It’s no Oscars joke: Lake Havasu and Disneyland share common bond
PHOENIX — Jimmy Kimmel may have ripped on Arizona’s Lake Havasu a bit during Sunday night’s Academy Awards, but we can only wonder if he knows about its ties to one of California’s most popular theme parks — Disneyland.
It may seem one of the top tourist destinations in the country would not share a thing in common with the northwestern Arizona lake or the city around it, though the latter has a decent tourism market of its own.
But the two in fact share a common bond in the form of a man named Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood.
Born in 1920 in Oklahoma, Wood eventually became a known name in the engineering world. While working for the Stanford Research Institute in 1954, he was approached by a man named Walt Disney who wanted to build a theme park in southern California.
Wood agreed to the job and became the first ever Disneyland employee.
He was instrumental in choosing the eventual Anaheim location for the theme park. He also oversaw the land purchase and the construction of the now-iconic destination.
Wood was there the day the park opened and oversaw its operation for about one year until he left the company. Some rumors said he embezzled money from Disney, though exactly why he left has never been fully determined.
After Disney, Wood helped design and build several theme parks around the country, including Freedomland in New York. He branded it the “Disneyland of the East” until he was sued under copyright law.
It was after Freedomland failed in the 1960s that Wood would make his impact on Arizona.
He was hired by Lake Havasu City officials to oversee the stone-by-stone dismantling of the historic London Bridge, its shipping to the United States and eventual rebuilding in Arizona.
Originally constructed in 1831, the London Bridge was unable to support modern traffic flows and was sold off in 1962 to Robert P. McCulloch, the founder of Lake Havasu City.
Under Woods’ guidance, the bridge was taken apart and each piece was marked and numbered. The pieces were then shipped from England to Long Beach, California via the Panama Canal.
The blocks were hauled 300 miles from California to Arizona on trucks. Once there, the blocks were used to cover a new concrete structure connecting Pittsburgh Point to the rest of the city.
On Oct. 10, 1971, the bridge was opened to the public. It became a tourism attraction and brought in tens of thousands of people looking to buy retirement homes.
A statue of Woods and McCulloch was built near the bridge to honor their accomplishment.
Woods was hired on at McCulloch’s oil division after the bridge opened. He retired in 1980 and passed away in 1992 in Los Angeles.