Whenever you think of Walt Disney, one usually thinks of one of the parks in California or Florida, or maybe even his hometown of Marceline, Missouri, but many don’t know that Disney had (and still has family) ties to the Pacific Northwest. Growing up in Oregon, I was especially interested in the Disney connection to my home state and did some research that led me to the grandnephew of Walt Disney, Dan Beecher, and with him a history-filled Disney experience in Portland, Oregon.
The City of Roses – Portland, Oregon
Portland is the most populous city in the State of Oregon with beautiful views of Mt. Hood, an International Rose Garden, Stumptown Coffee, and quite an eclectic culture boasting a motto of, “Keep Portland Weird.” It’s also where the parent of Walt Disney, Elias and Flora Disney, lived before they moved to LA into the home that Walt purchased for them.
How the Disney Family Settled in Portland
Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901, and was the fourth son of Elias and Flora Disney. His had three brothers; Herbert, Raymond, and Roy; and a sister, Ruth. The Disney family lived in multiple places during Walt’s youth including Chicago, IL, Marceline, and Kansas City. Following Elias Disney’s retirement from his management work at O-Zell Company (Chicago) he and Flora followed their eldest son Herbert, who was employed as a mailman, to the Pacific Northwest in the fall of 1921. They purchased two homes (side-by-side) in Portland, Oregon and operated a room and boarding house for many years until Walt and Roy, following the success of Snow White, purchased a new home in Los Angeles and convinced their parents to move there in 1937.
Life in Portland, Oregon (1920s-1930s)
The Portland, Oregon that the Disney family knew during the almost two decades that Elias and Flora lived there was one much different from what you experience today. At the beginning of the 1920s an average of 1 out of 10 Oregonians owned a motor vehicle, and by the late end of the decade, Portlanders spent as much on their automobiles as they did on food. Commercial air travel didn’t enter the area until 1926, and when it did, travelers would still have to make their way across the Columbia to Pearson Field in Vancouver, WA for a least a year until Charles Lindbergh dedicated his airport on Swan Island. By the beginning of the 1930s, the urban uprising led to the first time in Oregon’s history that more than half of the state’s residents lived in the city instead of the rural areas. These urban parts of the state were bustling with economic growth. In Portland, Fred G. Meyer opened his first store in 1922, The Iron Fireman began producing an automatic coal stoker that same year, and Jantzen Knitting Mills and Pendleton Woolen Mills grew to become the largest manufacturers of woolen textiles in the US.
It seemed like a prosperous time to live in the Pacific Northwest. However the signs of economic struggle were all over the country, and the stock market crash in 1929 darkened the entire country, including the Disney family, into the Great Depression. The Disney family during this time still owned their two homes in Portland, Oregon and survived financially by running a room and boarding house.
The Portland Disney Home
Originally the Disney family purchased two homes (side-by-side) that were similar. However, not much information is available on the west side as it burned down during the 1980s.
Today, the east side home that Ruth Disney (Beecher) raised her family in is still standing in the Buckman area of Portland, OR. The home was built in 1984 and is a classic Victorian with three bedrooms, two bathrooms standing at 2,838 square feet. It holds plenty of charm from that area of architecture including antique stained-glass windows and solid wood pocket doors. It also has a large unfinished basement with a separate entrance.
Ruth Disney & The City of Roses
Ruth Disney, born December 6th, 1903, was the youngest of the Disney family, born two years after Walt. The two siblings were so close in age that it created a strong bond between Walt and Ruth, and later on, after Disney’s success, he was known to send Ruth incredible annual letters every Christmas highlighting the exciting projects that Walt was involved in at the time. These letters are on display today at Walt’s Hometown Museum in Marceline, MO.
Ruth was only 18 years old when her family relocated to Portland, Oregon and it’s where she met her husband, Ted Beecher. They were married on June 19, 1934. When Elias and Flora moved to Los Angeles in 1937, Ruth remained in Portland. According to her grandson, Dan Beecher, “grandma Ruth loved Portland and did not want to move, so she was gifted the houses.” Ruth and Ted went on to have one child, a son named Theodore Warren Beecher (most often known as “Ted” or “Teddy”), who was born and raised inside the home.
Ruth and her family continue to live in the original Disney home for many years. She enjoyed a quiet, private life in Portland and while she was always extremely proud of her beloved brothers’ success, she led a humble life and many people in Portland that she was close to often weren’t’ even aware that she was related to the family.
After nearly 50 years of living in Oregon, Ruth passed away at the age of 91 on April 7, 1995. She was interred next to her husband Ted, at Lincoln Memorial Park in Portland, Oregon.
Disney Legacy & The Portland Home Today
The son of Ruth and Ted, Ted Jr. married Carolyn Boggs in May 1964, and they had three children; Pamela, Daniel, and William. Ted Jr. was active in many organizations, including being a member of the National Fantasy Fan Club (now known as the Disneyana Fan Club). His chapter in Clackamas, Ore., planted a tree in his memory in the garden of Marceline’s Walt’s Hometown Museum. Oddly enough, Ted Jr. passed away exactly 14 years after his mother, Ruth on April 7, 2009. The Disneyana Fan Club still has an active chapter (Cascade Chapter), that gets together once a month to share their love for Disney.
While the home on the west side burned down sometime during the 1980s, the remaining home today is owned by the three grandchildren of Ruth Disney (Beecher). At the time of this article, Dan Beecher (grandnephew of Walt Disney) confirmed the address of the home (1630 SE Morrison St.) and said that while it is currently rented, there are talks of selling it to a developer, however, the family doesn’t want to see it sold only to have it demolished.
Own a Piece of Disney Family History
The home was recently placed on the market (at the time of this article), and if the price is right, you could own the Disney family home in Portland, OR. Check out the listing here.
Special Thanks to Dan Beecher (and family) for sharing some of the amazing history behind the home of this great-grandparents and grandmother.
Do you know any fascinating facts from Disney history?
Leave a comment below and let us know.