The exceptional artifact has never been offered at auction before and has not been viewed by the public in more than 60 years. This map was pivotal in obtaining the finances Walt and his brother Roy needed to make their dream a reality, and is the single most significant piece of Disneyland memorabilia to come to auction to date.
With more than 600 million total visitors since its opening day and nearing its 62nd anniversary, it is hard to imagine that when Walt Disney first considered the possibility of building a theme park, he was often told that the idea would never succeed.
By the early 1950s, Walt Disney was already a household name. His studio had created memorable characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, as well as breathtaking animated feature films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella. It was no doubt that Walt Disney was a man with creative ideas, but Disneyland was set to become the place where Walt could let his imagination flourish beyond any other.
Walt first considered building a theme park while watching his children play on a carousel in a local Los Angeles park. He wanted to build a place where both children and adults could have fun together. At first, Walt planned to build his park in an empty lot next to his Burbank Studio, however, as he began to imagine larger-than-life castles, wild Frontiers, and futuristic worlds of Tomorrow, his imagination and creativity quickly outgrew the small space and he set his sights on bigger locations.
In 1952, Walt had his team look into the costs of making his family-friendly theme park a reality. Unable to get funding from his Studio, Walt borrowed all of the money he could and even mortgaged his own home. The heavy financial costs made Walt realize he needed outside help to keep his dream alive.
In late 1953, Walt’s brother Roy Disney scheduled meetings in New York with leading banks and the three television networks (CBS, NBC and ABC) to try and obtain financing for Disneyland. Walt knew that this was his best and possibly last chance to make a deal that could make Disneyland a reality. However, Walt realized that words alone would not be enough to convey the images he had in his head. He already had technical drawings and a few blueprints, but knew that if he could just show them a detailed picture of what Disneyland could become, then his chances of obtaining funding would greatly increase.
On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 26, 1953, Walt called on his friend and former employee Herb Ryman to draw what would become one of the most important drawings in Disney history.
Ryman, an established artist within the film industry, was familiar with creating detailed illustrations within short deadlines. However, when Walt told him that he needed a large aerial view of Disneyland by Monday morning for Roy to take to New York, Ryman did not think it was possible. The two men agreed that if they both stayed at the Disney Studio and worked nonstop both Saturday and Sunday, they could finish the drawing in time.
In what would be remembered as the “Lost Weekend,” Walt spent those two days narrating in fine detail every aspect of his park that he could muster, and Ryman, under Walt’s direction, turned his ideas into the first large, tangible visual representation of Disneyland ever created. This drawing was used to create a large tri-fold presentation board that Roy could take to New York as his main presentation piece.
Roy’s meetings with the banks and two of the networks proved fruitless, but his presentation proved successful with ABC, who agreed to give Walt the funding he needed to build his park in exchange for access to Disney’s film library, and a new Disneyland television show hosted by Walt himself, among other stipulations. The agreement remains the largest television network deal in history.
When Roy arrived back at the studio, the map was returned to Walt where he consistently used it in his meetings with developers and investors. When the map wasn’t being used by Walt, he had it displayed at the studio to inspire his team while they were further designing the park.
Walt was so impressed with this original map that in 1954, he had the map enhanced with additional black outlines and color, and included several new sketches within it so that it could be used as the first promotional image of Disneyland that the public would be able to see. The history associated with this piece is astounding.
In September of 1954, one year after the map was created; the newly enhanced original was shown to the public as the first ever image of the park. For the next six months, leading up to the grand opening of Disneyland in 1955, this map was used as a promotional image in magazines and newspapers, and could be seen in person at special events in order to promote the park’s opening.
By March of 1955, the map had a long list of achievements unparalleled by any other Disney artwork. The map was the first complete image of Disneyland, successfully sold the idea of the park to ABC, secured early investors and developers, became the basis for all of the later conceptual and developmental artwork for the park, was the first ever released image of Disneyland, and was used heavily in magazines, newspapers, and other promotional media prior to the park’s opening.
Then, in March 1955, during one of the final planning meetings for the park, Grenade Curran, a young Disney employee, noticed the original map abandoned in a corner of Walt’s office and asked Walt if he could keep the map as a memento. Walt had befriended Curran’s parents in the years before, and developed a playful banter with Curran during his time at the Disney Studio. Walt had affectionately come to nickname Curran “Shrapnel” due to his unusual first name. That friendly relationship is what led Walt to give Curran the original map to take home that day.
Curran, knowing that the map was important, stored it away carefully as a memento of his time at the Studio and his friendship with Walt. However, Curran was unaware that he was unknowingly preserving one of the most significant artifacts in Disney history.
Now, more than 60 years later, this original Disneyland map has been re-discovered and is coming to auction at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
This map, the highlight of an approximately 800-item auction of original Disneyland props, costumes, souvenirs, and artifacts, is estimated to sell for $750,000 to $1,000,000, making it the most valuable Disneyland artifact ever offered at auction.
Van Eaton Galleries, a now veteran of Disneyland and Disney-themed auctions including their “The Story of Disneyland” and “Collecting Disney” auctions, has seen prior items such as an original PeopleMover ride vehicle sell for upwards of $400,000, but has never seen a piece as significant to Disneyland history as this original map.
Mike Van Eaton, co-owner of Van Eaton Galleries, says, “That an artifact like this, which is so deeply rooted in the creation of Disneyland, still exists today is astonishing. With the discovery of this piece, we have an item that Walt Disney created during a 48 hour period of hard work and imaginative genius, which succeeded in getting him the funding he needed to build one of the most successful endeavors of his career, and which he continued to personally use throughout the entire building stages of Disneyland. Without this map, there would likely not be a Disneyland today. We’re very excited to be bringing this item to auction and to have the chance to share the story behind this map with the millions of people who love Disneyland just as Walt originally wanted”.
The auction is set to take place June 2017 at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, California, with an exhibition in May where the public can view the items in person.