Studio availability, Walt Disney & Laugh-O-Gram Studios museum, digital production classes
The McConahay building in Kansas City, Mo. was adopted into the National Register of Historic Places for its exemplary tapestry brick styling. Tapestry-brick “came in assorted colors, from purples, olive greens, and blues to deep russet and chamois with a rough finish,” according to the Old House Journal, “designed to catch the light and create a warm glow.” These colors were meant to be alternated across a wall, imparting a decorative, patchwork effect (hence the name tapestry) throughout the finished building.
Though the building itself is indeed a city treasure, it was actually the first tenants that left the most distinct mark at 1127 E. 31st Street. In 1922, upon the McConahay’s completion, a small film studio moved in to occupy the second floor.
One 19-year-old boy, Walt Disney (oh, you’ve heard of him?), started his film career in 1920, making short films as a side project while working at an ad agency. Disney’s family had moved to Kansas City when he was 10 years old. These shorts turned into “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams,” in honor of Frank Newman, the owner of three Kansas City theaters who agreed to show Disney’s young works.
People loved the shorts, often played at intermission of full-length pictures in the theaters. The green but gritty Disney was at times perhaps a bit too ambitious, but as we certainly all know, this trait would take him far. Deciding his next venture lie in fairy tales (with a modern twist), Disney established his Laugh-O-Gram Studios in 1922 and took up office on 31st Street. Joining Walt on the animation team were Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Carman Maxwell and Friz Freleng (Freleng would become better known for his work on the classic Looney Tunes cartoon).
Right here in Kansas City, the five-man crew created the very forerunners of Disney’s later hit films, with shorts such as Alice’s Wonderland and Cinderella.
Unfortunately, Laugh-O-Gram had some financial troubles—Walt Disney in particular. He was forced to actually take up residence in the studio – never mind where he groomed himself (Union Station). By the following year, July 1923, Laugh-O-Gram Studios filed for bankruptcy.
Ever-determined, a slightly older Disney hocked his film gear and took himself to that little town where dreams come true: Hollywood, baby.
Five years later, a Disney Company character debuted, the famous (and ever-evolving) Mickey Mouse – you might’ve heard of him, as well. Mickey Mouse is the inspiration of an actual mouse, one that lived in Walt’s drawer at Laugh-O-Gram studios. Walt was fond of the lil’ guy, though he first called him Mortimer Mouse. We like Mickey better. Apparently, so did everyone else.
Walt went on to greatness. His first studio and the building that housed it, however, unfortunately deteriorated into nothing more than dilapidated abandonment over the decades. That is, until the early 2000s, when both the Thank You Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Family foundations allocated funding to renovate the hazardous building, within and without. As of 2014, work began to turn the old McConahay building into a Laugh-O-Gram museum, complete with digital production classes and studio.