HERMOSA — A Los Angeles couple who purchased the childhood home of Walt Disney in Chicago say that they aren't looking to upset the neighborhood but do aim to hold tours.
Brent Young, who bought the home at 2156 N. Tripp Ave. with his wife Dina Benadon, told the New York Times that "we don't want to disrupt the neighborhood with a big attraction" but that "we're also not interested in just putting a plaque on a house."
The couple say they will operate the home as a museum called the Walt Disney Birthplace and offer tours and stage "modest exhibitions.
"Our dream is that this house becomes a place that inspires creativity," Benadon told the paper.
Noting that Walt Disney was raised there with his brother, Roy, she added, "We want to inspire parents to raise more Walts and Roys."
The Disney family lived in the small home, built by their father Elias in 1893, until 1906.
The couple are the owners of Super 78 Studios, which creates animation and works with theme parks on exhibits.
The couple say they saw the house for sale on the Internet and bought it for $173,000.
Some neighbors were happy to hear the news of the sale.
"That's beautiful," said Maria Morales, who lives in the 2200 block of North Tripp Ave. Added her husband, Mike: "Maybe [property] values will go up."
"I think that would be very good," said another neighbor, Maria Martinez, who lives about a half block from the Disney house.
The new owners are hoping to get the building landmarked by the city. A 1997 effort to landmark the wood-frame home failed in a City Council committee with then-Ald. Bernard Stone saying that Disney was anti-Semitic, according to a Tribune report.
"Walt Disney was a bigot and I'm not going to sit here on a panel and create a historical landmark for a bigot," Stone said in 1997.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, then an alderman, also voted against the landmark designation, saying, "I don't find Walt Disney to be a hero. He was not only a well-known anti-Semite. He was racist and anti-labor."
Today, Stone, now retired, said he still stands by his charge that Disney was an anti-Semite.
But, he added, "Look, if it's a private group that's trying to turn it into a museum, that's up to them. But I certainly didn't want the city to have any part of it. It's no different than if he had shown a tendency to be a racist."
Morgan Harris, a spokesman for the project, said "There's really no historical basis" that Disney was racist or anti-Semetic, and cited his own sources.
"Several historians have completely debunked this rumor, including Neal Gabler in his book Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination as well as Disney legend and Imagineering Ambassador Martin Sklar in his recent book, Dream It! Do It!," Harris said.
Current Ald. Rey Colon (35th) said he did not think so either.
"I have found nothing to support that," Colon said Tuesday. "It's kind of unfortunate it didn't get landmark status [in 1997]. It should have happened then."
As for the project itself, Colon said it is still early and that most of his communications with the new owners have mostly been about renovations and getting landmark status.
"They've stated that they have the goal of making it some kind of tourist attraction and a community center that will focus on creative programs for children," he said. "I'll be shepherding them through that process and will be in close communication with them."
While the project by Young and Benadon is not an official Walt Disney Co. production, it does have the blessings of Roy P. Disney, a grandson of Walt's brother Roy.
"On behalf of the Disney family, we are so pleased to see Walt Disney's historic birthplace and family home being restored to its humble origins," Roy P. Disney said in a statement to the Times.