Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Pope House

In 1929, Owen Pope met his future wife, Dolly, when he was 16 years old. The two met in Fort Worth, Texas and were married five years later. The couple loved horses, so they developed their equestrian interest into a little show featuring Shetland ponies.

They hit the road in a trailer Owen had fashioned himself and lived the travelling show-cowboy life for several years. Their Shetlands were frequent prize winners, and as Owen and Dolly Pope’s reputation grew, so did their horse show. They toured the country, eventually doing a show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA.

It was there that a gentleman named Harper Goff caught the Pope’s act, and he just knew his boss had to come see it too.

Goff had been a painter in civilian life, and he wanted to create ways for everyone to be able to paint pictures. But before his “paint-by-numbers” business took off, he was called to service during World War II.

Working in the painting services department in Fort Belvoir, VA, Goff came up with special camouflage designs and pigments to add to the machines of war. Employing his own paint-by-number technique, Goff’s designs became standard. He even developed several pigments that could be washed off easily, once the camouflage was deemed unnecessary.

After the War, Goff went to work for Warner Brothers, and designing and painting sets for movies. He developed a passion for model trains, and on one trip to London in 1951, Goff ran into another hobbyist who wanted to buy the same item Goff desired. The two men hit it off, and that was how Harper Goff came to work for Walt Disney. 

Now, Goff had learned his new boss had an idea to build a little park in Glendale based on his popular character, a little mouse in red pants. Walt’s park went through several plans, each one growing larger as Walt added a little western town, a stagecoach ride, and even a riding trail through a pine forest and desert area. Goff recognized that Walt was going to need someone to wrangle all those horses, and he felt Owen and Dolly would be perfect for the job.

Disney did meet the Popes, and offered them a job, carving out a section of the Disney Studio lot for the Popes to raise horses. Walt’s plans had now grown quite large, with a Main Street complete with horse-drawn carriages and trollies. The little lot where Walt originally planned to build Mickey Mouse Land was too small to hold it all, and you know how Disneyland came to life in Anaheim.

The pony ranch was moved to Anaheim too. The property had a few houses on it when Walt bought it, so he offered one to the Popes so they could live on property, tending the animals. They took 10 acres and created the Circle D Corral behind the park. Later, in 1971, Owen and Dolly moved to Orlando Florida to create a corral for Disney World.

The Popes not only raised the smaller horses needed for the parks, but Owen designed a small surrey, a buckboard wagon and a stagecoach. All three were used in Disneyland, and when their usefulness waned as bucolic pony and stagecoach rides lost favor to the thrills of rollercoasters, they continued to be used as display items at Thunder Ranch. Even today along the pathway that will lead from Fantasyland’s back gate to Galaxy’s edge, the stagecoach still stands, suffering the decay of neglect and time.

Finally, you might have heard that the horse property was removed in order to make room for Galaxy’s Edge, but the Pope house was saved, refurbished, and moved to the back corner of the cast member parking lot, just off of Ball Road. Now sporting restored paint and wheelchair access, Disneyland uses the house for meetings and planning sessions. We mere mortals may not have access to look behind the fence, but you can still see it… thanks to Google Earth.

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