“This was on the side of the Disneyland Hotel in the 1960s,” explains Mike Van Eaton, owner of the Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks. He gestures to a giant, red neon illuminated letter “D” that stands “12 times the size of God”– to borrow a phrase from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What was once affixed to the side of the Disneyland Hotel from 1963 to 1999 now sits on the first floor inside of a vacated Sports Authority in a strip mall in the San Fernando Valley.
“It’s 16 feet tall,” Van Eaton continues. “And Richard likes to brag ‘cause John Stamos…you know who John Stamos is?” the bespectacled Van Eaton pauses to ask the youthful looking reporter sent by this infernal rag. She responds in the affirmative.
“[Stamos] has a D also in his yard, but this one’s much bigger,” he explains. “[Richard] has a much bigger D.”
“I have a bigger D,” interjects the referential Richard, as he waltzes up, as if called in on cue, to join the pair who stand at the base of the “D’, admiring this sizable member of his staggering collection of artifacts from Disneyland.
“So that’s Richard,” says Van Eaton, introducing the man who spent over two decades scouring, sifting, hunting and pulling out priceless and rare artifacts that once lived in Disneyland out of the back of strangers’ trunks in secret late night parking lot meetings, as if he was trying to crack the Watergate scandal. Richard, as in Richard Kraft, music agent to the likes of Danny Elfman, Richard Sherman and Alan Menken.
“[Van Eaton] was telling me that your D is bigger than John Stamos’?” asks your humble reporter.
“Oh, substantially,” Kraft boasts. “And mine glows. And his doesn’t light up. Mine has bonus features.” He’s sporting a vibrant neon yellow and orange vintage Disneyland parking lot tram operator uniform from the 1970s.
“That was Richard’s dream job for many years,” jokes Van Eaton.
“That is the worst job!” Kraft corrects. “You know why it’s the worst job? It’s all about getting to Disneyland but never going in!” What’s the point of going if you can’t get in?
To say Kraft is “In” to Disneyland is a bit of an understatement. Visits to the iconic Anaheim theme park has played an important role in Kraft’s life. He has fond memories of visiting the Park with his family as a child growing up in banal Bakersfield – trips down the 5 freeway to Anaheim from cowtown to the promise of Tomorrowland – with his parents Ruth and Phil Kraft and his brother David Kraft.
While most people would store happy memories of kodak slides and souvenirs from one of the park’s Main Street stores in a keepsake box, only to pull them out once every few years to reminisce, Kraft took what he had amassed to the next level. His idea of trinkets would become a Pandora’s Box of Disneyland memor-abilia, giving the word “souvenir” a whole new meaning.
When his brother Dave passed 25 years ago, Kraft went searching for the memory of his brother and the fond childhood moments they shared. His journey returned him to Disneyland to bask in the smell of musky water from Pirates of the Caribbean, savor the tangy taste of a Dole Whip (before there was a giant line to get the coveted tropical treat) and glide his hands over the familiar lacquered feel of a guard rail in line for Splash Mountain. These artifacts from Disneyland served as time portals back to happier times the brothers shared together.
What started as a collection vintage souvenirs from those nostalgic early days of the Park soon turned into rare artifacts that once decorated the House of Mouse. The first piece Kraft acquired for his collection of items that belonged to the Park was an original, hand-silkscreened 1956 Autopia poster designed by Bjorn Aronson (random Orange County history fact: the original Autopia car bodies were made by Glasspar fiberglass company in Costa Mesa).
The imagery fittingly shows a father and son in an Autopia car, with the father looking down warmly at the grinning son taking the wheel of the red vintage hot rod style car. “It reminded me of my father and brother,” Kraft says. Today, Kraft has his own poster featuring him and his son Nicky Kraft in an Autopia car––as drawn by Shag, the iconic pop artist, frequent Disney collaborator and OC boy, no less! In the back of the yellow car is several Disney artifacts straight from the “Kraftland” collection; a devil from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Walt Disney World, a paper lantern from the Mad Tea Party circa the 1990’s and even the dopey Anamatronic 48 foot sea serpent that was cleared out to make way for Nemo on the Submarine Ride.
Each of these items––along with over 700 more beyond pieces from Disneyland, Walt Disney World and beyond––will be going up for auction on August 25 and 26. But first, Richard and Nicky Kraft will be offering the public a once in a lifetime viewing of these artifacts that at one point decorated their home in an experiential exhibit called “That’s From Disneyland” which opens Wednesday.
The Kraft’s home, dubbed “Kraftland,” or “The Happiest Place in Encino” was overrun by this larger than life collection. Nicky’s room was decorated like the Enchanted Tiki Room, complete with an original animatronic José the talking parrot that lived in Disneyland from the 1960s to 1970s, hanging over his bed (In Kraftland, José wakes you!). The giant animatronic sea serpent from the Submarine Ride sat out by the Krafts’ pool. Nicky grew up watching television and playing video games in a Doom Buggy from the Haunted Mansion.
But Nicky is now 28, and is now starting a family of his own; he’s engaged to his fiancee Caroline. And Richard has a four-year-old daughter named Daisy. In an ironic twist, Daisy is wild about Minions (a––gasp––Universal Studios property!). The Kraft home is now dubbed “DasiyWorld” and decorated with a new generation of toys and games and much of this collection has sat in storage for the last several years.
“I turned to the wisdom of our era’s greatest poet, Elsa, who once memorably proclaimed, ‘Let it go.’” Kraft explains in his introductory letter in the hefty auction catalog of his collection.
A portion of the proceeds from the auction will be donated to two organizations that Kraft says are near and dear to his heart: the Coffin-Siris Foundation and CHIME Institute. Both help children with developmental disorders, like his angelically doe-eyed daughter Daisy who has Coffin-Siris Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder.
Kraft says the fact his collection can help raise money for children with special needs helps makes it easier for him to heed Elsa’s advice to indeed, “let it go.” This auction is the culmination over twenty years worth of collecting, a year’s worth of preparation, and a lifetime of memories.
“In many ways I feel like I never owned these marvels,” Kraft explains in his open letter. “They were created for the joy of others and I feel like I was merely the custodian keeping them safe from harm.”
“It’s now time for me to swing open the storage doors and say goodbye to these wonderful pieces of Disneyland and give them new, loving homes where they can bring fresh joy and ignite new memories to other Disney enthusiasts.”
When not running the OCWeekly.com and OC Weekly’s social media sites, Taylor “Hellcat” Hamby can be found partying like it’s 1899.