Snow White Cottages
“Over the seven jeweled hills, beyond the seventh fall, in the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs, dwells Snow White, fairest of them all.” Well, more like over the Santa Monica Hills, beyond the Silverlake Reservoir, down Hyperion Ave… but you get the picture. Nestled in the heart of Los Feliz sits a fairytale oasis—the “Snow White Cottages.”
In 1929, Walt Disney established his studio in Los Feliz, at 2719 Hyperion Avenue, the site that gave birth to some of Disney’s most iconic work—Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pinocchio, and of course, Snow White. As Disney’s first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered at the long-gone Carthay Circle Theater on December 21, 1937, and opened nationwide on February 4, 1938. Emblematic of the immersive Disney experience that audiences at the El Capitan Theatre can see today, crowds of moviegoers hurried past a life-size replica of the Seven Dwarfs’ cottage on their way in to see the animated masterpiece.
Disney’s Hyperion studio has sadly since been replaced with a modern Gelson’s market, but a little Disney magic in the area remains. Just a stone’s throw from the former site of Disney’s studio sits the “Snow White Cottages”—eight whimsical bungalows built in 1931. Given their proximity to the studio, the cottages once provided housing and a sense of community to some of Walt’s employees. Claude Coats, a prolific Disney artist and Imagineer, was first hired by Disney as an apprentice background painter in 1935. There, he met inker Evelyn Henry, and the two went on to marry while they worked on the production of Snow White. Evelyn later recalled living in the Snow White Cottages when she and Claude first married: “…just half a block from Hyperion…[s]o we could walk down there…They’re real cute. Thatched roofs and looked just like a Snow White cottage. They were all separate cottages. They were not adjoined. Everyone living there worked at the Studio.”
While some rumors credit Disney for building the cottages himself, they were actually built and designed by Ben Sherwood, who we know little else about. The cottages were constructed during a fleeting architectural phase preoccupied by storybook-style architecture—an era that sprung up buildings like the Tam O’Shanter restaurant (one of Walt’s favorites) and the Charlie Chaplin Studios on La Brea (now occupied by the Jim Henson Company). The Snow White cottages feature crooked roofs, timber-frame facades, picture-perfect windowboxes and landscaping, intentionally-worn chimneys, and a tower at the far end of the bungalow courtyard. For Disney’s animators who lived in and walked by these storybook cottages everyday, there’s no doubt that art imitated life through their renderings of the fairytale cottage now immortalized in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Although the complex is gated off to non-residents, we were still able to get a good view from the street. An idyllic little oasis off a busy, modern intersection, the Snow White Cottages are a very Disney-esque site to see. Perhaps that’s why the cottages’ appearance in David Lynch’s definitely-not-a-fairytale-film, Mulholland Drive is so poignant. The small bungalow community at once seems out of place in modern Los Angeles, yet feels exactly where it should be in this often idiosyncratic urban landscape. Ownership of the cottages has changed hands several times over the years, but they remain available as rental units. Most recently, one of the cottages went up for rent in 2016, asking $2,750 – a steep price for 700 square feet, even by LA’s standards. But it’s difficult to put a price tag on the ability to rent and live in a piece of Disney and LA architectural history.