Restoring the birthplace of an icon

By Arts & Culture Editor

A concluded Kickstarter campaign to restore Walt Disney’s childhood home—a century-old building that has fallen into disrepair—at 2156 N. Tripp Ave., in the West Side neighborhood of Hermosa, fell far short of its $500,000 goal Jan. 6. Despite two months without progress, those in support of the project are still pushing forward.

The campaign to transform the house into a museum started Dec. 5 and is led by Brent Young and Dina Benadon of Super 78 Studios, a Los Angeles-based company that produces visual media for theme parks. The Kickstarter goal was set for $500,000, but only $111,138 was raised.

Dec. 5 is Disney’s birthday, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed Walt Disney Day last year to show his support for the project.

Robert Coker, senior show writer and head of the creative development at Super 78, said the press event for the fund included children from William P. Nixon Elementary School singing “Happy Birthday” and local political figures such as Sen. William Delgado (D—2nd) and Alderman Rey Colon (35th Ward).

Coker said they want to restore the 121-year-old home to what it would have looked like when Disney lived there.

“The goal from the beginning was to really bring it back to that period when Walt and Roy [Disney] were living in the house,” Coker said. “There have been a number of revisions over the years…. We’d certainly like to remove the extensions and just bring it back to the structure that [his mother], Flora, designed and [his father], Elias, built.”

According to Coker, the Disney family moved to Chicago in 1889 when Elias Disney got a construction job for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Coker said the team would have been more proactive on social media if they had known the campaign would fail.

“It was only during the campaign [that] we really sort of dove into getting our supportive online components going, like our Twitter account and our Facebook account,” Coker said. “If we were to do it again … it [would be] good to build that online community ahead of time, then [launch] the Kickstarter once awareness had really saturated the Disney fan community.”

Even though major news outlets such as The New York Times and British newspaper The Guardian have reported on the Kickstarter project, Coker said much of their target audience of Disney fanatics has just begun finding out about the project.

“To really reach the people you want to reach can take many, many months,” Coker said. “We really were reaching for the stars by setting a half-a-million-dollar goal.”

While the campaign fell short, many members of the Hermosa community have expressed their support for the museum.

Rosario Delgado, executive director of the Hermosa Community Organization, said the museum would benefit the community, which is mostly made up of low- income, working-class people, primarily of Hispanic descent.

“I read all the newspapers and all the interviews and I’m very surprised and interested,” Delgado said. “I believe in the community and I think it’s an excellent project.

William Delgado, no relation to Rosario Delgado, has lived down the block from the Disney house for 21 years, and is overwhelmingly supportive of the project to restore a historic home that is now so run-down.

“If there are any construction dollars that are coming from the state of Illinois, that are coming into my Senate district, I will be more than happy to assist them,” William Delgado said. “This, for me, is a no-brainer.”

This is not the first time there has been public interest in restoring the Disney house.

In 1997, the City Council voted on a proposal to give landmark status to the home. In a 1997 article, the Sun-Times reported former owner June Saathoff did not want the status because it would have prevented her from making structural alterations to the home.

Coker said he fears the house may not be preserved if action is not taken.

“We discovered L. Frank Baum, writer of the Oz books and associated stories, lived in Chicago,” Coker said. “His house was torn down many years ago and some of the local politicians had said it was a tragedy to lose that house, and we just can’t let that happen to the Disney house.”

Coker said the museum’s presence in the neighborhood could provide inspiration for the children of Hermosa.

“These kids Walt and Roy were utterly ordinary Americans…. There is nothing extraordinary about these two boys that would lead you to believe they’d go on to create one of the largest media empires humankind has ever seen,” Coker said. “We want [the kids] to know, this could be you.” 

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