Disney Family Museum

Yesterday was spent going to the Disney Family Museum. This was set up at the San Francisco Presidio. A former US military base, now a national park. The Presidio is worth a day just on its own, but living ‘near’ it, I’ve been there several times.

FWIW, my favorite “approach” avoids most of San Francisco city and all of the traffic. I run up I-280 on the backside of the peninsula, then at the Hwy-1 / Hwy-35 exit, head over to Hwy-35. Also known as Skyline, it runs along the mountain top backbone of the peninsula from down near Saratoga / Silicon Valley all the way up to near San Francisco. A great ride the whole way, especially on a motorcycle in spring… But the shortcut for a fast run to S.F. is that cutover as you approach San Francisco. Then there is a left turn to something like The Great Highway or ‘whatever’ ( I know, I ought to look it up, but I’ve driven it so many times I just “do it”…) and that runs along the beach to The Cliff House (a very good and always packed restaurant hanging on a cliff overlooking the Pacific and dumps you out near Grant? Avenue. It is then a bit of a wander toward the left to find / enter the Presidio on the backside. Again, my apologies, but I like the wander part of it. Making it a formula would break some of the magic… You can always just go straight forward to 19th street / ave whatever-it-is that is the Park-Presidio highway (Golden Gate Park / Presidio) and enter the front way… or use GPS…)

At any rate, we ‘wander’ in the back “gate” via a certain random walk approach. It makes it a bit more mysterious and a lot less crowded. It also tends to have us drive past the cemetery / chapel… with the Golden Gate and Bay in sight… and that’s rather special and sobering at the same time…

Then the Presidio itself is not set up on a square grid for quick crossing. More a set of wandering cow trails that were designed for horse drawn wagons to have an acceptable slope, inside a base with lots of interbase movement but little entry exit via a few (historically) controlled points. So you can find yourself on a 2 way road wide enough for 1 behind what had been base housing (who lives there now? Donno….) but eventually you will see the red brick buildings of the Main Post and now the central square. It is much closer to the ‘front’ of the base and overlooking the Bay (and traffic and…). Frankly, I find the wander through the back worth a lot more than the time it takes…

The Museum

It is on “Montgomery Street” IIRC. 104? At any rate, the one with the big banner on the front saying Disney. Parking is on the opposite side of the ‘quad’. It costs $8 for the day (or something like $1.50 / hour) payable only by credit card into the meter / pass printing thing. No real money allowed. It eventually prints a little receipt that tries to blow off your dash if both doors are open… be advised chasing it isn’t all that fun… (Caught it in three steps and a leap…) You want the ‘all day’ as the museum takes longer than expected.

Their is a ramp at the south end of the building, but most folks go up the stairs in front. Built on a hill, the south end is near grade, the north off the ground a good ways. Entry is near the center. Signage is “ok”, but not great.

On entry, you are in the middle of the building in both side to side and up-and-down. It is actually about 5 stories tall, but some below ground and beyond your reach. This lobby level has the ticket sales to your right, snack bar and store to the left, and awards display to the far right past the ticket sales. Again, signage is a bit lacking but OK. There is an elevator to the rear left that takes you down one floor for the bathroom / movies / exit from the displays (or take the stairs to the immediate left) and past the ticket sales and awards room on the right; is the entry to the main museum display at the far right end / rear.

Prices? Oh, they are absolutely absurdly horrible. But, for a Disney fan, worth it. Snacks were: Coke (bottle 12 oz / 355 ml) was $3.25 while a ‘bowl’ (about 8 to 10 ounces) of “Walt’s Favorite Chili” was $8 and a tuna salad sandwich was $10.25 or some such. (The chili was actually pretty good… little minces of beef, not ground stuff, and spiced just enough, but not overly hot). Spouse ate her sandwich and liked it, so was likely good. Entry? That depends. They were having some kind of special exhibition on Pinocchio? for an added $10, but we didn’t get there until noon, so skipped it. Basic admission was $20 / person, so $40 for the two of us. It would have been $30 / $60 for two had we done the add on. This price includes tickets to two different movies shown on site, if you ask for them (they do offer…) so we saw Winnie The Pooh and Pinocchio movies “for free”. This also consumed about 2.5 hours that in retrospect might have been better spent in the museum proper as we didn’t realize how big it was.

The movies are best seen from the middle of the fairly small theater, but even from the rear the view was very good (and the print was clearly near / at pristine quality). You are given separate tickets for each movie that are scanned at entrance. You get to keep them as scrapbook material if desired. On the wall around the waiting area / bathrooms / downstairs studio (that isn’t on display) is a story of one of the major artists for Disney. Mel Shaw. Worth the time to read and look at the art work. Seems Disney had a thing for polo, and on one occasion his “team” was sent to Mexico as he was too busy to attend, they then played the Mexican National team. VERY interesting paintings of centaurs playing polo… Outside the movie theatre in the waiting area (that wasn’t used for waiting) is an art display of drawings and small statues. Seems Mel kept most of his works and they were not sold or displayed. Until now and here. You can see how his connection to living things (and especially horses) shaped many Disney characters.

But by this time were were nearing 4:30 pm and had not even started to look at the actual “Museum” (“galleries”). Two movies. Lunch. Art Gallery. Wall mural of Mel and polo and… The place closes at 6:00 PM. With 1 1/2 hours left, we headed straight past the room of trophies and awards and into the Gallery Entrance. (And another ticket scan).

The Gallery is a series of rooms. Many more than I’d thought as it wanders over a couple of floors and wraps around the other spaces. 3/4 of the way through you walk down a hallway with a glass wall facing the Gold Gate Bridge. The view is spectacular. Before that, you enter a time sequence presentation on Walt Disney, his companies, and related artists and projects. Many of the displays are interactive (with hand held earphones to hear descriptions in the voices of those involved, often Walt.) Often with many buttons to push for alternative views of things. In once case, an entire photo album with notes is on display in a sealed glass box, next to it is a high quality video display of it. Each page available with the touch of a spot / slide of the tab. THAT was the killer on time. It would take several hours to touch all the tabs, listen to all the recordings, view all the slides… So in many cases we got a ‘taster’ of a few pages / slides / voices; but then needed to “move on” to finish by 6 pm. We will be back… Starting with the galleries at opening and then doing movies / etc. “if time permits”. No flash photography, but low light images OK.

The time sequence presentation works well. From a 16 year old kid lying about his age to drive an ambulance in W.W.I (full size one on display) to doing copy work and line drawings to making art move to The Disney We Know… You can see the progression of a man driven by a passion. For me, that was THE key takeaway. If you would do great things, you must have a great passion about something. (Sadly, I only have minor passions, having been raised to be ‘in control of myself’…) At the end of that first block of “as a kid to W.W.I” you reach an elevator that takes you up to the second floor and the next time series.

A note on elevators: At the south end of the building is the elevator down to the movies and bathrooms. Take it to the 2nd floor, you will find yourself in the middle of the time series of galleries. (About W.W.II) The 3rd floor is not open to the public. Take it down, you are at the bathrooms / movies and a mysterious door marked “no entry”… It is the exit from the galleries as you find out when the trip is done, just after the end of Walt’s life. The 2nd basement is also closed to the public. So in all, there are 5 floors and you will be wandering around 3 of them. Just realize that nothing tells you to go to the back of the awards area to enter the galleries and that if you take the elevator to the 2nd floor you are starting in the middle. (I’d poked my nose in to see what was there while waiting for the spouse). Just start everything to do with the galleries at the back of the awards room.

The galleries have various treasures on display. From family photos to home movies to Walt’s “treasures” saved from his ambulance driving days to various cameras used in production. Many people just dashed past the ‘hardware’. I was fascinated by it. They had actual cameras (likely the actual ones used, but perhaps just ‘period correct’… I didn’t check) of the type (and perhaps the ones) used at each stage of the development of the Walt Disney Way. From simple ‘on a tripod and crank’ all the way up to a 2 story tall multi-plane camera that held acetates of 3 different depths movable in all three axes and a camera at the top similarly movable. A video about it is here:

The “circlerama” movies were a staple of Disneyland / Disneyworld for generations. To see the actual camera(s) used was special. A very large industrial strength metal plate with a plethora of Kodak movie cameras bolted in a ring. Then the optical mask machine they invented to take all the outline of masking from matt work, improving all sci-fi and fantasy films for generations ;-) I’d not realized it was a Disney Company creation. Now a staple of all things Star Wars and Trek… You can just see this driven by passion person moving from pen to camera to pushing into new cameras and new ways… and on into an immersive experience in the parks.

There is a long slow ramp down from the second floor to the first basement. You pass views inside the Mr. Lincoln anamtronic and get to pilot a speaking parrot with a joy-stick. There is a model of Disneyland that’s a dozen or more feet across, with things now long gone, but living in that first vision and in the memories of some looking at it…

The last gallery is about his passing. Projects still in the works (Disneyworld) and pushing to the end. How the world reacted to his passing. Then you exit the ‘no entry’ doors and find out it’s that elevator and stairs back up.

We had about 20 minutes left, so went back to the Awards Room. Just astounding the number and range of awards. One award from an Army Battalion. Another from the Coast Guard. Some in Italian. A Presidential award (signed by Johnson). Film awards. Awards for directing, acting, you name it. Then there was the whole case of Oscars. I’d guess a dozen? And that very very special Oscar. The one with the Seven Dwarf Oscars next to it… While some folks spend a lifetime hoping for just one, here was an entire case floor to ceiling of them… (well, maybe not all the way to the ceiling… but it seemed like it).

And then it was time to go.

We will be back. Taking more time in the galleries, less in the movies. Maybe making sure to catch the ‘special talks’ given about one an hour in the galleries. Maybe seeing on of the special exhibits on some other aspects for that extra $10. Our timing was set by traffic. We could not get there until after “rush hour” let us out of Silicon Valley. Next time, we’ll leave here at “0 dark thirty” to be there at the open, then spend a nice long time in the galleries pushing buttons and listening to voices from the past. Lunch basket in the park / quad. Back for movies in the afternoon.

I knew a lot about the history of the Walt Disney Company, having watched it grow my whole life, and having worked there on and off for over a decade (as contractor, not Cast Member, though the spouse was a Cast Member for a short while). What I’d not appreciated was how much new was invented early on by Walt and associates. Just how much was driven by his drive for more quality, for doing what others had just said was not worth it. That at least 2 and maybe 3 times he had ‘bet it all’ on a vision and a drive for more. Not just funding Disneyworld toward the end of things, but during W.W.II where they almost went out of business (instead filming 300,000 FEET of film a year, or about a one hour movie every 2 weeks of training films and more; along with designing some 100+ insignia for units – giving a specific feel to the whole era of history…) and earlier where they have telegrams on display saying things like “Need $3500 STOP. Find a way”… And that was the major “takeaway” for me. Passion first. Always put quality of product ahead of money. Find a way to make the “operational” aspects work. Then go grubbing for money if you must. Look at what everyone else is doing. Look at what you are doing. Then say “We can do better.” and ask “How?”. Then do it.

One minor sidebar on railroads.

Seems that the little railroad running around Disneyland was not made of custom built engines. At the time, dinky rail engines were used in various industrial operations. It was a ‘rescue’ of sorts from a (trees? wood or paper? operation) that was converting to something else. An open area to “dig here”… that little backwater of history of ‘small rail’. A time when small steam locomotives were not just toys in a park, but working tools of industry. Walt also had a couple of custom built rail lines in toy scale made for his own fun. On display was an engine at 1.5 inches to the foot ( 8:1 ) scale (IIRC). A real, live, steam engine and cars. Castings made to scale and all working. Anyone loving trains will need to spend extra time at the train display… Maybe on my next trip ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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3 Responses to Disney Family Museum

  1. omanuel says:

    Thanks! If you want to accomplish anything you have to have a passion. I do. To get out the message a talented, 19-year old student realized at the Imperial University of Tokyo on 13 June 1936:

    Nobel Laurate F. W. Aston’s lecture on nuclear “packing fractions” & “powers beyond the dreams of scientific dreams” was beyond the comprehension of a ~30 year old nuclear physicist in the audience.

    The 19-year old student was called Kazuo Kuroda in 1936 (later Professor P.K. Kuroda). The ~30-year old nuclear physicist may have been Dr. Hans Bethe, the physicist that helped Weizsacker promote the flawed concept of nuclear “binding energy.”

  2. philjourdan says:

    I lived in Presidio for 2 years back in the very early 70s. The back way you describe sounds like the coast road? That is where I lived (about 1/2 mile from the entrance/exit). Of course there was no view of the coast as there were trees between us and it. But a short bike ride around a few curves and up a hill would bring you to the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. After 2 years, I really did not notice it as that hill was always calf building even on a 10 speed! But that is how I got to school for 2 years (I went to Tamalpias in Marin County).

    I have never been back (I have been back to SF, just not the Presidio) since then. Maybe it is time I did go back and see what happened to it. All I remember was that in 2 years, we saw about 30 days with no fog, clouds, drizzle or rain. We woke up to the sound of fog horns, and/or went to sleep to them every day it seemed.

    The best sight was over in Ft. Barry, Baker and Cronkite. Ride your bike to the top of those hills and then look out over the bay and the bridge. It was awesome! Especially when the fog rolled in (as you were above it), which as I said, was almost every day.

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    Coast road, beach road, grand something… past Cliff House, then left somewhere in to the Presideo… A very pleasant drive…

    Though somehow “Global Warming:” has failed to make either The Pacific Ocean or San Francisco any warmer…

    Mark Twain said something like ~’The coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco’… we had fog pouring in over the hills, and as ‘low cloud’ hiding yhe top half of the Golden Gate bridge… light jacket weather… while San Jose was hot. Such it has always been.

    Once left San Jose (Silicon Valley) in August at 105 F and arrived in S.F.at 55 F with high fog… returning later to a still hot S.J.

    Nothing has changed here in at least 50 years I can attest to. Part of why I first called B.S. on the global warming crap. 1950s coolded into the 70s, then recovered into the 90s, now turning cool again. PDO, nothing more.

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