The Walt Disney Hyperion Studios, 1929 – 1939, The Foundation of an Empire

| July 28, 2013 | Reply

The name Hyperion is well-known to Disney fans. It is the book-publishing division of the Walt Disney Company and the monorail in Disney California Adventure Park travels across the Hyperion Bridge as it speeds past the Buena Vista Street entrance. However, Disney fans may not know the significance of the name Hyperion in Disney history. On a segment of The DIS Unplugged Podcast: Disneyland Edition, I spoke with Disney historian and author, David Lesjak, about life at the original Walt Disney Studios and his presentation on  “The Disney Hyperion Studios, 1929-1939, The Foundation of an Empire” at The Walt Disney Family Museum.

The Hyperion Studio Music Room, late 1929 or early 1930. Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

In 1925, Walt Disney was making the Alice Comedies out of a store front. Walt decided he needed a stand-alone studio. Before marrying Lillian Bounds, Walt Disney and his brother Roy placed a $400 down payment on a plot of land between Griffith Park Boulevard and Monon Street on Hyperion Avenue. The neighbors were a gas station and an organ factory. In 1926, Walt and Roy filed a permit for a three-room artist studio. This was the beginning of the studio at 2719 Hyperion Avenue. The new studio included two small offices for Walt and Roy Disney, a camera room, and a large partitioned work area for the animators and ink and paint staff.

Walt Disney’s office in Animator’s Building #1. Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

1927 and 1928 were significant milestones in film making history and in the history of the Walt Disney Studio. In 1927, The Jazz Singer debuted which was the first feature length film with synchronized sound, and in 1928 Walt lost the rights to his most famous character at the time, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt saw these events as opportunities and soon introduced Mickey Mouse and the first cartoon short with sound, “Steamboat Willie”.

Camera operator Bill Cottrell in the Hyperion Camera Room, 1930. Bill Cottrell later became the first president of Walt Disney Imagineering. Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

As Walt and his animators became more creative and innovative technically and artistically, the studio had to grow to meet the demands of Walt’s vision. During the next four years the original studio building went through several renovations and additions until a two-story building called “Animator’s Building # 1” and a sound stage were added in 1931. Walt and Roy purchased additional plots of land surrounding the studio and built the “Animator’s Building #2/Shorts Building”in 1934, Ink and Paint and Annex buildings in 1935, and a “Features Building” in 1937. Several other smaller buildings were constructed on the property, including a Wurlitzer Organ building, warehouse, film vaults, sound stage monitor room, camera room, and a garage for Mickey Mouse’s car.

Sound stage and Animator’s Building #1, 1931. Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

The Ink and Paint Building. Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

Walt Disney, animation director Wilfred Jackson, and music composer Frank Churchill in the Sound Stage Monitor Room. Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

Walt Disney’s rennovated office, circa 1937-1938. Note the rolled up blueprints for the Burbank Studio in the corner. Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

By 1939 there was no more room to grow on the Hyperion Studio lot. By this time, the Disney Studio had 1,500 employees and the layout of the Hyperion Studio was so haphazard there was a feeling among some that the Hyperion Studio could no longer meet the goals of the Disney Studios.

The Hyperion Studio in 1939. No more room to grow! Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

In June of 1938, Walt and Roy paid a $10,000 deposit for a 51 acre plot of land in Burbank and construction on a new studio began shortly afterwards. In the fall of 1939, the first staff moved into the new Burbank studios. Walt was a pioneer in recycling and transported buildings from Hyperion to Burbank. The bungalow where D23 members meet for studio events and the Company Store are surviving buildings from the Hyperion Studio.

In 1941, half of the Hyperion Studio property was sold to Thomas Curtis Optical Laboratories. The Weldon T. Thomas Company, a vitamin manufacturer, purchased the remaining property. On August 26, 1966, the studio property was torn down and replaced by a Mayfair Market and later Gelson’s Market. A duplex from the former Hyperion Studio property still stands in its original location and is a private residence.

An image of the original Hyperion Studio building superimposed over the site today. Image courtesy of David Lesjak.

During the Hyperion Studios short 14 years, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck,  Snow White, Pinocchio and many more beloved characters were given life. In many ways, the Hyperion Studios represents “the golden age” of Walt Disney’s imagination.

To learn more about the activity at the Hyperion Studio, its legacy on the Walt Disney Studio and how the move to Burbank affected the creativity of the animation staff, please listen to my segment with David Lesjak on The DIS Unplugged Podcast: Disneyland Edition.

You may read more about David’s Disney history research at:

Vintage Disney Collectibles

Toons at War

Contact David Lesjak: [email protected]


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Category: Disneyland