Brass Hat

The Temple to the Mouse in ruins

I imagine a Hollywood ghost story, a kind of celluloid Grand Guignol with atmospheric sets and macabre lighting. It takes place in the late 1990s or early 2000s, a time that coincides with my own adventures in the screen trade (to ventriloquize William Goldman), just as I was about to begin studying urban and architectural history. The setting? A circular office deep in the inner sanctums of Robert A. M. Stern’s Disney Animation Building in Burbank. The office is nestled inside the structure’s most recognizable feature: a giant two-story blue wizard’s hat with yellow moons and stars like the one donned by Mickey Mouse in Fantasia (1940). As whimsical as this pomo set piece may be, it is the perfect setting for a séance. The lights are dim, and on a low table covered in red damask, a crystal ball glows with St. Elmo’s Fire. A spirit medium waves her hands in measured circles as a trio of middle-aged and elderly men watch with anticipation. Everything about them—the knifelike cut of peaked lapels, horsebit loafers stuffed with bunioned feet, the drape of double-breaste…

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