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.
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
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.
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!
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!"
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!
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.
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
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!
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!
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