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Disneyland Article
They Lived Inside Disneyland Their House Is Still At The Park Today
Julie Tremaine
For years and years, tens of thousands of people walked by Owen and Dolly Pope’s house every day. No one had any idea that there was a private house on Disney property, or that Disneyland had two full-time residents who got to stay when the park shut down for the night.

The Popes moved out in 1971, but their house still stands inside the grounds of the Disneyland Resort today.

The story goes like this: Walt Disney hired Owen and Dolly Pope in 1951 to advise Imagineers on the use of animals in amusement parks, and then to tend to the horses that would eventually power the Conestoga Wagons attraction and other animals in the park. But the animals needed after-hours care. The solution: have them live inside the confines of Disneyland itself.

Walt and Roy Disney already knew that moving a house was cheaper than building one. When they moved Walt Disney Studios from its home on Hyperion Avenue in the Atwater neighborhood of Los Angeles to its current location in Burbank, they relocated several studio buildings to the new property, including the Hyperion Bungalow that’s still in use as office space today.

So when they were buying up the orange groves in Anaheim that would become Disneyland — and scrounging for ways to finance the project, like the “Disneyland” TV show Walt sold to ABC in exchange for the network funding the park — they got creative with the resources that already existed on the property. They kept the Dominguez family’s home, the same people whose famous Dominguez palm tree still stands in Adventureland today, moving it behind Main Street U.S.A. as office space.

Ahead of the park’s opening, rather than build something new, Disney gave the Popes their pick of the other houses on the land. They chose what was then called the Witherill Bungalow, a 1,300-square-foot ranch house built by Linnaeus and Grace Witherill, who, according to the Disney History 101 blog, were early supporters of the park.

The company moved the house to 10 acres of land behind Frontierland they designated as the “Pony Farm.”

But that’s not actually the first time the Popes lived on Disney property. Disney Imagineer Harper Goff first encountered the couple showing horses in 1950, when Disneyland was nothing but concept art; back then, the park was intended to occupy a parcel next to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. In 1951, Walt hired them to tend a small stable of horses on the actual studio property. In November 1951, the Popes moved their trailer to the studio lot, and built stables there.

“During this time, Walt visited them every day to chat about horses and his plans for Disneyland, and Roy Disney also visited them to discuss what people did at fairs and which types of shows they enjoyed there,” according to a 2011 article by the Disney Parks Blog.

The Popes didn’t move to Disneyland until July 1955, three days before the park opened. In addition to caring for horses and Disneyland’s other animals, the Popes made custom harnesses and riggings for the animals. Eventually, the Pony Ranch came to be known as the Circle D Corral.

In 1971, the Popes moved out and went to Walt Disney World, heading east to Florida to help with the park opening and to tend the animals at the new Tri-Circle-D Ranch. Their former home, still known as the Pope House, became offices for employees of the Circle D Corral.

Commenting on that same Disney Parks Blog article about the Pope House, a reader — ostensibly a former Cast Member, identified by first name only — may have added some insight into what happened to the house. “The Pope House, had become the Disnelyland credit union annex office in the late 70’s,” the commenter, Steve, wrote in 2011. “I took it over and had it remodeled as a office for my department in 1980. It became the home for the Disneyland Media Productions Office or as it was commonly known by most as Pony Farm Productions.”

Eventually, some intergalactic mayhem put the home in peril. When Disney drew up plans for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the company put the new land squarely in the backstage area where the ranch and the house had been since 1955. Development required the demolition of the stables and the part of Frontierland where the much-missed Big Thunder Ranch used to be.

Instead of tearing down the house, though, the company spent $20,000, per the Orange County Register, to move it to a different backstage area, in a parking lot off Ball Road. It’s now used for events, but not regularly occupied, and definitely still private Disney property not accessible to the public.

Dolly retired in September 1975, the first Walt Disney World employee to do so, and Owen followed the month after. Their legacy is still in the parks, though. Owen (but, insert eye roll here, not Dolly) has an honorary window on Main Street U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom. “Owen Pope,” it reads, “Harness Maker. Feed & grain. Supplies. Leather goods. ‘Saddles a specialty.’”

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