Here in Columbia, nearly everything was something else before it became something. I have heard and read many people (including CA) refer to the “natural” setting in Symphony Woods. I say not so. Before being purchased in the mid 1960’s, the land that is most of town center was owned by a man named Isadore Gudelsky. An account of Mr. Gudelsky can be found in the book Creating a New City, edited by Robert Tennenbaum. The following passage appears in the Chapter Land Acquisition: The Realtor’s Perspective and written by the realtor employed by Rouse, Robert Moxley.
The Gudelsky family was in the sand and gravel business (known as Contee) as well as the concrete and asphalt business. They owned thousands of acres of land between Baltimore and Washington, which they mined for the aggregate existing thereon.
They always bought land, but never sold any. They would, however, develop commercial buildings on it once the sand and gravel had been removed. Isadore Gudelsky was the administrator, so to speak, of all the family businesses while his brother, Homer, was in charge of operations. Another brother, Henry was in the concrete block business. Most of the Guldelsky land was titled in the family name or Contee or Percon, but it was all generally referred to as Contee property.
One of the parcels Contee owned was located on U.S. 29 in the very center of the targeted 15,000 acres being purchased by the Howard Research and Development Corporation (HRD), as the successor to CRD. Further, it was the planned location of the town center of the new city. Of course, Isadore Gudelsky was aware of the buying spree being conducted in Howard County, but he did not know for what purpose or by whom.
Another account of the land owned by Gudelsky can be found in the book Columbia and the New Cities, by Gurney Breckenfeld (1972):
“At last,” says Jack Jones, “we came to the Big Bear, Isidore Gudelsky. He wanted $5 million for his 1000 acres. By this time it was obvious that a big land assembly was going on, and he was a shrewd bargainer.” Moxley saw Gudelsky several times, usually in his auto, in a restaurant, or a drugstore. On Jones’s instructions, Moxley offered $1,750,000 in a property swap. Gudelsky allowed that maybe he’d take $4 million. “Finally,” says Jones, “I told Moxley that this deal had to be done.” It was an understatement. Unbeknown to him, Gudelsky held the key Columbia land: the town center, symphony hall, glade, lake site, and shopping district.
Based on these sources, it appears that the land that was used for Lake Kittamaquandi, the mall, and Symphony Woods was used as a surface mine prior to the purchase by Jim Rouse. Given the state of sand a gravel mines (full disclosure, in college I worked for a contractor at the site of the last remnants of the Contee empire, Laurel Sand and Gravel, off Van Dusen Road in Laurel, MD. I performed soil compaction tests to ensure the land was buildable for the future town of Konterra), there are very few trees or vegetation present. It’s mostly, sand and gravel.
My point here is that people who assume the current state of Symphony Woods as a natural setting is somewhat misplaced. Like much of Columbia, I believe, based on the sources above, that the grading and plant life in Symphony Woods may be an entirely man-made artifact. Some may argue that allowing much of the land to lay fallow for four decades has effectively returned the land to a natural state, but this is most likely not its history.
Moreover, although the Symphony Woods parcel appears large to human eyes, both on the ground and viewed on a map, it is a relatively small parcel in terms of an ecosystem. Because of this, the site must be actively managed to ensure a viable space.