The Man Who Preserved the Magic

Earlier today, Disney Legend and the founder of the Walt Disney Archives, Dave Smith, was honored with a tribute window on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland. The window is located above the Fortuosity Shop, just to the left of the Carnation Cafe outdoor dining area. It’s captioned “Dave Smith: Town Archivist – Preserving, Protecting and Presenting Our Fond Memories of the Past”.

I had the privilege of attending a special event, hosted by D23, commemorating the occasion. Held inside the Main Street Opera House, the program included memories from those who worked with Dave throughout the years, including Becky Cline, Director of the Walt Disney Archives, and Disney producer Don Hahn.

It also gave fans an up-close look at a replica of Dave’s window and, fittingly, some mementos from his distinguished career.

All attendees were given a keepsake button and a print reproduction to add to their own personal Disney “archives” at home.

The window tribute for Dave was actually first announced by then CEO Bob Iger during Disney’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders in March of 2020. It was supposed to be unveiled on June 22, of 2020 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Dave’s establishment of the Walt Disney Archives. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the closure of Disneyland and the unveiling was postponed.

Dave Smith displays the first ticket sold at Disneyland.

The birth of the Walt Disney Archives was, ironically, a result of Walt Disney’s death. At the time of Walt’s death in 1966, Dave was working as a librarian at UCLA. He had been there for about five years following a year and a half internship at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Dave thought he would work to create a bibliography of Walt after discovering a proper one had never really been done. He reached out to the Disney Studios and they offered to assist him with the project. After a year and half working on the project, Dave finished the bibliography and even managed to sell a copy to the Disney Studios.

After noticing Dave’s work, the Special Collections Department at the UCLA Library reached out to the Disney Studios with the idea of having Walt’s papers and works held at the library. After an initial sit-down meeting, both sides realized Walt’s works were simply to vast, and unique (what do you do with an audio-animatronic figure?), to be properly held by a library.

Dave still believed the idea of archiving the Disney Studio works was an exciting prospect, so he proposed to Disney officials that they bring him in on a short-term assignment to survey their materials. They agreed and before he knew it, Dave was handed a master key that unlocked virtually every door at the Disney Studio.

According to Dave:

“So, I spent weeks going around the Studio unlocking doors in basements and closets and all sorts of things that hadn’t been opened in years, blowing the dust off the boxes and just snooping to see what was around, what they had saved through the years…”

On January 1, 1970, Dave submitted an official proposal for establishing a permanent archives program within the Disney company. On June 22, 1970, Dave was officially hired and the Walt Disney Archives began as a one-man shop. Decades later, the Walt Disney Archives is an exemplary corporate archival organization.

Dave’s interest in learning, documenting, and sharing the company’s unique history has helped satiate Disney fans of all types, from the casual to the hardcore. Throughout his time at the Walt Disney Archives he generously helped outside researchers and authors in their quest for Disney history.

In recognition of his extraordinary contributions, Dave was deservingly bestowed with the Disney Legends Award in 2007. After marking his 40th anniversary with Disney, Dave retired in 2010, though he continued to contribute in a consulting role for many years and carried the title of Chief Archivist Emeritus. He passed away in 2019.

All Disney fans should be thankful for Dave’s invaluable contributions preserving the magic history at the Walt Disney Company.


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