Beyond Our Borders
6:06 am
Fri May 2, 2014

Walt Disney's Role In Transforming Troost

A view looking west to Troost from the Laugh-O-Gram Studio at 31st and Forest, Kansas City, Mo.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

An attempt to breathe life into a building near Troost Avenue with ties to Walt Disney could help erase the corridor’s stigma as a key dividing line in Kansas City, says Butch Rigby.

Rigby, chairman of the non-profit Thank you Walt Disney, is behind an effort to revitalize Laugh-O-Gram Studio, which is just east of 31st Street and Troost.

In the early 1920s, Walt Disney fed a tame mouse he’d named Mortimer at his desk in the red-brick building. This mouse later became the model for a character known as Mickey Mouse.

"The cartoon studio was the first, true, fully-functioning business cartoon studio that Walt Disney ever had," says Rigby.

The studio didn't last long —  it went bankrupt after 2 years — but Disney hired Ub Iwerks, and other young animators, who later moved to California and "effectively founded 20th century cartoon animation as it is known today at the studio level."

Plans are underway to return this historic building to its roots — as a center of animation, but one for the 21st century.

Interview Highlights: Butch Rigby on investing east of Troost

On meeting new challenges

"We are doing something terrific in a terrific neighborhood around 31st and Troost. It’s very important for a young person walking up and down 31st and Troost to be excited, to be proud, and to be enthused about their neighborhood.

And that is the only way we’re going to start converting what I think was a horrible reputation as a dividing line in this city. It needs to go away. And the way to make it go away is to make it vibrant and exciting. And that history is a great part of that excitement. The challenge of building the greenest, or the most sustainable building in the country is a great challenge.

It’s the kind of challenges that were met in that building 100 years ago. And will be met for the next 100 years."

A view looking east.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

On the potential impact

"I believe our best opportunity when it comes to Troost is to erase that line. And you don’t erase the line from the other side, you go right down on the line and you erase that ‘dividing line’ by making it an integral part of what it is to be in Kansas City.

And, all of a sudden, this wonderful infrastructure, these old buildings are filled with people who are productive every day...

We’re just part of a bigger crew, a bigger team of people who are erasing that dividing line, moving our way eastward...

There’s a lot of great things in our city. We just need some unity.

When not only a kid from 31st and Troost, but a kid from 95th and Nall are fascinated, delighted and excited about 31st and Troost, then we’re all winning."

This look at the Troost corridor in Kansas City is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what's being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences east of Troost with KCUR.