The Hidden History Behind Walt Disney School in Anaheim [Alt-Disney]

Walt Disney: A is for animation. Photo courtesy Magnolia School District

On the morning of Aug. 26, activity at Walt Disney School in Anaheim was hectic. Traffic came to a halt at the crosswalk as scores of parents escorted their children to the first day of class. A father posed his children by the school’s marquee for a picture. It’s a familiar scene at the elementary school, one that goes back to its 1957 dedication, when its namesake appeared, declared a school holiday and invited students to his 20-month-old theme park. 

The Magnolia School District had faced a dilemma in 1955, the same year Disneyland opened. With only two schools—Magnolia No. 1 and Magnolia No. 2—it had to develop new sites to meet the demand of families moving into the city’s west side during a housing boom. In the meantime, the district integrated white students into Magnolia No. 2, the Mexican school, that year to relieve pressure. 

The school board moved that new schools be named “after American men who have made definite contributions to the welfare of mankind.” One would be named after Dr. Jonas Salk of polio vaccine fame and, on May 7, 1956, the board voted to name a school on East Orange Avenue after Walt Disney so long as he approved. Of course, Disney did and suggested a mural of Disney characters be painted in the multipurpose room. 

The Los Angeles Times called the opening of Walt Disney and Dr. Jonas Salk elementary schools in January 1957 “one of the biggest transfers of pupils in the history of the state.” In all, 1,700 students moved into the new facilities that year. 

On March 30, 1957, Disney attended the dedication of the public institution to be named for him, the only one in Orange County. “Of course, it wouldn’t be a real celebration unless you could come to Disneyland on a school day,” he declared. 

Anaheim’s housing boom continued after Walt Disney School opened. That summer, advertisements in newspapers lured prospective residents to new communities, mentioning the school by name. Disneyland helped to make Anaheim a boomtown and, by doing so, inadvertently forced Magnolia School District’s hand on school integration. 

Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!

4 Replies to “The Hidden History Behind Walt Disney School in Anaheim [Alt-Disney]”

  1. All three of my daughters attended and graduated from Walt Disney School. It’s many a fond memory, I can assure you. And it’s a great school. It was in 1980 when my first little girl went to her first class,….. it was great in 1991 when my third daughter graduated. It still is,… a great school. I’m still a resident in the neighborhood and often pass by Walt Disney School on some errand other. And when I do, I smile and my heart beats a little faster as I remember so much in a flash. Thank you Walt Disney School for so many small but glorious memories. You’re a great school.

  2. I went to Walt Disney School from 1969-1974, kindergarten to 4th grade. I loved going to the lunchroom and watching Disney movies. Mrs. Miller was my kindergarten teacher. The other teacher’s names are hazy. So many wonderful memories!!!

  3. I attended Walt Disney School the first and second year it was built. I was in the fourth grade when I was transferred from Magnolia School #2 (later Mattie Lou Maxwell School, she was the principal there the first year I attended, 3rd grade, and a very sweet lady). I was transferred to Disney when I was in the fourth grade. Mrs. Koonce was my teacher. Another sweet lady. I remember her wearing a maternity smock every day. The next thing I knew she never came back and was replaced by Mr. Christopher Greeley. A wonderful teacher and artist. He drew a picture of the Disney devil character from the movie Sleeping Beauty on the chalk board with pastel chalk. He tried to erase the pastel chalk picture and It won’t come off. Mr. Coffman, the principal, was not pleased with him for his artistic work.

    My fifth grade teacher was Mr. Leonard Spievak. He was a great teacher. To this day I think of him every time I do research on any historical subject. Thanks Mr Spievak for being there in my life at the right time.

    I look back on my two years at Walt Disney school with very fond memories. I still stay in touch with two of my classmates, Gary Farrell and Fred (Freddie) Galbreath. Both were special pals and special men.

    I remember attending the School’s dedication and meeting Walt Disney when he invited the entire school to Disneyland and it had to be on a school day. I even have a sketch of Mickey Mouse drawn by Roy from the TV show”Mickey Mouse Club” TV show from the dedication day.

    I loved that school and was bummed out when I found out I was transferred back to Magnolia #2 ( by this time the school was named for Mattie Lou Maxwell) for sixth grade and Mr. Stinson.

    I would love to have a reunion for the Walt Disney somewhere in Anaheim and see all my classmates. we ain’t getting any younger. Mr. Spievak and Mr. Coffman would have me sitting in the principals office for writing that.
    Classmates, please contact me.

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