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May 06

Trip Report: Presidio and the Walt Disney Family Museum

To celebrate my birthday I decided to invite friends to join me with my first visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum (WDFM) in the San Francisco Presidio. The Presidio is a former military base that is now being converted for other things like housing Lucas Digital (ILM) and the Bay School (who one of my students go too).

So, it’s April 24th, 2010 when our adventure takes place…. (click on the photos to see bigger images)

Traveling to the Presidio.

Going to someplace new is always an adventure, but to make it even more so I decided to take the bus instead of driving. So I started my day by catching the MUNI 45 bus at 8:15am in San Francisco outside the Ritz Charlton on 3rd street. There was only a few folks waiting at the bus stop on a quite beautiful morning in San Francisco. The bus arrives and all of a sudden it seems that a couple dozen Chinese elders appeared out of nowhere and entered the bus by way of the back door. So when I entered the bus it was standing room, but it was no problem since it emptied by the second stop in China Town. (note: at the writing Muni cost $2 a ride with a included transfer of aprox. 1.5 hours after the time you pay the driver. A coupon to save $.25 each way to and from BART is available before you exit the stations fair gates.)

Morning light in SF waiting for the 45 to the Presidio Morning light in SF waiting for the 45 to the Presidio

The bus moved along smoothly and took about a 30 minuets to arrive at the edge of the Presidio at the Lombard St Gate. Entering the park there are these wonderful sculpted entryway stones.

Lombard gate at the SF Presidio Lombard gate detail for the SF Presidio Lombard gate detail for the SF Presidio

Fairly quickly the roads split and I took the one to the right, Letterman Ave. (not named after the famous late night host).

Presidio Sign

I had heard there was a cool statue along the way thanks to the folks at Lucas Digital too….

Presidio statue of Yoda near Lucas Arts

I then took my time strolling towards the WDFM to explore the area.

Presidio flowers plack in the SF Presidio

There is a bus that does a loop through the Presidio, but it only runs once an hour on Saturdays and does not start running until 11:30 so it was out of the question. But that was fine with me, the walk is really nice and not that long to do anyways. (The bus runs more often on weekdays I believe)

Presidio in park bus stop

I found this cool cannon on the way. I have more pictures to post of it since there was a lot of detail on it.

detail of cannon in the SF Presidio

To walk into this central area that surrounding the parade ground parking will take on average about 15-20 min if you are enjoying the vistas on your way like me. The officers club is now the Visitor Center. The area is really stunning, especially on a nice day. Note: not shown in the photo below to it’s right is a bowling alley with food services.

Presidio Visitor Center

The Museum

At 9:40 I found a nice spot on the porch of the nondescript building that runs along the former parade ground which is now parking. There is only a simple signage since they want to keep the historical nature of the area. Note: seems like the parking, at least on the weekend was free. At least that is what I was told.

Walt Disney Family Museum Walt Disney Family Museum Walt Disney Family Museum porch Walt Disney Family Museum porch Walt Disney Family Museum

The weather was sunny and lovely and the air was fresh with the breeze from the sea. There where even two groups of marching bands practicing marching on the Parade Ground. Imagine it being used for what is was made for.

I met up with Linda, Karen Luk and Rinley. The museum was not open yet so we went and walked up to the Bowling Alley where Linda got some coffee. I have been the told the food is pretty decent and a lot cheaper then the Museum, but I have not personal tried it.

We headed back and entered the museum, first going down to the bottom floor to check in our coats and bags. The bottom floor is where the theater is and is open to visitors even if they are not going into the museum. There are Mary Blair themed inlayed floors and old posters from foreign movie releases and Disneyland attractions. Also downstairs, in the theater lobby is an temporary exhibit on Disney’s Peter Pan with lots of concept art from Mary Blair.  It runs through June 27th so don’t miss it.

Note: when you visit the Walt Disney Family Museum (WDFM) you need to pre-buy your entrance which is set for a certain time. I had gotten a ticket for entering at 10am. They do this to keep the crowds flowing an to make sure you have a pleasant visit. I wanted the earliest so I could do the whole day if I wished.

I also checked my camera in my backpack, since there is not photography allowed. But I am glad I did since I was better able to enjoy the vast amounts of materials with out trying to badly photographing them in secret.


There is so much to write about what you see inside and and their is no way for me to do it justice, so I will just offer my thoughts on highlights of the museum. I will try to keep them in order as I remember them.

But first…To get a nice overview, let’s watch with a story from CBS news:

Also to find out more about the specifics of the museum, visit this link at that goes room by room with photos to get an overview… or a nice overview article by D23:

– You start in a lobby of the museum with walls covered with the awards Walt received in his life. Some of them are works of art to themselves so give yourself a minute or two to check them out. There is also a touch screen display that gives info about each item in the collection.

– There is 200 video screens thought out the museum and they also have stations to listen to audio and interactive digital screens to find out more information. So if you don’t read all the info, you still can get a very rich experience.

– The 4 animated screens in the first room of Gallery 1 are created to look like puppet theaters with hinged paper puppets. Very neat.

– The elevator going from Gallery 1 to Gallery 2 is themed as a train to represent Walt going to Hollywood. You even hear Walt talk for a few seconds. Very simple and clever.

– In Gallery 2 Hollywood (1923-1928) I loved the movie poster that are really video screens for a multi-media montage of Walt’s first big success the ‘Alice Comedies’.

– In Galleries 3 New Horizons: The Emergence of the Walt Disney Studio (1928 to 1940) there is an interactive experience where three patrons can do the sound effects for the first sound Mickey Mouse cartoon Steam Boat Willy. Fun.
– Also in Gallery 3 is a touch screen that gives info for all the very cool retro Mickey Mouse merchandise.

– Don’t forget to listen to the audio clips scattered through out the galleries. They really do enhance the tale. I really enjoyed hearing Walt talking about his first contract for a sound system for his early cartoons and how he was bamboozled. It’s nice to know that he had to keep ‘getting back up on the horse’ just like all us creative folks do.

– In Gallery 4 I really liked the reference models for Ferdinande the Bull and the Three Little Pigs. Here we also  start to see the connection with music with “Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”.

– Ah, the background paintings and sketches. So amazing and beautiful.

– There is a giant touch screen table in Gallery 5 New Success and Greater Ambitions that features to scrap book of special effects master Herman Schultheis which has been lovingly digitized so you can explore it in a new way. I must have been at the station for 20 min and wanted to see more of it. Cool and inspiring.

– In the same gallery look down at the REAL multiplane camera that created depth in films like Snow White, Bambi, and Pinocchio.

About 12 noon we went down to the cafe and met up with Summerlea and Nathan. Most of us bought sandwiches from the Wolfgang Puck Café that is located near the elevator you take down from the upper floors. We sat outside on the porch and had a nice lunch. Summerlea had brought grapes and cupcakes. While the sandwich I had was fine, it was kind of plain and expensive. I would pack a nice deli sandwich and just buy a drink and treat at the Café instead. There are a few tables inside as well, but I am not sure if they would allow bringing your own food in.

We headed downstairs to use the restrooms and to check out the exhibit in the theater lobby.

– The floor around the stairs is inspired Mary Blair’s Small World art.

– Look at all the classic movie and theme park posters. Some are really stunning.

– Outside the theater (which on the lower floor) there is a temporary show (through June 2010) on the art of Peter Pan. Here there was at least 10 Mary Blair concept art pieces. Very awesome stuff.

Summerlea, Nathan and Linda had to go and we headed back up-stairs in the elevator by the café and gift shop.

– It was interesting to hear thoughts on the Big Strike in Gallery 6 The Late ‘30s to Mid ‘40s.

– Make sure to try the unique interactive digital gallery stations in Gallery 7 Post-War Rebuilding: Mid-‘40s to the early 1950s. It’s actually a projection that you are touch on the surface of a table to select photos that appear on a screen on the wall. You can also sort the images by category making it very web 2.0.
– The room is highlighted with a ribbon of videos in an amazing multi-media presentation of classic films including: Alice in Wonderland and Lady and the Tramp.

– As you walk down to the back section, pause to look at the amazing view of the golden gate bridge. Yes, you can take a photo here which I came back to do for my friend Linda.

– Gallery 9 The 1950s and 1960s: The Big Screen and Beyond is the highlight with it’s imaginative space and onslaught of multi-media including a globe that uses 8 video projectors to cover it in videos about DISNEYLAND!
– Must check out the large model of Disneyland of Walt’s dreams that has lighting to highlight details of each land in sync with vintage audio. Woot. My only complaint was it was hard to get close look at some of it to see the details.
– Some of the employees are quite knowledgeable so don’t be shy about chatting with them and asking questions.
– There is a great seating area with a multi-screen extravaganza that features old school TV’s with new flat panel screen inside and features Davy Crockett and other TV shows as well as videos from Disneyland.
– A peppers ghost projected Dick Van Dyke explains the Optical Printer in miniature standing on the actual machine. That is how they did compositings in movies like Marry Poppins before the digital solutions we know today.

– Gallery 10 Remembering Walt Disney is much smaller and simpler as a simple old TV shows videos of those who knew him talking how his death effected them. In the background is the song “feed the birds” which was Walt’s favorite. I have to say that I was tearing up a bit.
– It ends with simple white walls and a multi-screen mural of changing video images.

– I bought my first collectible Pin at the gift store of Mickey Mouse from Plane Crazy.

Final Thoughts: Wow. Just an amazing experience. A really thorough telling of the life of Walt Disney. I hardly read the text on the walls, but did not feel cheated as there were audio and video and interactive stations that really enhanced the experience to a higher level. This is really a very modern museum. The collection of art and artifacts is mind blowing, especially the production art from films like the watercolor painted backgrounds.

The adult admission for the Museum is $20 which I felt was well worth it. I was almost there the whole day and would have stayed a bit more if I was not fatigued by all the information.

Who should go: Artist, Disney fans, film makers, animators, lovers of machines/technology and history buffs. Though children might not find the experience as meaningful as Adults will.

To end my trip report…Walt Disney is a figure most of know in some form. Love him or hate him, the museum shows him as a real person with his own loves, dreams, faults, and heartaches. He was a man that was always looking to the future and he loved technology and telling stories. He pushed his creative teams to go to new heights and to help shape modern animation, theme park and entertainment to what it is today and for that we all owe him big time.

I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. […] pieces by Mary Blair. I blogged about my trip, including taking the bus to the museum on my site: Trip Report: Presidio and the Walt Disney Family Museum | Atomic Bear Press __________________ _____________________________________ Brian Kolm the Atomic Bear – comics, […]

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