In Walt Disney's Missouri: Kansas City
Walt Disney spent the better part of a dozen years in Kansas City,
living there most of the time from 1911 to 1923. The axis of his
life was along 31st Street, stretching east from Troost Avenue.
Eighty years ago, 31st and Troost was the center of a thriving commercial
area; now it's just one intersection in an urban wasteland.
Just one block east of Troost, at Forest Avenue, is the McConahy
Building, a new building when Disney set up his Laugh-O-grams studio
on the west end of the second floor in May 1922. When I first visited
and photographed the building on a Sunday morning in 1989, it was
in severe disrepair. (An elderly manmistaking me for an official
visitor of some kindsaid as he walked by me, "It's about time
they did something about that place, chief.") Ownership has
since passed into the hands of a nonprofit group called Thank
You Walt Disney, Inc., whose Web site says that "selective
demolition" is under way as a prelude to reconstruction. I
saw no evidence of such activity, although what's left of the building
has been shored up to prevent its complete collapse.
During most of their time in Kansas City, the Disney family lived
in this house at 3028 Bellefontaine Avenue, a few steps north of
31st Street. Walt's friend Walt Pfeifferlater his employee
at the Burbank studiolived a few doors up the street.
This building at 3004 Benton Boulevard was the Benton Elementary
School when Walt Disney attended it between 1911 and 1917. It was
later renamed the Holmes School, for a prominent African American,
after the racial composition of the neighborhood changed. The school
closed in 2002. When I visited Kansas City, the building was soon
to reopen as apartments for the elderly.
The point of visiting places like the Disney sites in Kansas City
is to step back in time and connect with the lives of people long
dead. Although Kansas City as a whole is prosperous and attractive,
Walt Disney's old neighborhood is so badly blightedand so
radically different from what he knewthat making that imaginative
leap back to 1922 is, I'm afraid, very difficult. Stepping back
in time even further, to the first decade of the last century, is
much easier at Marceline, a two-hour
drive northeast of Kansas City.
[Posted April 4, 2005; revised March 20, 2008]