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By Laura Landsbaum

The Woodlands held its official grand opening in October 1974. But like Rome, George Mitchell’s masterpiece of a community wasn’t built in a day. The foundation for The Woodlands we know today were laid in the early 1970s, according to David Hendricks, who worked closely with George Mitchell at what was then George Mitchell Associates (GMA) when the planning started in earnest in 1970. At that time, GMA’s portfolio included numerous real estate projects in Galveston and other regional areas.

According to Hendricks, a former vice president and assistant general manager of The Woodlands Development Corporation, five essential areas were developed simultaneously that set the stage for The Woodlands to be a success. For each of those, George Mitchell Associates had both an internal point person, and an external consultancy firm to move the development of The Woodlands forward in the most efficient way possible. 

The master plan for The Woodlands got developed in 1972 and it isn’t too far off from what the unique community actually is today 50 years later.

“When you look at The Woodlands now, it’s probably 90 percent or more of what we had on paper back in the day,” Hendricks says. “It’s remarkable. Everybody’s done some fine tuning, but the success of The Woodlands has really been dependent on every group that’s come in after the first five doing a good job of execution. The concepts were there, and everyone pretty much stayed true to the ideas.”

Hendricks’ primary responsibilities centered on what he calls The Institutional Areas — schools and religious groups. He worked with Williams Sharp out of Louisville, Kentucky to make those areas become successes that drove community growth and brought people together.

Of course, Hendricks filled many other roles too.

“I was the first head of the Community Association,” he says. “I was the first Postmaster, because they had to name someone. I signed all the original covenants and restrictions.”

Pictured: David Hendricks (left) and Charles Kelly, assistant for Institutional Services (right).

Working with George Mitchell in developing The Woodlands turned out to be one of the real joys of Hendricks’ career.

“It was the only job I’ve ever had that I was excited to go to work.” he notes. “We were just making a community out of nothing.”

Hendricks loved that Mitchell didn’t approach creating The Woodlands with an eye for making money first.  

“It’s not like he didn’t want to make money — he did — but he was really serious about trying to urbanize better,” Hendricks says. “He wanted to put people together in a better way. He was smart enough to know that he didn’t know everything. So he listened to the people he hired.”

An image of the intersection of Timberloch Place and Grogan's Mill Road in The Woodlands in 1974 shows just how much building needed to be done.An image of the intersection of Timberloch Place and Grogan’s Mill Road in The Woodlands in 1974 shows just how much building needed to be done.

The Woodlands’ Pre-Founding Team

Besides Mitchell and Hendricks, Robert Hartsfield, Jim Veltman, Plato Pappas and Jim McAlister rounded out a Fab Five that set the stage for The Woodlands to be a success in the early 1970s, years before that historic October 1974 grand opening.

Hartsfield worked with William Pereira and Associates of Irvine, Calif. Hartsfield previously worked as the director of planning and design for the Houston architectural firm of Caudill, Rowlett, Scott.

In charge of environmental landscape planning and architecture was Veltman, who worked with consultant Ian McHarg. In 1960, McHarg helped found the Philadelphia landscape firm of Wallace, McHarg, Roberts & Todd. 

Pappas, the first civil engineer for George Mitchell Associates, worked with Richard P. Browne Associates out Columbia, Maryland, which served as engineering consultants for The Woodlands.

Jim McAlister, the vice president of real estate investments and director of corporate planning and economics, rounds out this Fab Five that helped turn The Woodlands from an idea into a reality. McAlister worked with Robert Gladstone and Associates out of Washington, D.C.

George P. Mitchell (Photo courtesy of The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation)

While George Mitchell stood out as “the smartest guy in the room,” according to Hendricks, he knew he needed help from other experts in their field to help make his Live, Work, Play and Pray vision for The Woodlands come to life. Mitchell recruited some of the best of the best to his pre-planning team and listened to what they had to say.

“He was a genuinely good, humble man that never forgot his upbringing,” Hendricks says.

And if Mitchell could see The Woodlands now? With that pre-1974 vision having grown up into an arts, culture, medical, sports, commercial and nature hub of its own which more workers commute into than out of these days, “I think he’d be very proud of The Woodlands,” Hendricks says. 


Many thanks to The Woodlands 50th Anniversary Sponsors:

FOUNDING – Howard Hughes

LEGACY – Woodforest National Bank

HERITAGE – Waste Connections Inc.

GOLD – Entergy Texas, Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital

SILVER – SVN/JBeard Real Estate, The John Cooper School

PRODUCER – The Woodlands Township