Walt Disney’s Birthplace

More about
The Walt Disney Birthplace
Preservation Project

Three weeks ago, I published an article about the project to restore the Chicago house where Walt Disney was born. Dina Benadon and Brent Young, design and production professionals in the themed entertainment industry, bought the house and launched The Walt Disney Birthplace Preservation Project. You can read my article here: Restoring the Walt Disney Birthplace.

At the end of the article, I had a link to a Kickstarter page where you could back the project financially. I did not comment about the link.

Today I have ten reasons why you might want to follow that link.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, December 27, 2013.

1. Time is running out for the Kickstarter campaign.

The Walt Disney Birthplace Preservation Project has a Kickstarter goal of at least $500,000 in pledges. The campaign began December 4, 2013 and only runs through Monday, January 6, 2014 at 4:56pm CST. It has a long way to go to meet its goal.

If you’re unfamiliar with Kickstarter, here’s a quick explanation of what it is: Kickstarter is a way for creative projects to get financial backing through limited-time “crowdsourcing” campaigns. Individuals pledge to fund projects they want to see happen, usually at one of several levels. Unless the financial goal is met, nobody is actually charged. If the goal is met, backers typically receive something of value, but do not become stockholders. All sorts of worthwhile projects have been funded this way. For more, see What is Kickstarter? (opens new window).

2. Dina and Brent are approaching the restoration properly.

The Walt Disney Birthplace Preservation Project isn’t some sort of vanity project for bragging rights. It’s a serious commitment.

There’s a highly qualified and experienced team behind this, including architect Charles Pipal, who is also Adjunct Professor, Historic Preservation, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Local leaders support the project.

Walt Disney Birthplace in Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Back row: Historic Restoration Architect Charles Pipal; City of Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson; Zoning & Historic Preservation Consultant Timothy Barton; Director of the Illinois Film Office Betsy Steinberg (face hidden); State Senator William Delgado, 2nd Legislative District of Illinois
Front Row: Chicago 30th Ward Alderman Ariel Reboyras; Property Owner & Project Director Brent Young; Property Owner & Project Director Dina Benadon; Chicago 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón

The team has been dubbed the “Restoration Dream Team,” and that’s an apt description. The detective work has started with the removal of the aluminum siding from the front of the home. Charles Pipal and Dan Ruzic, another Restoration Dream Team member, have studied the exposed surfaces as an initial step toward developing a thorough understanding of how the house was originally configured.

Walt Disney Birthplace in Chicago

Annotated photo by Charles Pipal and Dan Ruzic, courtesy of The Walt Disney Birthplace Preservation Project

Beneath the aluminum siding

3. It’s not just the house where Walt was born.

Built with his own hands by Walt’s father Elias Disney, the house became home to Elias, his wife Flora, and their children in 1893. At the beginning, young Disney brothers Herbert and Raymond were joined by newborn Roy. By 1905, when the family moved out, there were five Disney children in the 1,200-square-foot house, with Walt born in 1901 and Ruth in 1903. There’s a real family story here, and it deserves to be told.

4. The neighborhood is part of the story.

The restored Walt Disney Birthplace will be a source of pride to the community and an inspiration to the community’s children.

Walt Disney Birthplace in Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Tripp Avenue after the Walt Disney Birthplace press conference, December 5, 2013

The context is part of what makes the house so special. Many other houses on the street are from the same era as the Disney house, with some of them designed by Walt’s mother Flora and built by his father Elias. The church that Elias built and where the Disney family worshiped is a short walk from the house.

5. The house is a way of remembering Walt Disney as more than just a brand.

Mr. Clean is a brand. Betty Crocker is a brand. Walt Disney is a brand. The difference is that one of them was real.

Walt Disney Birthplace in Chicago

Mr. Clean ® Procter & Gamble / Betty Crocker ® General Mills / Walt Disney photo © The Walt Disney Company

Disney fans and Baby Boomers know that Walt Disney was a remarkable man whose works and creative legacy live on. But the number of people who watched Walt as the television host of his weekly anthology series is dwindling. At the same time, the standardized Walt Disney logo is becoming ever more pervasive. The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, and Walt Disney, One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios remind visitors who Walt was.

The house is a tangible and emotional connection to Walt and Roy as working-class family children who went on to greatness. It’s where their story began.

6. This restoration is a terrible business venture.

This may seem like a really odd reason to suggest backing a project. Let me explain. Dina Benadon and Brent Young bought the house at market value, based on it being a 1,600-sq.ft. two-flat generating rent from two reasonably up-to-date apartments.

Along with being married, Dina and Brent are business partners in Super 78 Studios, a successful design and production company. So they know business. But this is something else.

Walt Disney Birthplace in Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013


Dina and Brent formed WDB Restorations, LLC to pare the structure back to its 1,200-sq.ft. single-family configuration of 1901, as much as possible. In some cases, existing materials will be saved; in other cases, original features will be meticulously rebuilt. The house should qualify for historic landmark status to protect it for future generations.

That’s not a formula for maximizing potential rent—but that’s not the goal of this venture. The restoration will be costly and will not pay for itself. It needs—and deserves—support.

7. (Almost) everyone can afford to be a backer.

This isn’t one of those Kickstarter campaigns with a $100 minimum. The Birthplace Preservation Project has levels that begin at just $1. Even at that level, backers will get a listing in the “Restoration Dream Team Charter Members” book that will be in the house—along with a big thank you and the good feeling that comes from being part of something worthwhile.

Walt Disney Birthplace in Chicago

Courtesy of The Walt Disney Birthplace Preservation Project

Charter Member certificate

Of course, the rewards get better at higher levels. Reaching the goal will require pledges that are large, small, and in-between.

8. Big backers look for popular support.

The Kickstarter goal is $500,000. As I’m writing this, the pledged total is nowhere near that. It will take many smaller backers, along with some big backers, to reach the goal. The total count of backers is becoming impressive, but it could be far higher, considering the size of the Disney fan community.

Walt Disney Birthplace in Chicago

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Concept poster on display at the press conference

I hope some “deep-pocket” backers see that this project has broad support and make up any shortfall before the campaign ends. The likelihood of that grows as the total number of backers goes up and the gap between the pledged total and the goal goes down.

Here’s the thing: Big backers look for ventures that are meaningful to many others.

You can demonstrate your interest by becoming a backer at any level.

9. If the goal is not met, you haven’t spent a dime.

If this Kickstarter campaign fails, you don’t have to worry that WDB Restorations, LLC will cancel the restoration but keep your money. If the goal is not met, credit cards will not be charged. There is no risk to backers at any level. That’s how Kickstarter works.

10. It’s satisfying to be a backer.

This Yesterland article will be read by several thousand people during its first week online. I would love to see the number of backers increase by several thousand.

Please click on the links below. In the Kickstarter link, be sure to read the FAQ at the bottom. It provides answers to questions that you might have about the restoration and what is anticipated afterwards.

To Support the Project and to Learn More

Kickstarter: The Walt Disney Birthplace Preservation Project

Project Website: The Walt Disney Birthplace

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Kickstarter Results
Walt Disney Birthplace

© 2013-2014 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated April 4, 2014.