By Beth Treffeisen
Henry Austin Wood III, a Boston architect and a long-time South End resident, who was behind the makings of Boston City Hall, passed away in his home in Boston on Jan. 27 at the age of 87.
Henry Wood’s architecture that spans throughout the Boston region and beyond will have a lasting impact on City’s residents for years to come.
A memorial service was recently held for him at City Hall this past Saturday, Feb. 18.
“It was amazing,” said Josh Rose-Wood his son and architect. “It was a beautiful ceremony.”
Rose-Wood said that along with his brothers, cousin, and three close friends, other residents also stood up to share stories about building City Hall or about their experiences in the South End.
“He had an amazing ability to manage to bring together a diverse community of people,” said Rose-Wood referring to the Texas contractor, Boston politicians, and young New York architects who were behind the building of Boston City Hall.
“He had the ability to bring together crazy diverse people to come together to do things together and that’s what moved me the most about the ceremony,” said Rose-Wood.
Wood was born in Waltham, Massachusetts on June 18, 1929. He later married fellow architect Joan Klawans in 1962 and had three sons, Paul an attorney of Jamaica Plain, Josh an architect of Roxbury and Daniel a printer of Providence, RI. Wood later divorced Joan and later married a family friend Diane Sargent in 1988, but that marriage also ended in 2000.
In the 1960’s Wood settled down in the South End with his family. They bought a house on West Brookline Street in 1964 and then when his second son was born in 1967 moved to Rutland Square. Along with his wife at the time Joan, he soon became very active in local and national politics through the South End.
He served at different periods as chairperson to Ward 4 Democratic Committee and hosted countless meetings, fundraisers, and parties for political action.
“The bonds in the South End where really, really tight,” said Daniel Wood.
Daniel said, that growing up as a young child in the South End, he would run wild around like crazy throughout the neighborhood, but there was always other adults he considered his own parents watching out for him.
Despite living in Providence now, Daniel said, he still has close to ties to the South End.
“My daughter is 14 now, but we still refer to friends from Rutland Square as cousins,” said Daniel Wood. “The bonds are so close.”
Wood was also drawn to the unique architectural character of the neighborhood and was a founding member of the South End Landmarks Commission, in addition to serving on the citywide Landmarks Commission.
“He loved living in the South End,” said Rose-Wood. “He loved the architecture and the beautiful buildings that had been neglected over the years.”
Before his time in the South End, Wood attended Belmont Hill School (1947) and Harvard College (1951) where he majored in physics and in architecture. In the 1950’s he was drafted into the US Army at the end of the Korean War where he watched and studied the effects of 13 nuclear explosions under Operation Redwing.
At the end of his term he was accepted for graduate degrees at Harvard in both physics, architecture and in business. He decided on physics and sent his acceptance letter.
“The same night he stayed up on the beach at Eniwetok Atoll and by sunrise he had changed his mind,” according to his bio. “He decided he would rather build things than be involved in blowing up the world.”
After finishing his graduate program in 1960 he went to work for the Boston Architectural firm Samuel Glaser Architects and then onto Campbell and Aldrich.
When he was there the international design competition went out for Boston City Hall. The winners, Michael McKinnell and Gerhard Kallman of New York, had zero experience in constructing a building. Wood’s firm was chosen as the local firm to help make their design a reality and he was chosen as the project coordinator at the age of 32, only three years out of architecture school.
Daniel Wood, his son said that McKinnell had a chance to speak about this experience at the memorial service this past Saturday.
“One of the more enlightening things, to me, was how my father was so instrumental in getting the building built in the way that it was designed,” said Daniel Wood. “At the ceremony, we wished that the City Councilors or the Mayor could have been there to see the room filled with love, which is how it was intended to be used.”
The scale of the poured in place concrete building was entirely new for a public building in the U.S. and it was Wood’s job to make sure it got built.
Although Wood was behind many other buildings throughout the city, Boston City Hall was one of his proudest accomplishments. Wood was saddened by the neglect of the building and the unfinished promise surrounding the brick plaza.
According to his son Paul, his father has worked for the past 20 years trying to bring life back to the plaza around it.
“He submitted design, after design, after design to really make it a permanent green space to no avail,” said Paul Wood an attorney. “I don’t know a lot about architecture but to me when I see that building it says municipal government.”
After helping to construct Boston City Hall, Wood later became a full partner at the firm Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood Architects that were responsible for a number of prominent buildings in the city, the country and around the world.
Projects include: the Boston Five Cent Savings Bank, Hynes Convention Center, Dudley Square Library, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Back Bay Station, Major academic buildings at Harvard, Princeton, Andover, Yale, Washington University, Emory, Carnegie-Mellon, and others, along with U.S. Embassies in Bangladesh and Thailand, Federal courthouses in Boston and Cleveland, museums and more.
One of Wood’s favorite places was Jacob’s Wirth, the German beer hall located next to the theatre district downtown. Paul Wood said that his father worked to help make it a historical landmark during his time on the Landmarks Commission.
“Every time you have a beer at Jacob’s Wirth maybe you will think a little about Henry Wood,” said Paul Wood.
Daniel Wood said that his father really had a knack of treating everyone equally and when he met a new person he went in without any preconceptions.
“He was extremely open minded person for sure, but it is sad that we just don’t consider that something normal for a person to do to – he treated everyone fairly,” said Daniel Wood. Laughing, he continued, “But don’t get me wrong, he was still weird.”