In San Francisco, A Museum to Celebrate Walt Disney

July 17, 2009

By Clifford A. Pearson

Images courtesy Page & Turnbull (top and middle); courtesy Rockwell Group (above).

Page & Turnbull is converting old buildings at the historic Presidio in San Francisco into The Walt Disney Family Museum. Rockwell Group is designing the interior architecture and installations.

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Page & Turnbull is converting an old army barrack, a gymnasium, and a storage facility at the historic Presidio in San Francisco into The Walt Disney Family Museum. The 77,000-square-foot museum, which will present the life and work of the animation pioneer and entertainment entrepreneur, will open October 1 with interior architecture and installations designed by Rockwell Group.

The museum will join a cluster of film-related facilities, including the San Francisco Film Centre and Lucasfilm’s headquarters, in the Presidio, a former army base that is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The converted barrack will serve as the key public element in the Disney museum complex, providing space for the main exhibit galleries, a 113-seat screening room, a learning center, a museum store, and a café. The former gym will be used for offices, collections, and special exhibitions, while the old storage building will house the museum’s mechanical equipment. Rockwell’s design for the main building uses its domestic-scale rooms to create an intimate environment for materials that range from historic documents and artifacts (such as drawings, storyboards, and movie stills) to listening stations and more than 200 video monitors.

“Our challenge,” says David Rockwell, founder and chief executive officer of Rockwell Group, “was to physicalize the story of one of the most prolific artists of the 20th century.” To do that, the firm used the existing residential architecture to give visitors a “one-on-one experience with the art,” explains Rockwell. While most of the galleries occupy spaces inside the barrack, a gallery covering the last 20 years of Disney’s life will unfold along a 170-foot-long curving ramp set below the courtyard of the U-shaped building.

“Moving through the galleries will be an exciting and engaging experience for visitors,” promises Richard Benefield, founding executive director of the museum.

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