Disneyland Paris News

Unusual: This couple lived year-round in Disneyland

Between 1955 and 1971, Owen and Dolly Pope lived year-round in a house located inside Disneyland in California. The Disney employee couple took care of the park’s animals and enjoyed privileged access to the enchanted world created by Walt Disney.

It may seem unbelievable, but for 16 years, a couple lived full-time inside Disneyland park in California! Owen and Dolly Pope were among the first employees of the park. Walt Disney had offered them this unique opportunity to reside within the confines of the Enchanted Kingdom.

Animal specialists recruited by Walt Disney

The story begins in the 1950s. Owen and Dolly Pope were horse trainers and animal specialists. They participated in equestrian shows traveling across the United States.

In 1950, they met Harper Goff, one of Disney’s first Imagineers who was designing Disneyland at the time. He introduced them to Walt Disney’s crazy project: building a family amusement park in Anaheim.

Impressed by their expertise, Walt Disney hired them in 1951 as consultants to his teams for the design of animal attractions. The couple also raised horses in small stables on the Disney Studios lot in Burbank.

A house of their own in Disneyland

When the construction of Disneyland began in 1954, Owen and Dolly moved to Anaheim with their horses. But Walt Disney made them an even crazier proposition: to move into a house inside the park itself!

Indeed, among the orange groves purchased to build Disneyland were a few houses. The Dominguez family, landowners, were allowed to keep their home. It was moved behind Main Street and now serves as offices.

Walt Disney offered the Popes the opportunity to choose any house on the property. They chose a bungalow built by the Witherill family, measuring 1300 square feet (120 m2). The house was transported near Frontierland, on a large plot intended to house the park’s animals: ponies, horses, goats…

First permanent residents of Disneyland

On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened its doors. A few days before the kickoff, Owen and Dolly Pope moved into their new home named “Pope House”.

For 16 years, the couple lived year-round in the park, enjoying privileged access to this fantastic universe. They participated in some of Disneyland’s iconic attractions by training and preparing the animals, especially for the Conestoga Wagons or the living farm tableau at Big Thunder Ranch.

They managed the “Pony Farm” ranch that housed the animals, located just behind their house. They also made custom harnesses and equipment. Their property was even expanded over the years to 10 acres.

A certain popularity among visitors

Although quite discreet, Owen and Dolly gained a bit of notoriety among the most curious visitors. Some lucky ones could see them feeding the animals or taking care of the stable maintenance.

The couple even formed close relationships with Walt and Roy Disney who often visited them, as well as with the early park employees.

Despite their unusual home, Owen and Dolly led a rather normal life within the park. They just had the incredible chance to reside permanently in the most wonderful and magical place imaginable!

1971: Move to Walt Disney World

In 1971, after 16 fabulous years, Owen and Dolly finally left their beloved Disneyland to continue the adventure in Florida. They were called by Walt’s brother, Roy, to participate in the creation of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.

Their Disneyland house was converted into offices for the ranch teams. But it still bears the name “Pope House” in tribute to its first inhabitants.

Owen and Dolly managed the Tri-Circle-D ranch at Walt Disney World until their retirement in 1975. They left behind a great legacy and the memory of their extraordinary story.

Even today, the “Pope House” still exists in an area reserved for Disneyland park employees. It was even moved in 2016 for the creation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge!

If proof were needed, the magic and spirit of Disneyland pioneers Owen and Dolly Pope still linger over the Enchanted Kingdom…

Header image credit: Dall-E / MDN