Oct 24

How The Woodlands became The Woodlands

by Darla Guillen

This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

Among the Houston area's most prosperous master-planned communities is The Woodlands, which this month celebrated its 42nd anniversary. 

Cynthia Woods Mitchell, wife of The Woodlands founder George P. Mitchell, on Oct. 19, 1974 cut the ribbon, officially marking the grand debut of the new neighborhood. Just a decade earlier, George P. Mitchell acquired thousands of acres situated 27 miles north of downtown Houston.

Developers modeled the layout of the new community after similar neighborhoods around the country. Among the key planning committee members was Ian McHarg, a landscape architect specifically sought out by George P. Mitchell because of his unique design principles. McHarg embraced and applied a design that would minimally affect the area's woodlands and wildlife, according to a University of Massachusetts essay authored by ecologist Kristine Swann.

"McHarg looked at The Woodlands as an opportunity to apply his theory of ecological determinism - allowing the ecology of the land to determine what development could and should take place," Swann explained.

Nine years after its official founding, the secluded neighborhood reached $1 billion in investments. That led to the construction and expansion of more efficient roads to and from Houston and The Woodlands. By 1988, the Hardy Toll Road was completed, offering an alternative route to Interstate 45. 

Better transportation encouraged more families to relocate to the affluent community, promoting widespread custom home expansion throughout the area.

Celebrities also helped grow the name recognition of the new suburb. By 1989, renowned golfer Arnold Palmer traveled to The Woodlands to debut the Woodlands Resort & Country Club, a golf course that he and architect Ed Seay designed. In 1990, Frank Sinatra was among the first musicians to perform at the award-winning venue The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion during its opening weekend.

In 1996, a partnership by Morgan Stanley and Crescent Real Estate Equities purchased the Woodlands Corp assets for $543 million. Six years later, in 2011, the Howard Hughes Corp. bought Morgan Stanley's interest. 

Construction of one of the suburb's most prominent features, The Waterway, began in 1999. It debuted in 2002, and was followed by the opening of retail center Market Street in 2004.

The expansion of retail and residential enclaves attracted families, especially with custom home developers flocking north. Corporations, too, were drawn to the area. In 2011, ExxonMobil declared that it would be opening a north campus there. Now, Baker Hughes, Chevron Phillips and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. all have campuses in The Woodlands.

Despite a heavy commercial presence, the community's heavily wooded lots and devotion to family-friendly amenities continues to attract young families to the area. 

"There are a lot of people who have a lot of pride in what The Woodlands is all about: a master-planned community designed in nature that allows people to live, work, play and learn in this 28,000 acres," Nick Wolda, president of The Woodlands Convention & Visitors Bureau, said in 2014.

This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Topics

Commerical, Amenities, Residents