“In Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood, a modest two-story home sits on North Tripp Avenue. While typically unassuming, dozens of people lined up outside it Sunday, some in clothes featuring Mickey Mouse, waiting for a chance to peek inside the green and gray wood cottage.
“Walt Disney’s childhood home opened to the public for the first time this weekend as part of Chicago Architecture Center’s Open House Chicago. Organizers said they hope to keep Disney’s legacy alive, give insight into how the pioneer of animated cartoon films grew up, and inspire other young people in the neighborhood to pursue their dreams.
“Elias Disney, Walt’s father, purchased the property at 2156 N. Tripp Ave. in 1891. The following year he got a permit to build the two-story wood cottage for $800, and Flora, Walt’s mother, crafted the architectural plans. In early 1893, the couple and their two sons, Herbert and Raymond, moved in. Their third son, Roy, was born soon after. In a second-floor bedroom, Walter Elias Disney was born on Dec. 5, 1901.
“(Elias) was a contractor who built homes like this one, and he was the one who built this house. Flora was the one who designed it,” said Rey Colón, project director of the Walt Disney Birthplace. “Very progressive that both Flora and Elias’ names were on the deed. He didn’t just have her listed as wife. She was an equal partner with him in his business ventures.”
“Tour guide Rich Frachey said Elias had many other jobs during his life — furniture-maker, orange farmer and even a fiddle player. Inside the parlor, Frachey said it’s easy for him to imagine him playing the fiddle or telling stories about the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago where he was a construction worker.
“‘All the innovations that were debuted there, including the first Ferris wheel, Cracker Jacks, Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum, a machine that would wash the dishes, elevators, typewriters and more,’ Frachey said. ‘Did they sit in this parlor and read the book called ‘The Wizard of Oz’?’
“Some biographers speculate Elias’ stories of the fair influenced Walt’s creation of Disneyland and some of its popular attractions such as ‘Tomorrowland,’ ‘Frontierland’ and ‘Main Street, U.S.A.’
“The Disneys moved out in 1906, relocating to Missouri. They eventually returned to Chicago in 1917 when Walt was a teenager. They lived in the North Lawndale neighborhood, and Walt attended McKinley High School.
“According to Walt Disney Birthplace, Chicago attempted to designate the property as a historical landmark in 1991, but the owner fought the designation and won. Today, the new owners are working with the city to restore the home to its 1901 state.” (Johnson, Chicago Tribune, 10/15/23)
Preservation Chicago has been working with Rey Colón, project director of the Walt Disney Birthplace and other stakeholders working to stabilize, restore and reopen as a house museum since 2012. We applaud the dedication of the leadership team and look forward to continued successful milestones.