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Magic Kingdom Chronicles
A look back at Disney history
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Jason Schultz

Construction Men

While it is important to credit the Imagineers who were creating the Disneyland attractions, there are others who played an equal part in getting the Park opened. These people were involved in the practical aspects of launching an operational business. First and foremost among these men were C.V. Wood ("C.V.," "Wood," or "Woody," depending on the time of day and mood he was in) and Joe Fowler.

Before becoming involved with Disneyland, Wood was with the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). He, along with Buzz Price, was in charge of the group's Southern California arm. When the ideas for the Mickey Mouse Park didn't pan out and the seed of Disneyland was planted, Walt turned to SRI to find a location for the Park. During the search, Wood became so enamored with the Disneyland concept that he soon left SRI and was named Vice President and General Manager of Disneyland. He loved the work atmosphere and even said that Walt treated him "like a son."

Wood, originally a Texan, began assembling a competent team to assist him. The people he brought on board the Disneyland project had already proved themselves competent in his eyes - they were fellow employees at SRI, people he knew from his previous work in the aircraft industry, and others he knew from Texas. Unlike the Studio employees, Wood's group was comfortable with organization and structure. Before coming out to California, Wood had been the Director of Industrial Engineering at an aircraft corporation in Texas; he knew the importance of well-defined roles and strict rules in that type of atmosphere. However, the Disney Studio was vastly different in terms of organization. As a result, the people on Wood's team weren't accustomed to the undefined roles they played during Disneyland's construction and pioneering years.

One of the many important things Wood brought to Disneyland's construction was his ability to sell Walt on the concept of bringing in outside companies (known as "lessees") to fund and manage their own exhibits. This was especially crucial for Tomorrowland, which at opening was mostly corporate sponsorship exhibits. The sponsors brought in additional money for the Park, which was important in the Park's early years when Disneyland struggled to meet the payroll each and every week!

Nowadays, it's not easy to find out about C.V.'s involvement with the Park's construction. The team he had assembled - which owed its loyalty to Wood, not Walt - created a situation that was similar in some respects to the debacle in the 1920s, when Walt had nearly all his animators stolen out from under him. In the late 1950s or early 1960s there was a falling out and Wood was finally forced out of the Disney organization. Later, as he was trying to get other theme parks built on the East Coast, he billed himself as "The Master Planner of Disneyland." Walt was displeased with Wood's arrogance and eventually filed a lawsuit against Wood to stop his use of that phrase. Over the years, Wood has been written out of Disney lore and can't even be found mentioned in the official encyclopedia Disney A-Z!

Another important figure in Disneyland's history was retired Admiral Joe "Can Do" Fowler. During his time in the Navy, he oversaw naval construction shipyards - as many as twenty-four at one time during the war! Fowler knew all about tight construction deadlines and had a positive "can do" (hence his nickname) attitude about nearly everything.

It was C.V. Wood who introduced the two men. Walt and Lillian (Walt's wife) went up to the Bay Area to have dinner with Joe and his wife. As Walt recalled, "We met Joe at his home with his lovely wife and we had dinner together. We had steaks that were wonderful, so we sort of prevailed upon him to come down and be a consultant for us. Little by little, we got him trapped into this thing."

Shortly afterwards, Fowler went down to Anaheim to visit the construction site. Although he had envisioned a brief trip just to check things out, he ended up staying for more than three weeks before returning home, albeit briefly. He had to rush back to help ready Disneyland for its opening a scant eleven months away. He would find that there was no end to the problems plaguing construction, which will be covered more in-depth later.

Opera House
The Opera House served as a lumber mill in Disneyland's early days

Money was always a big concern - without it, construction would halt! As new problems arose, Fowler was forced to go to Roy O. Disney and seek additional funds to keep the project afloat. Somehow, Roy always seemed to find the money. Joe determined - in December 1954 - that it was simply too inefficient to continue doing the woodwork off-site. Time was of the essence as the final months drew near, so Joe proposed building a wood mill on-site. When Roy was approached about the idea, he told Joe that they didn't have the $40,000 it was going to take to build the mill. However, when Joe got to work the next day, he found out that he had the go-ahead to get the mill built. This mill was built in the guise of an Opera House, and it still stands in Town Square today!

Fowler's Harbor
Fowler's Harbor in 1961

Fowler, obviously well-versed in the needs of big ships, was adamant that a dry dock be built for the Mark Twain. Servicing the large paddlewheeler would be extremely difficult without a berth that could be drained. Joe felt very strongly about its addition and Walt finally relented; Fowler was able to build the dry dock in the corner of Frontierland. For many years Walt called it "Joe's ditch," though it was officially known as "Fowler's Harbor," the name it still bears today.

Because of his contributions, there are also other Fowler tributes in Disneyland. At Fowler's Harbor, a themed façade is known as "Fowler's Inn" and has been so named since at least the early 1960s. The earliest restaurant adjacent to Fowler's Harbor - Maurie's Lobster House - was named after Fowler's wife. And finally, when Splash Mountain was being built the Imagineers threw in a small tribute to the former Admiral - as the log drifts along in the flume shortly after the final drop, there is a sign pointing to "Fowler's Cellar," though in reality it is just an emergency exit. It is perhaps because of these other honors that Joe never received a famed "window on Main Street."

After construction was finished and the Park was open for business, Fowler and Wood found themselves staying on at Disneyland as operational managers. Whereas Wood would be mostly forgotten for his contributions after getting on Walt's bad side, Fowler remained in Disneyland management for 10 years. In the mid-1960s, Walt Disney's greatest dream began taking shape - Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Because of his work in building and managing Disneyland, Fowler was an obvious person for Walt to ask to assist in the construction of the East Coast resort. His expertise in construction paid off in a big way for the construction of Disney's theme parks. He still attended reunions of Disneyland pioneers-appropriately held on Disneyland's birthday-well into his 90s. His legacy to Disney theme park design is impossible to overlook. Oh yes, and Fowler's Harbor is still where the Mark Twain and Columbia are refurbished!

It's all very well and good to have the show buildings and facades in Disneyland excellently themed, but landscaping was needed to truly give the place some character. Remember Jack and Bill Evans, landscapers of Walt's backyard? They're rejoining the Disneyland story, already in progress in Anaheim...


Questions about this column or about Disneyland history in general? Send them to me at jason@mouseplanet.com!


NEXT UP: Morgan Evans and Disneyland Greenery

EXTENDED INFORMATION

The Stanford Research Institute was charged with finding the ideal location to build Disneyland. SRI also established the Theoretical Peak Day, using that as a basis to estimate the construction cost ($4 million) and the necessary parking lot capacity (11,500 cars).

Buzz Price was part of the Stanford Research Institute team that picked Anaheim as the site to build Disneyland. In later years he would serve as a consultant to Walt Disney Imagineering.

The Mickey Mouse Park was the name of the Park Walt planned to build adjacent to the Burbank studios.

Disney A-Z is the official encyclopedia of The Walt Disney Company, authored by head Disney Archivist Dave Smith.

It is widely acknowledged that Roy O. Disney was the financial brains behind Walt's dreams. Roy was sometimes reticent about Walt's projects, but when he saw that they would work - as with Disneyland - he gave the venture his full backing. After Walt's death in 1966, Roy saw to it that Walt Disney World was built and opened to the public.

One of the highest honors afforded Imagineers or others involved with Disney theme parks is the famous window on Main Stret. Many were put in place in the Park's early years as a way of recognizing those involved in Disneyland's construction. Nowadays, the windows recognize people who have had a substantial impact on Disneyland through the years.

The Evans brothers (Jack and Bill) first met Walt when they were asked to landscape his backyard. It was quite a task, but it paid off when they were asked to help with the landscaping of Disneyland.

In terms of landscaping, the Park was something completely different than anything tried before. Bill Evans later wrote a book on Disneyland landscaping: "The World of Flowers."

 

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