Sunday, January 18, 2009

2710 Hyperion Ave. - Send No Samples!

In the spring of 1936, Walt Disney wanted artists. That is clearly evident from this advertisement that appeared in April 1936 issue of Popular Mechanics. The studio was deep into the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and was desperately recruiting artists. Ads similar to this one appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country.

But there is one small detail in this advertisement particularly interesting to the residents here at 2719 Hyperion. What is the significance of 2710 Hyperion Ave., the address listed near the bottom of the ad?

2710 Hyperion Avenue was the location of a building called the Disney Annex. It was situated across the street from the main complex of the Walt Disney Studios, whose address, 2719 Hyperion, we commemorate here. The Disney Annex was added to the studio sometime around 1936. During the late 1930s, it was in this place that aspiring artists were typically given tryout periods to prove their talent and skills, working mainly as in-betweeners under the watchful and often harsh supervision of studio manager George Drake. Part of the training process also involved art classes taught by Don Graham.

In an interview with Wes Sullivan, animator Volus Jones observed of the Disney Annex, "It was mostly for the young people who were moving into animation. They put them in one building. Then it also had a small sound stage."

In an interview with John Province, veteran Disney animator and Imagineer Marc Davis remembered:

The way you began was through a life class the Studio had, taught by a man named Don Graham, a marvelous instructor from Chouinard's. For the first two weeks, you were on trial. At the end of that time, if you could draw to Don Graham's satisfaction, you were enrolled in an in-betweening program. You would draw for half a day, and then attend art classes and lectures as a way of paying your way. so to speak. There was an entire building devoted to that kind of thing, and people were in and out of there like a revolving door. They would look over your work and someone would say, "Mr. Jones, Mr. Drake wants to see you," then he'd pick up his coat and leave. Everybody knew what it meant. We would never see "Jones" again.

In his autobiography, studio veteran Bill Peet was particularly critical of the harsh and competitive environment of the Annex:

The next morning at the appointed time of nine o'clock I was at the Disney front gate. It was the wrong place. I was told to check in at a one-story stucco building across the street called the Disney Annex. The tryout group had already lined up at the front door to sign in, and I was the last of the fifteen to arrive.

Most of them were fresh out of art school as I was, and they came from all parts of the country in response to the special delivery letter, not knowing what to expect.

The boss of the Annex, George Drake, was a tall, scrawny chain-smoking neurotic with a shock of rusty hair and extremely large ears. He started things off with a stern lecture warning us that the one-month tryout would be no bed of roses. And more than once he reminded us how fortunate we were to get an opportunity to work for Disney. "There are plenty of people waiting out on the street to get a job here" was his last warning.

Volus Jones also noted that early in the production of Bambi, a run was created adjacent to the Annex to house a live deer. "The artists would come over and look out the window so the little deer couldn't see them. And they would watch its antics and take pictures."

Based on Jones' memories and other anecdotal information, it appears that the Disney Annex was moved to the Studio's new Burbank location sometime in early 1940, and incorporated into buildings constructed there.

Photo of the Disney Annex from the Ingeborg Willy Scrapbook, courtesy of Bob Cowan.


Bob Cowan said...

Jeff --

- I thought your piece here on the history of the Annex was great!
- Fantastic to see the aerial shot of the area -- it puts the Annex in perspective.


Anonymous said...

Why do corporations and other groups feel they have to keep people under a cloud of threats and other negative actions to get what they think is the best out of them?

The fact that Disney produced so many family friendly products under such duress for their employees does not exactly gladden my heart.

Maybe I am the exception to the rule, but being threatened or otherwise depressed does not make me produce my best work under any circumstances.

I would rather not know that Disney was akin to a sweatshop or concentration camp when it comes to its workers. Has anything changed since those days?

Jeffrey Pepper said...

The Disney Annex was but one small component of a larger studio complex. For reasons stated, it was a competitive environment and George Drake was by no means a popular individual. But to liken it to a sweatshop or concentration camp is simply ridiculous.

Like any other workplace, the Disney Studio of this era had its share of personalities and internal politics. The observations related in this post need to be kept in that context.

To somehow magnify this into a diatribe on corporate immorality misrepresents both the history of the Disney Company and the individuals whose memories and recollections serve and enrich us.

Spokker said...

Men only.

Eh, Walt was a product of the era he grew up in. He was no activist.

Anonymous said...

i love seeing that the building in the top photo , bottom right side, is still there and home to the trader jo's i shop at. also, the house that is under the arrow, also in the top picture is still there , but hidden behind a gate and in sad shape. i never knew of the annex location , and i hate that a very ugly strip mall is on that site. at least there are a few buildings in the area from disney's time. thanks for the post.


Anonymous said...

A paying gig in the midst of the Depression, one that offered specialized training, incredible creative environment, and free art classes? Suffering it ain't!

Hey "anonymous," enjoyed the courage of posting without identity, and referring to censorship and cultists. Change begins within. Have some stones.

Martha Stewart said...

George Drake was my grandfather. It is disheartening to read such harsh words about his character. I have many memories that would differ from these words.

Linda Gunn said...

George Drake has been given a bad rap. Nothing is said about how he housed, entertained and went to bat against Walt to gain more pay for 'his' animators. I am his second granddaughter who remembers his kindness and enthusiasm.