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Walt Disney’s Original Map of Disneyland Is Headed to Auction

Disney created the map with the artist Herb Ryman while trying to secure funds for his theme park

Mike Van Eaton of Van Eaton Galleries, posing with Disney's early map of Disneyland (Van Eaton Galleries )
smithsonian.com

In late September of 1953, Walt Disney was scrambling to raise funds for an ambitious new project: a fantastical, immersive amusement park that he had aptly named “Disneyland.” The legendary producer had scheduled meetings with investors at television networks in New York, and he wanted to give them a vivid sense of what Disneyland would look like, as Neal Gabler writes in Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. With just days to spare before the meeting, Disney recruited the artist Herb Ryman to create a concept drawing of the park.

Over the course of a single, frenetic weekend, the pair holed up in Disney studios, where Ryman sketched a detailed map of Disney’s vision onto a folding poster board. That map, as Brooks Barnes reports for the New York Times, is headed to auction next month at Van Eaton Galleries in California.

Van Eaton estimates that the item will garner between $750,000 and $1 million, making it the most valuable Disney artifact ever put up for sale, according to a statement issued by the auction house.

The early sketch played a “pivotal” role in Disney’s funding efforts back in 1953, according to the Van Eaton press release. Disney’s own studio had refused to finance the theme park, and he had resorted to mortgaging his home and borrowing money for the project. But to make Disneyland happen, Disney would need additional resources.

Disney’s brother, Roy, took the map with him when he met with television executives in New York. Two networks declined to invest in the park, but ABC agreed to give Disney the funding that he required, in exchange for access to Disneyland’s film library and a new television show hosted by Disney himself.

Once plans to build the park were underway, Disney relied on Ryman’s map during meetings with developers and investors. According to the Van Eaton press release, Disney was so impressed with Ryman’s work that he used an enhanced version of the map as the first promotional image for Disneyland.

As Sandy Cohen notes in the Associated Press, Ryman’s map is different to the Disneyland that so many children (and adults!) have come to know and love. Some areas shown in the drawing were never constructed, others were given a different name. But many of Disneyland’s iconic features are there: the princess castle, the idyllic Main Street, the railway snaking around the perimeter of the park.

Van Eaton is selling the map on behalf of a collector who purchased it from Grenade Curran, a former Disney employee. In 1955, during one of the last planning meetings for Disneyland, Curran noticed the original drawing in the corner of Disney’s office and asked if he could keep it. His boss happily agreed, according to Barnes of the Times.

“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,” the press release says. But Curran did not realize that his “memento” would one day be regarded as an important relic—a rare depiction of Disney’s early dreams for the happiest place on Earth. 

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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