C. V. Wood
Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood Jr.
December 17, 1920
Woods County, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Died||March 14, 1992 (aged 71)|
|Occupation||Engineer, creator/builder of theme parks|
|Employer||Walt Disney Imagineering|
(Disneyland Vice President/General Manager)
|Organization||Marco Engineering, Inc. |
Cornelius Vanderbilt "C. V." Wood (December 17, 1920 – March 14, 1992) was an American developer of theme parks and planned communities. He was the chief developer of Disneyland and then, through his own company, Marco Engineering, he developed other parks in several locations across the country. These theme parks included Freedomland U.S.A. in New York City and Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Texas.
Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood was born in Waynoka, Oklahoma. Throughout his early life, Wood was referred to as Junior and “Woodsy.” Later on, friends and business colleagues called him “C.V. Wood” or “C.V.” or “Woody.” The family moved to Amarillo, TX following Wood’s father's promotion within the Santa Fe Railway. After high school, Wood attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and became a champion trick roper for the school’s Cowboy Marching Band. Wood’s employment background began during 1941 and included nine years at Convair (formed in 1943 by the merger of Consolidated Aircraft and Vultee Aircraft), an American aircraft manufacturing company that later expanded into rockets and spacecraft. He became a chief industrial engineer and contributed to innovations for the manufacture of aircraft (despite having no degree in engineering). His first supervisor was Fred V. Schumacher, who would reunite with Wood on later projects.
Wood was employed by the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) during the early 1950's when he first met Walt Disney. Wood was tapped to lead the team that had been assembled to crunch the numbers and find the location for the park that would become Disneyland. The organization, located in Menlo Park, California, was a nonprofit research and development organization founded by the trustees of Stanford University. The firm later separated from the university in 1970.
Wood was hired away from the Stanford Research Institute during 1954 by the Disney brothers, Walt and Roy, to become vice president and general manager of the Disneyland project. He was Disneyland's first employee. At 34 years old, Wood tapped into the brother's ideas to help bring Disneyland to life. Wood worked closely with the Disney brothers and other employees. He also hired his old Texas friends and others he had known at Convair and at the Stanford Research Institute. He also employed set designers, artists, special effects technicians and other talent. Wood offered many ideas for the new entertainment attraction and he exhibited unchecked energy to build it.[unbalanced opinion?]
Wood often said that Walt Disney initially treated him as a son. But, over time, the relationship became strained. The Disney's sometimes were uncomfortable around Wood or, more specifically, with some of his sales and other tactics that he employed to build Disneyland. Walt Disney also raised a number of issues that involved Wood, including that the man he hired was receiving too much credit for Disneyland.
Within a year after Disneyland opened, Wood and the Disney's parted ways. Some people who were there at the time said Walt Disney fired Wood. Others said Roy Disney cut the ties. Even others said Wood realized the relationship had soured and left the company. One longtime employee, Bob Gurr, who was loyal to the Disney's, said that Wood was a con man. The word embezzlement had been uttered but this could have been an extreme personal opinion. Another employee, Van Arsdale France, believed that the relationship would not survive, because Wood and Walt Disney both were fiercely independent.
Soon after the split, Wood's role in the creation of Disneyland was omitted from all company records and histories.
After leaving Disneyland, Wood created Marco Engineering, Inc. to design theme parks. Many Disney employees joined him and he had access to the vendors and other talent available to him during the Disneyland days. He billed himself as "The Master Planner of Disneyland." A Disney lawsuit stopped him from using that title, but it did not seek financial damages. Wood's firm helped create Magic Mountain (now Heritage Square at Golden, Colorado during 1957, Pleasure Island (in Wakefield, Massachusetts, during 1959, Freedomland U.S.A.(on the current site of Co-op City and its adjacent shopping center in the Bronx, a borough of New York City), during 1960, and initial work on Six Flags Over Texas before Marco employee Randall Duell took over the project.
Magic Mountain lasted less than two years and was not completed due to financial issues. Pleasure Island existed from 1959 until 1969, but it too faced considerable financial issues. Freedomland also faced significant financial problems that led to the filing of bankruptcy, but the motive for the failure, unknown to Wood or the public at the time, was to obtain land variances to build the world's largest co-operative housing development on New York City marshland.[opinion] Six Flags Over Texas continues today as a successful park that has seen many changes from its original concept.
The failures of Magic Mountain, Pleasure Island and Freedomland cannot be attributed to Wood. While he and his Marco team created, designed and built the parks, each was managed by local business interests. In the case of Freedomland, the landowner, investors, politicians, city planners and unions maintained other development ideas for the property. About five years after the park was declared bankrupt, the landowner, William Zeckendorf, Sr., publicly acknowledged that the park was a "placeholder" for the property until land variances were obtained for development.
During 1961, Wood merged Marco Engineering with the McCulloch Motors Corporation, which had been a sponsor at Freedomland. Robert Paxton McCulloch had purchased Lake Havasu and other property in Arizona. McCulloch and Wood created the Lake Havasu community, with Wood as the city planner. Wood told McCulloch of the availability of the London Bridge which was being replaced after 130 years of use in London, England. McCulloch purchased the bridge, had it dismantled stone-by-stone, transported it to the U.S., and had it reassembled in Arizona. The city's C.V. Wood Community Center is named for Wood. Wood and McCulloch later developed Fountain Hills, Arizona.
In 1987, Wood became an assistant to the chairman of Lorimar Telepictures and helped merge the company with Time Warner. He was then retained by Warner Bros. to pioneer its entry into the studio tour attraction business. During 1991, Wood, as president of Warner Bros. Recreational Enterprises Division, played an instrumental role in the design and development of Warner Bros. Movie World theme park in Gold Coast, Queensland Australia.
C.V. Wood was taught Transcendental Meditation by Nancy Cooke de Herrera in the late 1960s.
Wood spent nearly 25 years presiding over the annual World Championship Chili Cookoff that he co-founded with race car designer Carroll Shelby and was twice crowned chili cook-off world champion. Wood also had an interest in the unknown, specifically Bigfoot and space aliens.
During 1985, Wood received a credited role as a barkeeper in the film Trinity: Good Guys and Bad Guys.
In 1991, Wood was accused of sexual harassment by a former administrator at Warner Bros. No further information about the allegation has been documented.
At the time of his death from lung cancer, Wood had been married for 20 years to actress Joanne Dru; the sister of actor, singer and television game show host Peter Marshall. Wood was honored by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) when he was inducted posthumously into its Hall of Fame in 1994.
Recently, Wood has received more recognition in books and social media. "Three Years in Wonderland" (University Press of Mississippi, 2016) by Todd James Pierce is dedicated to the relationship of the Disney Brothers with Wood as they created Disneyland. "Freedomland U.S.A.: The Definitive Story" (Theme Park Press, 2019) by Michael R. Virgintino documents the story from conception to bankruptcy of the park, a chapter is dedicated to Wood, and he is referenced throughout the book.