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Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn

History and museums
sightseeing, history, culture, museum

Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn is a museum located at the Los Angeles Live Steamers (LALS) complex in Griffith Park. It is a miniature barn once used by Walt Disney as a machine shop while operating his miniature "live steam" Carolwood Pacific Railroad layout in the backyard of his home in Holmby Hills, a district of Los Angeles, California.

The barn is currently open the third Sunday of every month from 11am to 3pm. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. The barn is owned by the Walt Disney Family Foundation, and operated by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society and the Carolwood Foundation.



Barn beginnings

Walt Disney vividly remembered having a barn on his family's farm in Marceline, Missouri, where he would play as a child. One of his very first attempts at entertainment was putting on a barnyard circus for his friends in the barn. However, the farm animals did not want to participate in his show and his mother made him give back all the money he had "earned". The barn was always a source of magic and wonder to Disney.


Walt Disney and Ward Kimball, one of his animators, attended the Chicago Railroad Fair in 1948. The journey rekindled Disney's fascination with steam locomotives and he returned to California with ideas for a live-steam garden railroad layout. The Disneys purchased a five-acre site in Holmby Hills (just north of Beverly Hills) with landscaping room in mind for wife Lillian's flower gardens, and the trestles and tunnels which Walt fancied. To retain the reporting marks of the live-steam miniature locomotive reproduction of Central Pacific Railroad #173 he named his railway the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, a convenient reference to their address - 355 North Carolwood Drive.

That year Disney produced So Dear to My Heart, a film scripted in a rural farm setting. To accurately re-create a barn for the film, he assisted set designers with recollections of the barn in Marceline on the family farm of his childhood. An old-fashioned railroad station replica facade built for the film was given to Ward Kimball who "fleshed it out" to serve as the depot of his Grizzly Flats Railroad full-scale narrow-gauge line, to house his extensive model and toy train collection. Facilitated by the plans drawn up for the film's barn and his own Marceline recollections, Disney reproduced the barn at home in miniature, central to the track layout as a roundhouse, train shed, and machine shop.

As a way to relieve the stress of his work, Disney would wake early before breakfast and head down to the barn to arrange his day and thoughts. He eased the "train-widow" tension of neglect caused by his new hobby, by dedicating the engine in Lillian's honor with the name Lilly Belle. After work, supper, and on until late in the evening Walt would return to planning and dreaming while tinkering and improving his steam engine, rolling stock, and projects which would later develop to become Disneyland.

Birthplace of imagineering

Walt Disney's barn is billed as the "birthplace of Imagineering". It was in the barn with his trains, that he got one of the very first inspirations for what would eventually be called Disneyland. In its earliest planning stages he envisioned a park that was surrounded by a miniature train, but today the Disneyland Railroad is a full-scale narrow-gauge railway with five passenger trains hauled by four live-steam locomotives (expanded from the original two locomotives) circling the perimeter of the park daily since its 1955 opening.

Roger E. Broggie, the head of the Walt Disney Studio machine shop at the time, helped Walt assemble the Lilly Belle, as well as the rest of his Carolwood Pacific Railway and rolling stock. Roger is known as the "first Imagineer", as he aided Disney in transitioning into three-dimensional entertainment. Roger would also help Disney assemble the trains for Disneyland, among other contributions to the planning of the park.

While planning and operating Disneyland, Disney had less time to enjoy his trains. His visits to the barn became less frequent over time, but the barn still stood there.

After Walt Disney

After Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, Lillian Disney enjoyed keeping up the gardens and decorations while she lived alone in their Carolwood home. However, several years later she sought out a more suitable place where the backyard railroad could be properly maintained and enjoyed, and decided to donate his hand-laid train tracks, switches, and crossing to the Los Angeles Live Steamers (LALS), a group of steam train enthusiasts in which Walt had been a charter member, and who maintained a museum with an extensive layout in Griffith Park. Volunteers removed the aluminum rail, along with their associated redwood sleepers with scale miniature spikes, and utilized them to create a new route nestled south against the hillside known today as "The Disney Loop" and tunnel.

Disney's original Carolwood track sections then became the popular mainline; over the course of many years of wear, much of the original aluminum trackage has been removed and replaced with more-durable steel screwed to recycled plastic-composite heavy-duty sleepers. Several hundred feet of old trackage were recovered and stored beside the barn, and then stored off-property. Small display samples have been offered as souvenirs to collectors.


After Lillian Disney died in December 1997, her surviving family sold the house to initiate funding of the Walt Disney Family Foundation, the precursor of The Walt Disney Family Museum as well as Walt's barn. Gabriel Brener, the new owner, planned to level the original landscaping as he was forced by asbestos concerns to raze the Disney house. Brener managed to save the S-curved train tunnel and Mickey-Mouse-shaped drive-in gate, which were part of his attraction to the property derived from his respect for Walt Disney.

Diane Disney Miller, Walt's eldest daughter, asked Brener if she could save from the wrecker's ball a historic structure on the family lot - Walt's barn. Brener agreed, and in late 1998 Diane arranged for volunteers to dismantle and remove the barn from the Carolwood property, piece by carefully labeled piece. The Walt Disney Family Foundation was able to negotiate the creation of an enclave within an enclave to accommodate public viewing of the barn as a museum, protected within the grounds of the Los Angeles Live Steamers. Because of Walt's history with, generosity toward, and legacy as a LALS founding member the club was proud to host it.

Morgan "Bill" Evans, the man who landscaped most of the original Disneyland and the Disneys' Carolwood backyard, donated his expertise to landscape the area around the barn's new home to match its original location and orientation in Holmby Hills, including the three weeping sycamore trees transplanted from the family lot. Then the barn "jigsaw puzzle" was faithfully rebuilt on its new concrete foundation with the aid of many careful volunteers. All of the barn as it now stands was as the original barn once stood (excepting 20% of the wood, because the split-cedar-shake roof was reconstructed with fireproof shingles).

On July 19, 1999, Diane Disney Miller dedicated the barn as a new place to learn more about her father. At the ceremony, she stated, "Our heart and heritage is here, in this place". Also on hand for the dedication were Steve Soboroff, Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Commissioner, and Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Collection and displays

The barn has an extensive collection of Disney and steam-train-related memorabilia. The collection includes:

  • Workbenches, hand-built by Walt Disney himself
  • The track switch board Disney used to control the electronic track switches throughout the Carolwood railway
  • One of Disney's porkpie hats
  • An extensive display of memorabilia relating to the Disneyland Monorail, including a working 1960s-era monorail toy from Schuco
  • Samples of the train and toy collections of Ward Kimball and David Rose
  • Pieces of the Carolwood rolling stock
  • Roger Broggie's tool box
  • Several scale locomotive reproductions:
    • Central Pacific No. 173 built from the identical castings as Walt's Lilly Belle as well as samples of the engine's frame, wheels, running gear and cylinders, to demonstrating fabrication techniques (all on loan from an undisclosed owner)
    • Disneyland Railroad No. 1 C.K. Holliday reproduction 1/8 scale miniature live steam engine
    • Great Western Railroad King George V purchased by Walt in London (on loan from the Disney family)
    • Handmade brass live-steam O-gauge (purchased from an undisclosed collection)
    • Southern Pacific No. 3000 live steam engine kit representing superheated late-period steam (built by and on loan from Dave Rogers)
    • Handcrafted 1/4 scale wooden model

Special guests

The barn has had many special guests make appearances; mainly Disney Legends who meet with fans and talk about their experiences with Walt Disney. Such notable people have included Bobby Burgess, Margaret Kerry (the live-action model for Tinker Bell), Floyd Norman, and Imagineers Tony Baxter, Rolly Crump, and Alice Davis.


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