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Walt Disney's KC studio to transform while honoring legacy

Group seeks funding to update facility
The Laugh-O-Gram studio at 31st and Forest
Posted at 10:06 PM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 23:38:17-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What is now a vacant building at East 31st Street and Forest Avenue, is the former home of Walt Disney's first professional studio in the 1920s, the Laugh-o-Gram.

The nonprofit Thank you Walt Disney Inc. saved the building from the wrecking ball in the 1990s to preserve the history associated with it.

"The young people who worked with him [Walt Disney] went on to become the founding pioneers of the entire Hollywood animation industry," Dan Viets, president of Thank you Walt Disney Inc., said. "The very first animators at Warner Brothers, very first animators at MGM."

Over the years, the nonprofit has restored the structure.

"We were able to take the reasonably well-collapsed building, take it back apart, [and] put a new steel shell inside," Butch Rigby, developer and chairman of Thank you Walt Disney Inc., said.

Improvements will begin on the facade in a few months, but there are bigger plans in store for the space.

The future site will honor Walt Disney's legacy through a theater and exhibit space.

"It was always going to be described as an interactive historic site," Rigby said.

Plans also include a coworking space for digital media entrepreneurs run by Plexpod.

"The idea is to bring the history together with that and be teaching new tools, you know, and try to be on the cutting edge for what the future offers," Gerald Smith, founder and CEO of Plexpod, told 41 Action News.

digiSTORY KC will teach the next generation of digital artists in the new space.

"If we could get the kids in that neighborhood to have some fun experiences with things like stop-motion animation, digital production, they could get fired up about a career in an area that's going to provide a great salary, great creative experiences throughout their lifetime," Ron Green, executive director of digiSTORY KC, said.

To turn those plans into a reality, the nonprofit is looking to raise at least $2 million, but will likely need more as the estimate is a moving target until final bids are in.

"There are tons of, you know, champions and fans of Walt Disney here in Kansas City," Smith said, "and I think our hope is to gather some of those."

All in order to help keep the magic and history of Walt Disney alive.