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House of the mouse: Chicago showcases the birthplace of Walt Disney

Scripps News visits the historic Walt Disney Birthplace, restored over a decade to its original state.
House of the mouse: Chicago showcases the birthplace of Walt Disney
Posted at 1:34 PM, Dec 05, 2023

Chicago may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think about Walt Disney.

But it is in the Windy City, in a humble working-class neighborhood called Hermosa, where the animation pioneer was born in 1901.

"It's one of the best-kept secrets of Chicago," said Rey Colón, the Chicago project lead of the Walt Disney Birthplace project, which aims to restore the house where Disney was born to its original state.

Project founders Dina Benadon and Brent Young have led the charge ever since they bought the house in 2013.

"We launched into it saying we're going to preserve this home. And we're going to try and re-create it as best we can and to what it would have been like when the Disneys did move into it and did build it," Benadon told Scripps News.

Seven Disneys once shared the house: Walt and his four siblings, along with their parents, Elias and Flora, who built and designed the house themselves.

Because the Disney family moved to Missouri when Walt was only 4 years old, his Chicago roots tend to be overlooked.

But Colón says those formative years were crucial in shaping who Disney later became, especially because it's here that his bond with his older brother, Roy, started.

There's only one known photograph of Walt by the house, with his younger sister Ruth. It is now displayed inside the house's former parlor.

"Photography was very expensive back then," explained Colón during a recent visit.

During Open House Chicago in October, Colón and his team opened the house to the public for the first time.

But the restoration project is not over yet. Colón says his team is planning to add "magic windows" using LED screens "so that when visitors come and they look out the window, they can see 1893."

Also in the works: speakers wired throughout the ceiling so visitors can hear "horses, children running back and forth upstairs, all the sounds that they would have heard if they were here" more than 100 years ago.

Colón says the goal is to fully open the house to the public by appointment, when the restoration project is done, hopefully by the first quarter of 2024.

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