Myths and Legends about Disney at Yesterland.com Was Sid Cahuenga a Real Person?

I’ve heard the claim on podcasts. I’ve read it on websites and discussion forums. I’ve received e-mail asking if it’s true. And I’ve even heard the claim from Cast Members at Sid Cahuenga’s.

Here’s the real story.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, November 4, 2011


The Claim: Sid Cahuenga was a real person, and Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a replica of his actual home and shop in Hollywood, California.

Status: False


Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Sid Cahuenga’s (2009 photo)

When you enter Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’re in an idealized commercial district from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But the shop on the left doesn’t look like a commercial building; it looks like a residence with a commercial sign on it. It’s Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop.

You may have heard that it’s an exact replica of Sid Cahuenga’s store in Hollywood, California. You may have heard it’s not just a replica, but the actual building, carefully moved and restored by Disney. You may even have heard that Disney not only relocated Sid’s store, but also hired Sid himself because Sid was such an integral part of the store.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Sid Cahuenga caricature sign (2011 photo)

There are several variations of the story, but the main story is always similar:

Movie fan Sid Cahuenga and his wife Rosie moved from Chicago (or Omaha) to Hollywood in the 1920s to be close to the fledgling movie industry. The couple bought vacant land at the edge of town and built a small home in a style that was popular and fashionable at the time.

Hollywood boomed. Within a few years, their house was surrounded by new movie studios, stores, restaurants, and offices. Despite finding themselves living on a busy commercial street, Sid and Rosie did not want to move. They liked their home and its location—and even turned down numerous offers from real estate developers who had other ideas for the property.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Four looks inside of Sid Cahuenga’s (2001 photos)

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The Cahuenga fireplace (2011 photo)

With a steady stream of shoppers and tourists walking by the house, Sid saw an opportunity. Ever the movie fan, Sid had amassed quite a collection of movie memorabilia from friends in the industry. He displayed some of his extra movie posters, lobby cards, props, and artifacts on his front porch—with price tags. The venture was an immediate success.

Sid converted the front rooms of the Cahuenga home into a shop, using the existing furniture to display his unique merchandise. Even the fireplace was covered with things for sale.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Sid’s truck (2007 photo)

When he wasn’t selling “movie treasures” to tourists and collectors, Sid would drive his truck all over town to replenish his inventory. In one version of the story, Sid would buy surplus items from the studios, which were only too happy to get rid the stuff. In another version, Sid depended on his friends to sneak things out of the studios. And in yet another version, Sid relied on the dumpsters behind movie studios for a never-ending supply of merchandise.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

$450 because it’s autographed by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman (2006 photo)

When Hollywood “names” shopped at the store, Sid let them pay with autographs instead of with money. Sid would frame the autographed pieces and sell them at higher prices.

According to the story, Sid’s business flourished for decades. In all that time, Sid and Rosie never moved from their little bungalow.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The neon sign—and Christmas lights all year (2011 photo)

When Disney-MGM Studios park opened in 1989, the new park included three carefully reproduced icons of Hollywood: the Hollywood Brown Derby Restaurant, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios. The tribute to Hollywood would not be complete without Sid’s.

It’s a great story, but it’s fiction. Sid Cahuenga and his store never existed in the real Hollywood. In other words, Sid and his store were invented by the Imagineers. It’s a backstory—a very good, very believable backstory.

Searching against the ProQuest database of historical and current newspapers—including the Los Angeles Times for the entire twentieth century—produces no results for “Sid Cahuenga” until 1989, and then only in articles about Disney-MGM Studios (later Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in Florida. No newspaper in the entire database ever mentioned anyone named Sid Cahuenga in the real Hollywood.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Autographed photos for sale (2006 photo)

The name Sid is closely identified with Hollywood because of showman Sid Grauman (1879-1950). Although best known for Grauman’s Chinese Theater (1927) on Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman built (or bought) and operated many other movie theaters too. In 1948, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a Special Award, “To Sid Grauman, master showman, who raised the standard of exhibition of motion pictures.”

And the name Cahuenga is associated with Hollywood because of Cahuenga Boulevard (a major cross street of Hollywood Boulevard), Cahuenga Pass (route of the Hollywood Freeway from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley), and Campo de Cahuenga (a historic site near Universal City). According to Street Stories on KPCC Public Radio, author Gregory Paul Williams of The Story of Hollywood explained that the name Cahuenga comes from an Indian village called Cabuegna (with a b), which was located where Universal City is today. Somehow Cabuegna turned into Cahuenga (with an h).

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

2,158 miles to Orlando (2011 photo)

For the backstory of the house, the Imagineers looked to real cases of Hollywood area residences being turned into businesses after commercial structures were built around them. The Queen Anne-style Janes House, built in 1903, still functions as a store on the Hollywood Boulevard. In his 1996 book Since the World Began: Walt Disney World, The First 25 Years, Disney historian Jeff Kurtti mentions a former residence at 1359 N. La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles being used as a luggage shop. While both are examples of residences turned into stores, neither is the physical model for Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind.

The structure is based on the California Bungalow residential style, as practiced by architects such as Charles and Henry Greene. Unlike many other buildings at the Studios, Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind is not based on a single, actual building, but is faithful to a style.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Autographed photos: Russell Johnson (The Professor on Gilligan’s Island)
and Adam West (Batman on the Batman television series of the 1960s)

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Autographed photos: Cher and Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster on The Munsters)

There are five framed, autographed photos in Sid Cahuenga’s that are not for sale.

Three of them feature actors best known for television series of the 1960s. Another features Cher. These photos are all made out “To Sid.”

Sid Grauman or Sid Cahuenga? Definitely to Sid Cahuenga. Grauman died in 1950, long before these photos were taken.

And the fifth is an autographed photo of Sid Cahuenga himself.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Danny “Sid Cahuenga” Dillon (1922-2005)

Does this mean that Sid Cahuenga was real after all, and not a fabrication of the Imagineers?

Jim Korkis, author of The Vault of Walt, has the best explanation of why so many people believe Cahuenga was real. It was due to the gifted performer who captivated guests as Sid Cahuenga.

“If some visitors to Walt Disney World are adamant that Sid Cahuenga was a real person, they are right… sort of,” Jim explained. “For 16 years, from when the park opened in 1989 until he passed away from cancer in 2005, Danny Dillon was the one and only Sid Cahuenga.

“I knew Danny, and he was my dad’s favorite Disney Streetmosphere performer. Danny did absolutely amazing impersonations of George Burns, Stan Laurel, and Bing Crosby, among others. Coming from an entertainment background in Los Angeles, I had seen many professional impersonators over the years, and none of them were any better than Danny. In fact, I usually preferred Danny’s interpretation.

“His wife, Pam Brody, was the singer for many years at the Rose & Crown Pub at the United Kingdom pavilion at Epcot. Danny and his wife started working for the Disney company in the seventies, often as performers at conventions, as well as the resort hotels.

“Inside the Sid Cahuenga shop is an autographed photo of Danny in his Sid Cahuenga costume and with his huge, friendly smile that welcomed so many guests to the park for a decade and a half. While a rotating roster of Streetmosphere performers at the Studios park over the years have played starlets, directors, workmen, and so on, Danny was the only one to ever perform as Sid. He was a talented performer and a very, very nice guy who was kind to me when I first started working in entertainment at Walt Disney World.

“While the other Streetmosphere performers often worked in different scenarios with each other, Danny usually did his performing solo because of his character role. He welcomed guests to the Hollywood of 1947, as he had been instructed by McNair Wilson, the creator of Streetmosphere. Wilson told me that he created the character of Sid specifically for Danny.

“When Disney-MGM Studios first opened, Danny in his Sid persona was on the cover of USA Today in full color. Of course, like any character performer at Disney, he wasn’t allowed to reveal his true name and identity. Sid got all the publicity.

“Just like the shop itself, Danny was a true one-of-a-kind. He made Sid Cahuenga come to life with his stories, his interactions with guests and his classic impersonations. His interpretation of Sid became as real as Santa Claus. That’s one of the reasons his character was never replaced. Those of us who knew Danny still miss him, but thanks to his talent, apparently the legend of Sid Cahuenga is alive and well in the Hollywood That Never Was, along with the stories about his shop.”

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind Antiques and Curios shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

$5,500 for a Walt Disney’s framed photo and autograph—in the form of a signed check (2006 photo)
 


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© 2011-2012 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated March 2, 2012.

Photo of Sid Cahuenga exyterior: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of porch sign: 2011 by Werner Weiss.
Four photos of interior: 2001 by Allen Huffman.
Photo of fireplace: 2011 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of Sid Cahuenga truck: 2007 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of $450 Sherman autographed music: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photo of neon sign: 2011 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of autographed photos: 2006 by Allen Huffman.
Photo of direction sign: 2011 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of framed celebrity photos (Johnson and West): 2011 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of framed celebrity photps (Cher and Lewis): 2011 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of photo of Sid Cahuenga: 2011 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of framed Walt Disney photo and signed check: 2006 by Allen Huffman.