Although the Walt Disney Family Museum has been open in San Francisco for a couple years, we finally got to it. We are glad we did.
You enter a lobby filled with hundreds of awards that the entertainment entrepreneur and his eponymous company accumulated over his life.
Then you enter a sprawling exhibit, filled with placards (a lot of reading), displays, photos, pictures and videos tracing all aspects of Walt Disney’s life, from his birth and childhood, time spent in the army (at the end of WW I) and his entire adulthood, to his death of cancer.
While clearly a tribute to a father, the museum, largely conceived and funded by his children, explains the life of a man that helped shape many boomers’ lives. The museum is, simultaneously;
- Historic, tracing Disney’s career, from comic-strips, through the early days of animation, movies, talkies, full-length animated movies, television and theme parks;
- Educational, explaining the technologies and collaborations that enabled advances in entertainment technology;
- Nostalgic, helping to refresh childhood memories of everything from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, through movies from Snow White to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Old Yeller, to one of my introductions to classical music (Fantasia), the Mickey Mouse Club (not to speak of its ears), Davey Crockett (coonskin cap and all) and Disneyland; and
- Personal, with snapshots of his family life and remembrances by his children.
We learned all sorts of interesting facts that we never knew, but that provided context to our life’s experiences; such as his:
- Bankruptcy that led to his move to LA and near bankruptcy that almost ended his Hollywood career;
- Initial creation of the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1930s for theaters and early moves into product tie-ins and merchandising;
- Bet-the-Farm ventures, such as Snow White, Mary Poppins, Disneyland and Epcot;
- Long-term collaboration with orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski (culminating in Fantasia) to bring classical music to the masses;
- Terrible years of the 1940’s when Disney underwent a crippling and personally painful strike and was forced to produce war propaganda films to survive;
- Venture into nature documentaries;
- Contributions to and the pioneering processes developed through his contributions to the 1960 Winter Olympics and 1964 World’s Fair; and
- Initial inspirations and designs for Epcot.
Funny, but as we exited the museum, we felt the same immediate inspiration. We had had immediate need to see The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (which we satisfied courtesy of YouTube) and a need to enter and move Fantasia to the top of our Netflix queue.
Exploring the Presidio
If you visit the museum, don’t forget to stop at the building next door, the National Park Service information center for a map and walking tour of the Presidio (of which the museum is at the center of the historic Parade Ground). While you are there, you can also pick up a calendar of NPS events around the Bay Area, from San Mateo trails, to Alcatraz and Muir Woods.
Beginning and Ending on Chestnut and Union Streets
Overall, an afternoon well spent, especially if you begin and end it on Chestnut and Union Streets, with lunch at A16 and a late afternoon pick-me-up and snack at one of the city’s newest $1 oyster happy hours at Café des Amis. And if you really want to celebrate (at the risk of chasing away your wife), you can stop at The Humidor for a late afternoon or evening cigar.