When Walt Disney took up residence in California, he did some of his first animation work in his uncle Robert's ramshackle garage. He soon moved to better quarters, the garage left behind, forgotten.
Until, six decades later, Disney executive Art Adler heard on television that the garage—which he knew had once been Walt's—was being auctioned. The Disney Company had no interest in it. Whoever bought the garage would likely demolish it and use the lot for something else. So, Art made it his mission to save Walt's garage.
In Walt Disney's Garage of Dreams, which Art completed shortly before his death in 2014, Art shares the history of the garage, his tireless efforts to save it, and a unique insider's look at his ten-year career with the Disney Company, from the perspective not of an animator or an artist, but that of an executive.
Here's just some of what you'll find inside Walt's garage:
Walt Disney's Garage of Dreams also features narratives from Bob Penfield, an original Disneyland Cast Member, and from retired Disney VP of Merchandising Bob Bowman, with additional contributions by Disney historian Jim Korkis.
This is your chance not only to learn where Walt set his feet upon the path to greatness but also get a rare peek into the "suit-and-tie" side of Disney.
Introduction: As I Remember It
Part One: Walt Disney's Garage of Dreams
Uncle Robert and His Garage
The Famous Garage Auction
Disney Archivist Dave Smith Begs to Differ
The Real Role of Paul Maher
The Old Garage Nobody Wanted
Garden Grove: Where Dreams Come True
The Deed of Gift
Dedication Day in Heritage Park
Wood Slivers from Walt’s Garage
Walt Disney Recognition Day
Part Two: Working for the Mouse
Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, a Contract Administrator’s Life for Me
Other Memories of Working at Disney
Shields and Yarnell and Adler: Christmas at Disney World (1978)
Meeting Celebrities at Disney
It Takes People
Bob Bowman: My Dance with Disney, 1971–1996
Bob Penfield: The Last Original Disneyland Cast Member
Paul Mullee: My Boss
Walt Disney and Me
Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye!
Extra: Proclamation for Walt Disney Recognition Day
Extra: Walt Disney’s Secret Speech
A Final Word
A Note from Jim Korkis
I became aware of my friend Arthur C. (Buddy) Adler when I was a purchasing director with Disney. Most folks referred to him as either Art, or Buddy if you grew up with him in New Jersey. Sadly, as I write this foreword, Art passed away on September 23, 2014, at the age of 82.
Art will always be remembered in various and different ways. As someone who grew up and loved his hometown of High Bridge, New Jersey, he often reminisced about the early years of his life there and wrote articles about it. Others, like me, knew Art from his Disney days during which he became somewhat famous for his compulsion of saving Walt Disney’s Garage. In recent years, Art and I would email each other, talk on the phone, have lunch occasionally, and talk about world affairs. My last conversation with him was on September 19, 2014, as he was struggling to recover from surgery.
In this book, you will witness the selfless acts of one person, one voice, with a strong constitution that allowed him to bring together a group of folks to save this valuable treasure, Walt Disney’s Garage.
Art was the kind of person who took “No” as a challenge. He always found a way, whether you liked his approach or not, to accomplish a task he felt important. He was strict to the written word, maybe even to a fault, but he never gave up, NEVER.
And so what you will read and witness in this book is truly a “One Man’s Dream”, normally associated as a tribute to Walt Disney himself. Enjoy it, talk about it, make sure others know about it, and put yourself in his shoes as you marvel at the perseverance of this one man.
For all those who loved Art for who he was, this is his gift to you. May you rest in peace, my dear friend Art Adler. Heaven has been waiting for you!
Bob Bowman worked for Walt Disney Attractions for twenty-five years until his retirement in 1996 as vice-president, Merchandising.
Everyone has their own opinion or memory about what happened in these stories I am about to share.
Let them write their own book!
This is my book and this is the way I remember it all happening. That’s the way I am going to tell these stories. These are the true stories and this is the only place where you can read them. I was there and I saw what I saw and heard what I heard.
In March 1982, when I was living in Laguna Hills, California, and working as a senior contract administrator for Disneyland, I first heard about Walt’s garage coming up for auction. It was mentioned in a brief report on a local news station. Had I not been watching, this book never would have been written, my life would have been different, and Walt’s garage might have ceased to exist.
I called the television station to confirm what I had just heard. It was true. I could not believe that the Disney organization, my employers, would allow such a historic structure to be auctioned off!
How could Walt’s garage have been sitting there quietly for all those many years, weather-beaten and lonely, just waiting for someone to notice? Why wasn’t it in a place of honor at Disneyland or in Burbank? Now that people knew it still existed and where it was, would it fall victim to vandals or those hoping to turn a profit by peeling away bits of that historic structure and putting them up for sale?
Even if the garage did sell at the auction, would the buyer it treat it with respect? Would the Disney Company swoop in at the last moment and rescue it?
And how the heck did this guy I had never heard of become the current owner of the garage? Was he a man of integrity and vision? Or was he just out to make a quick buck?
All these questions and so many more troubled me, so I went to the auction.
The clock kept ticking and ticking. I could feel my heart racing.
What would happen if nobody bid on the garage?
The answer, it turned out, was the beginning of one of my most exciting and satisfying adventures.
Let me tell you all about it. This is the way it really happened.
Art was born in Queens, New York, on May 5, 1932, and began a ten-year career with Disney in the Contracts Administration Department in 1974. After his retirement, he turned to acting and various charitable causes, including the rescue of Walt Disney's first studio, in actuality his uncle Robert's ramshackle garage, at an auction.
After acquiring the garage, Art led a group of investors called the Friends of Walt Disney in the preservation and eventual sale of the garage to a historical society. Art was also instrumental in President Ronald Reagan's proclamation of a Walt Disney Recognition Day.
Art Adler passed away on September 23, 2014.
Check back for a short chat with Jim Korkis about the historical significance of Walt's garage. Jim provided additional historical content for the book.
In this excerpt, from "The Famous Garage Auction", Art Adler remembers what it was like to walk into Walt's garage for the first time—and then realize he couldn't afford the opening auction bid.
After I heard on local television in Laguna Hills, California, about Walt’s garage going up on the chopping block, I decided that I had to be at the auction, if only just to see and maybe touch the garage. I wanted to discover why this historic American landmark was sitting there next to a house in Los Angeles rotting away and not on Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. for the world to see what one man could accomplish from such humble beginnings.
I arrived deliberately early and, as it turned out, I was the first one to sign the attendance register that day. I wrote my name big. People would know that I had been there. I didn’t have $10,000, but I felt I needed to be there just the same.
Before talking to anyone, I darted to the old garage on the side of the house at the back end of the driveway. It was sitting there quietly and humbly. There was nothing to attract any special attention.
I know some people looked and just saw an old garage, even if it were historically significant.
I looked and I saw where Walt began his meteoric rise to making magic for so many people. This was where it all began…where the dreams became a reality.
Physically, the garage looked like a big, plain box measuring twelve feet by eighteen feet by eight feet high. It had a pitched roof with tar paper shingles and a large double front door. It seemed timeless in the sense that it represented no particular architectural period or design.
Inside is what I really wanted to see and touch with the hope that some of Walt’s good karma would rub off on me. And, to my surprise, the inside of the garage had never been painted. The karma was intact, as far as I was concerned.
These were the walls that Walt touched and his every breath was captured in the wood. I imagined Walt standing there, looking at those walls, his mind racing as to how to convert it into an animation studio.
I went inside the house and looked over the other items to be auctioned off. There were television and radio reporters all over the place. The publicity had worked and they all hoped for a great story.
One of them even interviewed me when he saw me wearing my Disney name tag. He obviously thought I was there in some official capacity to bid on the garage and was disappointed to find out that I was just an interested fan. There was no representative there from the Disney Company.
I gave several other interviews that day before the auction of the garage, and that night I saw one of them on television.
I talked with Paul Maher, trying to make some sense out of why he would auction off such an important part of Disney history. To this day, I don’t think he ever fully understood why the garage was so important.
Finally, near the end of the day, Jay Stewart, the announcer for the television game show Let’s Make a Deal, assumed the role of auctioneer and enthusiastically tried to get the crowd of about a hundred people excited about bidding on the garage.
The opening bid was set at $10,000.
No one bid. No one offered a counter bid. I could see the light of expectation go out of Maher’s eyes.
The television and radio crews packed up almost immediately and left. There was no story here.
A few remaining people milled about the area. I stood there thinking to myself about what would happen now.
Would the garage be used for firewood or made into a coffee table top? At best, it would be ripped apart so that the landlord could continue with her renovations by putting in a new garage.
I knew I had to do something.
To find out what Art did, and so much more, including details of his "suit-and-tie" career with Disney, pick up a copy of his book.
In this excerpt, from "Walt Disney and Me", Art Adler wonders what Walt would have made of his efforts to save that old garage.
Even though I never met Walt Disney, he was always an inspiration.
I certainly felt his presence when I first set foot into Uncle Robert’s garage. The inside had never been painted or coated with anything. It was raw wood. I stared at that bare wood and very hesitantly and gently touched it. Had Walt touched that very same spot?
When I relocated to Disneyland, I immediately knew that it was different from the more spectacular Disney World because I could sense Walt Disney’s karma. I could feel his presence.
If I were to come up with one word that describes Walter Elias Disney, it would be “dreamer”. I have been a dreamer, too, for most of my adult life, so I can understand and appreciate the process of dreaming. Being a dreamer is much like being in love, in that there is always a chance it will not work out and you must be prepared for that.
Fortunately, for both Walt and I, most of the things we dreamed did become a happy reality. We both had a dream standing in that little old garage.
He was an American icon and a force for good and happiness in this world. Even though he is gone, he remains alive in our hearts and mind. He will never be forgotten.
Walt was not perfect and certainly had the same human shortcomings that we all do. He could be a hard task-master or, as my father used to say, “a tough man to shave”.
Yet, even though he has been physically gone for half a century, he continues to inspire and bring great joy through his many creations to both children and adults. His final legacy was giving us the gift to dream of a better world. He certainly reflected God’s will that we should all have hope and should strive to be the best we can.
I hope that if Walt Disney had known me, he would have liked me and the way I got things done, even with all my imperfections.
When I picture Walt, I always see him smiling.
In Art's book, you'll read all about the history of the "garage of dreams", and why it's such an important though overlooked piece of Disney history.