Monday, February 21, 2011

Studio Geo: Lightning in a Bottle - 2719 Hyperion

Walt Disney began his career as a filmmaker in January of 1920 when he took a job making animated advertisements for the Kansas City Film Ad Company. It was the beginning of a journey that would take a struggling young artist and entrepreneur and eventually mold him into one of the most celebrated icons of 20th century popular culture. The historical map of that journey is an extraordinary one.

Welcome to Studio Geo.  These are the places where Walt Disney created his moving pictures:

The Walt Disney Studios - 2719 Hyperion Avenue
Flushed with the success of the Alice Comedies, Walt and Roy decided it was time to move beyond their very confined quarters on Kingswell Avenue. In July of 1925, they placed a deposit on a vacant tract of land in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, a mile or so away from 4649 Kingswell Avenue. Construction on a studio building was completed in early 1926, and the Disney Brothers Studio relocated to its new address at 2719 Hyperion Avenue. The operation also had a new name: the Walt Disney Studios. Ironically, it was Roy who suggested the change, noting that since Walt was the creative force in the partnership, it was his name that deserved the studio moniker.

During the studios' earliest of years, the area surrounding 2719 Hyperion Avenue was a generally quiet, empty place. Disney veteran Ben Sharpsteen remembered visiting for the first time in 1929: "I walked through what was mainly a residential development, a section of town which had been laid out with streets and curbs, but which had very few homes at the time. It was late March and the grass and weeds were very tall and they were growing up through the sidewalk in places. It was not a street that was very much used at the time."

In the decade that followed, the studio grew, in what many observers described as an almost organic expansion. Existing buildings were expanded and extended; nearby buildings were absorbed and additional facilities emerged on the opposite side of Hyperion Avenue. The Disney Annex was added to the studio sometime around 1936. Disney desperately needed more artists at this time due to the production demands of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and it was in the Annex 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.

By the late 1930s, the studio was literally bursting at the seams. A nearby apartment building was appropriated and became the home of the Story Department. Artists preparing Bambi were located several miles away in rented offices in Hollywood. Plans to further expand the Hyperion Avenue location ultimately proved unrealistic and Walt and Roy began considering ideas for a brand new studio complex.

It is near impossible to overstate the importance and significance of the Hyperion Avenue Studios. In just a little over a dozen years, Disney-produced films moved from the gag-driven antics and primitive rubber-hose drawings of the silent Alice Comedies and Oswald the Rabbit cartoons to the story-centric and visually stunning animation demonstrated in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. It was a spectacular, and in many ways, miraculous evolution. In later years, numerous studio veterans would fondly reminisce of 2719 Hyperion and the creative energy and dynamic atmosphere that was contained within its myriad of jumbled buildings and constrained work spaces.

No remnant or relic of the Walt Disney Studios remains at the Hyperion Avenue location. A number of its buildings and components were actually moved to the studio's new Burbank location, most notably the Publicity and Comic Strip bungalow. The fate of its iconic rooftop sign that identified 2719 Hyperion as the home of Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies is sadly unknown. Affixed to a nearby light pole is The City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board Monument No. 163 which reads:
Point of Historical Interest
Site of Walt Disney's original
Animation studio in Los Angeles
2719 Hyperion Avenue
1926 -1940
A supermarket now occupies the area. History and memories supplanted by produce, canned goods, cigarettes and shopping carts.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:


Unknown said...

You know, standing there was pretty epic.

Except for that really steep hill we had to drive down. And the traffic jam on the highway. And the fact that you almost jumped out of the car in Burbank to see the current studios.