From turning beloved fairytales into timeless animated classics, and transforming orange groves into magic kingdoms, the power of Walt Disney’s unique brand of storytelling knows no bounds. Harnessing artistic vision and technological innovation, the Disney theme parks have continued this legacy for more than six decades to everlasting delight of fans who have made millions of memories along the way.
Now, on the eve of Disneyland’s reopening and as Walt Disney World kicks off its 50th anniversary celebration, Heritage Auctions’ April 8-10 The Art of the Disney Theme Park & Disney Storybook Art auction event looks back on the history of the Disney theme park by allowing fans and collectors the opportunity to own pieces of that very special past. The event will offer several hundred lots of art and artifacts, from Walt’s backyard railroad through the opening of Disneyland in 1955 to the creation of Walt Disney World in 1971 to infinity and beyond.
All good journeys need a good beginning, and this one is right out of Hollywood. There, long before Disneyland, on five acres surrounding the Disney family home at 355 Carolwood Drive in Los Angeles’ Holmby Hills neighborhood, Walt Disney debuted his first theme park, a rideable railroad in miniature, exact to the last detail.
The Carolwood Pacific Railroad, 2,615 feet of track upon which Disney the train conductor ran his 1/8-scale, 260-pound, coal-fueled, 7¼-inch gauge train, all pulled by the locomotive Lilly Belle, so named for Walt’s wife Lillian. “I just needed something to get myself away from things,” Disney once said of his decision to create this backyard railyard, the original plans and blueprints for which serve as the extraordinary centerpiece of The Art of the Disney Theme Park & Disney Storybook Art event. Completed in 1950, Disney’s backyard train was only the beginning of a new direction that would take the magic of storytelling from the silver screen to real life.
The sale is chock full of Disneyland nostalgia from the early days of the theme park, capturing the mid-century magic and whimsy of its earliest years of operation. The offerings range from the iconic to the esoteric.
Among them are dozens of hand-silkscreened attraction posters, now collecting rarities as these modernist advertisements of Disneyland’s adventure and fantasy have taken on a near-mythic status in the visual lexicon. Also on offer is a full complement of signs and artifacts from the theme parks, ranging from a fully functioning animated fiberoptic display advertising the Main Street Electrical Parade to cast-iron train wheels and other memorabilia from the Disneyland Railroad.
Sometimes the best stories are found in the more esoteric items on offer, including a 1957 Disneyland Dictionary that offers a glimpse into daily operations of the early days of Disneyland and provides an exciting preview of things to come, including the never-realized Edison Square and Chinatown areas of the park and a preview of the Haunted Mansion, then planned to be positioned at the end of Main Street U.S.A.
Speaking of the Haunted Mansion, no Disney theme park auction is complete without copious mention of this iconic attraction and its spooky-funny aesthetic. The sale includes an original painting on canvas from the iconic stretching portrait gallery, featuring a portrait of three men in quicksand whose precarious position is revealed as the room and its portraits stretch. Created by celebrated Imagineer Marc Davis, this ultimate visual gag was painted by well-known Disney scenic artist Clem Hall and is offered in a remarkable state of preservation.
Also included in the sale are some earthly manifestations of the 999 haunted inhabitants including a pop-up specter ghost prop and an original UV-painted butyrate face of Ezra from the final scene of the Haunted Mansion, one of the ghosts who could follow you home. The section is rounded out by an original printing of the Haunted Mansion’s maintenance manual from Walt Disney World, a thrilling look inside the technical wizardry that makes the Haunted Mansion as beloved today as it was when it opened more than 50 years ago.
Celebrating a half century since its 1971 opening, Walt Disney World has a starring role in this sale as nostalgia for the Florida theme park and resort has accelerated with the approaching anniversary.
The offerings from Walt Disney World are as extensive as the resort itself, ranging from the iconic oversized map of the Walt Disney World Resort that was displayed in rooms at the Contemporary Resort and Polynesian Resort in the 1970s to a hand-painted photo-op standee featuring The Gummi Bears from the 1980s Disney Afternoon TV series to an oversized construction wall sign that teases the coming of a new Tomorrowland in 1994.
With artifacts and memorabilia from the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and across the resort, there’s a little bit of everything from every era for every collector.
The journey does not stop with Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
The auction includes rare memorabilia from Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, the Disney Cruise Line and even the Disney Store. Included in the auction are life-sized Disney animated character display figures from the Disney Store that were ubiquitous parts of 1990s childhoods at malls across America, including complete collections of Alice in Wonderland and Beauty and the Beast figures.
Also on offer is a 7-foot tall statue of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia, one of only four created for sale during the Millennium Celebration at Walt Disney World. There, too, is a life-sized figure of Mickey Mouse in a San Francisco Giants baseball uniform, and a bevy of Disney bronze sculptures featuring fan favorites like Scrooge McDuck.
Beyond the theme parks, the first session of the sale highlights the Art of the Disney Storybook and features original illustration art from iconic Disney book publications across the decades.