seemed destined to be dismantled. But thanks in large part to Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, the barn was able to get saved and was moved to Griffith Park, a place once contemplated as the sight for Disneyland. Approximately 80% of the original wood was moved and restored piece by piece by the Los Angeles Live Steamers. It opened to the general public in 1999 and it's been there ever since.

There is some really cool stuff to be found at this barn. While there are many amazing photographs to be found, also scattered in this barn are dozens of cool artifacts like George Brun's Disney Legends award and an entire shelf dedicated to So Dear To My Heart merchandise!

George Brun's Disney Legends Award

Song of the South

But the coolest stuff are small details that are exclusive to this barn that you can't find anywhere else. For example, there's an old-timey telephone, actually hand-made by Walt Disney himself. Often times, Lillian Disney would call this phone to ask him for something or to remind him dinner was ready. Looking at it you can almost imagine Lillian thinking "There goes Walt, playing with his trains late again!"

Walt's Barn

Walt's Barn

In fact, many of the things at this place can be legitimately claimed to be built and used by Walt Disney himself, from an overall hanger he built from a broomstick to his own rest area complete with a mirror, sink and shaving kit!

Walt's Barn

Shaving kit

There's also the control panel that Walt used to control his train and switch the track.

If you're lucky, you can also hear several fascinating stories from the friendly volunteer staff about a lot of the treasures stacked, such as the King George V Engine, a green train that Walt bought from England that got damaged during its trip to the U.S. He never got around to fixing it, but the train ultimately ended up luring the attention of Disney Legend Harper Goff and was ultimately responsible for him working for the company.

King George V Engine

Speaking of trains, did I mention that there are scale model trains operating around the barn that you can ride?

Since the property is owned by the Los Angeles Live Steamers (a group Walt was once a member of), that means there always is a ton of activity going around the barn when its open, from scale-model train rides going around (which you can ride for $3.00!) to demonstrations of a stationary steam plant they have station there!

Live Steamers

I try to go this place every time it's open, which is the third Sunday of every month from 11:00-3:00. From the times I've been there, probably the most magical were during the holiday seasons, as they really know how to deck this place up during the season, be it Halloween or Christmas!

Walt's Barn

And the exciting thing about this place is that they're always growing and expanding their collection! Last year, the barn announced that they got a hold of one of the last remaining trains from Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, one of the classic Disneyland E-Ticket Attractions (to which Big Thunder Mountain now resides at)! Currently the train is in the process of being refurbished, but is on display outside the barn where you can see it and take photos of it!

Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland

Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland

There's also the added bonus that you never know who you're going to see! In the times I've been there I've seen Tinkerbell model Margaret Kerry, author Sam Gennawey and Disney Legend David Stollery (of Spin and Marty fame)!

Last July, the barn celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Griffith Park location! Hopefully this place will still be very much thriving in the next 15 years and beyond! So if you ever find yourself in Southern California on the third Sunday of the month and are looking for something to do other than those couple of theme parks in Anaheim, by all means drop by the barn! After all, it holds the distinction of being the only completely free Disney attraction!

 

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