Officials behind the new Presidio venture will announce plans today to open the facility in October. It will be the world's only museum dedicated to the life of Walt Disney, exploring his roles as creator of Mickey Mouse, as the man who raised animation to an art, designer of futuristic theme parks and ultimately one of the most influential cultural forces of the 20th century.
The museum will use high-tech exhibits to illustrate his family life, his business successes and failures, his imaginative process and pioneering technologies.
"I want people to feel stimulated and inspired, and I want them to know him," said Diane Disney Miller, his oldest daughter and a founder of the museum, which is owned by the Walt Disney Family Foundation and is independent of Disney corporate entities.
She said the family chose San Francisco for the museum because they live in Northern California and the Presidio is an ideal home for it.
"Our purpose is scholarly and serious, but it's fun. It has to be, because he was all about entertainment," Miller said. "He was definitely a dreamer."
About 350,000 visitors are expected annually, she said, appealing to all ages but especially to Baby Boomers who grew up watching Disney movies and television shows. Admission will range from $20 for adults to free for children under 6.
The museum is just down the street from where Gap founder Don Fisher has proposed erecting a two-story Contemporary Art Museum to house his family's art collection. But while that proposal has drawn fierce opposition - mainly because it involves a large, new modern building - the Disney museum is mostly a restoration of a historic barrack and more handily won approval.
Kathleen Moran, associate director of UC Berkeley's American Studies Department, said the museum will give visitors the chance to reflect on an artist who "was really central to American life."
The exhibits feature historic documents, family photographs and original animation art.
There is also a Model T Ford ambulance like the one Disney drove for the Red Cross during World War I, a two-story multi-plane camera he designed to give his animated films more depth, and the miniature train he built that presaged later rides at Disney theme parks. High-tech exhibits
Interactive displays include light tables, more than 200 video monitors and movie posters that also show film footage.
At listening stations throughout the museum visitors can hear recordings in which Disney and some of his collaborators discuss his life and work.
"It is probably one of the most technologically advanced museums there is," said Richard Benefield, the museum's founding director who left his job as deputy director of Harvard University's art museums to help create the museum.
Housed primarily in a refurbished army barracks at 104 Montgomery St. at the Main Post, the presentation consists of 10 galleries on two floors that trace Disney's life chronologically, from his birth in Chicago in 1901 to his death in Los Angeles in 1966.
The galleries begin with his days as boy on a failing Kansas farm where he discovered a love of moving pictures and amusement parks, as a high-school dropout fascinated by early animation, and as an apprentice commercial artist who used a primitive camera to create his first hand-drawn films, which he called "Laugh-O-Grams."
Successive galleries follow his 1923 move to Hollywood, his 1928 creation of Mickey Mouse and his studio's phenomenal growth during the '30s, when he used Technicolor and developed "personality animation," in which each figures' movements are minutely engineered to express their character.
Disney's first feature-length film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," was so costly he risked financial ruin before it achieved worldwide success. Propaganda films
World War II disrupted Disney's business and he turned to making military service films and propaganda, including a short titled "Der Fuehrer's Face," which won an Academy Award. Rebuilding his business after the war, he continued to try new ideas, producing animated movies like "Lady and the Tramp" and live-action films like "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." He won 32 Oscars - more than anyone else.
The penultimate gallery is housed in a modern addition to the back of the barracks, a two-story steel and glass pavilion. It explores his visions for a utopian community called EPCOT and features an intricately detailed model of Disneyland.