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Obituary: Henry A. Wood III

by Michele D.  Maniscalco
Thursday Mar 16, 2017

Henry A.Wood III
Henry A.Wood III  

Architect designed a unique legacy

Architect Henry A. Wood III left this world on January 27 at age 87, leaving a remarkable body of public, professional and personal achievements. In the early 1960s, Wood served as project manager for the team that designed and built Boston City Hall and in more recent years has been active in the planning of the redesign of City Hall Plaza.

Wood also played an integral role in the development of major institutions such as the Hynes Convention Center, Boston Five Cent Savings Bank, the Edward Brooke Courthouse, Back Bay Station and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge. In addition to his major public projects, Wood was the consummate fixer-upper, seeing the beauty and potential in neglected diamonds in the rough and renovating them to their fullest potential. He and first wife Joan (nee Klawans), also an architect, bought and restored a run-down row house at 24 Rutland Square, making it into a comfortable home for themselves and their three boys, Paul, Joshua and Daniel. "It gave my parents a chance to experiment with design in this Victorian neighborhood that was being torn down,"

Joshua, an architect, said. Wood's even more famous renovation project was a passion of more than 50 years, rehabbing a huge, dilapidated, old house perched on the rocks in the Narragansett Bay and transforming it into a summer retreat with innovative, environmentally friendly features and an ongoing labor of love for his family and a network of friends and volunteers. Wood also served on the Boston Landmark Commission for over 10 years and helped found the South End Landmarks District Commission and with Joan was involved in the seminal tenant-empowerment movement Tent City and the campaign which led to the construction of Villa Victoria.

While his passion and commitment to architecture are well-known and distinguished, Wood and Joan also raised three intelligent, accomplished sons to whom he imparted his commitment to community. Eldest son Paul is a lawyer with an office on Beacon Hill who represents employees in wrongful termination, discrimination and other work-place related matters; middle son Joshua Rose-Wood followed in his parents footsteps as an architect, residing in Roxbury and taking an active role in neighborhood affairs and in issues such as affordable housing and job creation.

Explaining his inspiration to follow in his parents' footsteps, Joshua said, "One subconscious thing I saw was that you could be nice and successful as an architect. When I was reading about architects, they were all maniacs. But I looked at my parents and saw that architects could be generous and make other people's lives better through what they made and also be successful." Youngest son Daniel is an artist with a print shop in Providence, RI.

Wood himself was raised in Waltham and Belmont, but as newlyweds, he and Joan, whom he met as a student at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Design, fell in love with the community feel and the quirky individuals who populated the South End of the late 1960s and 1970s. "It was an interesting amazing, diverse collection of crazy people. The view of the world was different there than anyplace else in the city. I think that's why my mom and dad wanted to live there. My parents looked for housing all over Boston and Cambridge and felt most comfortable in the South End. My dad loved the crazy characters he encountered in the South End," Josh observed. Both Paul and Josh speak lovingly of their carefree South End childhood. Josh described the Rutland Square of his youth as "hot and cold running kids. I'm so thankful to my parents for bringing us into that world."

Paul said, "I hate to say a small town in the middle of the city because it sounds so cliché, but it was true. Growing up in Rutland Square, we knew every single person on the street and it's a pretty big street. It was a real community back then." Paul Wood recalled riding his bicycle with his friends all over the South End and the city, with instructions to come home at dinnertime or before it got dark. "The streets, the Library Park, Tremont and especially the alleys: that was our playground," Paul said.

Both Paul and Josh spoke fondly of Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, which became the family's meal destination while Henry and Joan Wood were installing a kitchen during their first couple of months in the Rutland Square house. Completing the family was Charlie, a rough and tumble white dog who never quite looked clean and who went in and out at will, barking to be let out to roam free in the neighborhood and barking at the front door when he wanted to come home.

Paul recalled that when the neighborhood started to become gentrified, new neighbors would park their cars in the alley. "We thought they were crazy. Sure enough, every so often you would hear someone scream because they got mugged or jumped in the alley, and all the dads would rush out of the houses with their baseball bats. In my house and the houses of all my friends, there was a baseball bat just inside the front door," he recalled. Along with Joan and Gopen, Wood was an advocate for fair housing and employment. "So much of the South End for him and my mom was the community activism. They were both on the ward committee and it seemed like every other week there was a candidate night or fundraiser at the house."

Although the Woods separated around 1980 and sold their Rutland Square home, Henry Wood's lifelong love was Clingstone, a rambling, 1905 mansion on the rocks at Jamestown, RI, which was falling apart when he purchased it in 1961. Clingstone became more than a hobby: it was a destination, a way of life and a hub for many friends who volunteered over the years putting Clingstone in working order in exchange for hospitality and happy memories. Paul observed, "It took me until about age 8 or 9 to realize how out of the ordinary this was. [Clingstone] was like a wild playhouse that we had for all of our childhood. We would find secret passages, climb all over the rocks, just have an incredible time."

Clingstone was more than just the renovation of a vacation home: it was an ongoing effort encompassing friends and loved ones and the satisfaction in it for Wood and his family came through the process, the journey of working together and sharing good times. "I never thought of doing anything at Clingstone as a final goal. They bought the house for $3,600, and there was no roof; there was no glass in the windows; the doors had ripped off the hinges. What they did was invite friends, give them food and whatever they wanted to drink and they worked. Starting when I was in high school, my father started to allow my friends and I to go and stay for the summer in exchange for work. As a father and a lawyer, I cannot imagine letting three or four teenage boys have the run of the house all week. We'd have parties all week. Knock wood, no one ever died," Paul Wood mused.

The South End of the 1970s, before it received Historic District designation, was a treasure trove of building materials and architectural adornments to be collected from abandoned buildings and put to use at Clingstone. Son Josh recalled, "My dad had this ability to scavenge; he found beauty everywhere. Our dining room table was made from tables in a bowling alley that was being torn down." Not surprisingly, Wood found a kindred spirit in Jose Epstein, the owner of an architectural-antique junk shop whose family owned the 18th-century Fowler Clark farmhouse on Blue Hills Avenue. "One time my dad was going through an abandoned building in the middle of the night, scavenging, and he heard a noise like someone else was there and it was Jorge," Josh said.

Today, Clingstone is rented for about a month each summer to cover its costs and it is outfitted with a wind-power generator, propane stove, rainwater collection system, solar panels, a composting septic system. Paul Wood explained, "Part of Clingstone is that it was a community effort and he had all of his friends come down through the years. We still have work weekends when we invite everyone we know to come down for the weekend and do projects. It's a pretty wonderful place."

The youngest generation of Woods, Paul, Joshua and Daniel's children, are still young, the oldest 13, but they have grown up visiting Clingstone and it holds a special place in their hearts. The three sons hope to keep the tradition alive in their children's hearts and minds. Joshua Rose-Wood said, "They will have a connection to it that is different but they know it is part of my dad. We always talk about it to my kids. One time my father had a fall in the boat and stepped on a bag of tomatoes and they went everywhere," he said with a laugh.

A dreamer as well as a doer who was able to bring big, bold ideas to fruition, Henry A. Wood III, also survived by his sister, Anna Wood Murray and grandchildren Roma, aged 14; Maya, 7; Martin, 6; Hazel, 4; and Hannah, 3; is remembered for his affable demeanor, his smile and wit. Joshua observed, "He had an immediate connection with kids. He was very open and honest and it helped him connect with all kinds of people."

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