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Disneyland of Chicago? Walt's Boyhood Home Could Become A New Museum, Child Center

By Selena Fragassi in News on Aug 10, 2015 4:00PM

It is a small world after all when you find out that Walt Disney once called Chicago home.

Though its not common knowledge (most relate the Disney empire’s roots to Missouri), Baby Walt was in fact born in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood in 1901—and now his boyhood home at 2156 N. Tripp Ave. could be turned into a museum and creative childhood center, if the current owners have their way.

The modest two-story, green and grey property is now under the deed of L.A. husband-and-wife team Brent Young and Dina Benadon, who acquired the house for just under $170,000 two years ago. Together they started Super 78, a media company that “produces animated movies for theme park rides.” Sound familiar?

"Disney was a major influence on us, so when we found out that the house was on the market, we immediately expressed interest," Young told the Tribune which interviewed couple and toured the house. The house could be open to the public by the end of 2015.

"Our hope is that we can open this home to some of the local neighborhood kids to see what's inside the home, and understand who lived here," Young continued. "We believe there's a lot of parallels between Walt and [older brother/Disney partner] Roy's story and what kids in Hermosa go through today. This was a humble, working-class home and these are working-class homes today. But this house is a symbol of the American Dream."

In 1891 a contractor by the name of Elias Disney was looking for work on projects related to the upcoming 1893 World’s Fair when bought the empty lot for $700 and built a house (designed by his wife Flora) with his own two hands. The couple’s four children, including youngest Walt, would live there until 1906 when they moved to Marceline, Missouri after fearing some of the increasing crime in their working-class neighborhood.

For that reason, the house has never really been a focal point of the Disney legacy, even for scholars, until now. Young and Benadon are seeking to secure landmark status for the property in order to up the regional and national profile of the home and encourage visitors. Though the city had originally considered the home for the title in 1997, it was rejected because it did not appear exactly like the Victorian-style original.

That is why the owners are now overseeing extensive renovations, so far pumping in $75,000 to the project which has included “exterior restoration, including tearing off aluminum siding, which covered the house for years, in order to reveal the original wood frame structure,” according to the Tribune. Though much more is to be done—such as building a porch, picket fence and window work as well as plans for the museum and childhood center—at the cost of nearly $1 million, and the couple is looking for sponsors and crowd-sourcing to keep it moving along. Tim Samuelson, the city of Chicago cultural historian and adviser, told the Tribune that the restoration effort makes a “compelling case” for landmark status here.

And there’s good community reason for it. Young and Benadon’s plan is to “re-create what life was like for the Disneys in Chicago back in the early 20th century” using audio and video tricks for an authentic visitor experience. They also want to stir up community interest in other budding young artists.

In addition to using Kickstarter and IndieGogo platforms, Young and Benadon have also started selling the old O-Zello soda to fund the project; the soda company was one that Elias Disney once invested in. All proceeds will go towards the renovation and ultimately public project.