Constructing Production: The Walt Disney Studio’s Move to Burbank in 1940

By the end of the 1930s, the Walt Disney Studio employed over 1,000 people and had completely outgrown its facilities on Hyperion Avenue in North Los Angeles. In 1939 the company purchased a large tract of land in Burbank and began to construct a new, state-of-the-art studio, while also moving some of its existing buildings from Hyperion to the new location. News of Disney’s move spurred real estate and commercial development, as other businesses sought to align themselves with one of the country’s favorite filmmakers. Drawing on extensive primary research in local historical societies and newspapers, in labor history archives, and in contemporary business and technical magazines, I will analyze the design and construction of the new studio, the implications for animation production at Disney, and the impact of the new facility on Burbank itself. The plant’s design and amenities drew comparisons with college campuses, reinforcing the image of the studio as a place for enjoyment as well as work. Though the new buildings sported the most modern conveniences, the studio’s physical organization reinforced hierarchical labor processes, with separate buildings dedicated to different divisions in the company. This spatial configuration increased the distance between various groups of employees and between employees and Walt Disney himself. Employees cited the physical division of work within the studio as one of the reasons for the 1941 strike that tarnished Walt Disney’s image.