Although Wood designed and remodeled numerous private residences, his reputation rested primarily on his larger commissions, such as banks, commercial offices, and government buildings. His most famous works include the Woodrow Wilson House and the Department of the Interior headquarters building.
Waddy Wood was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1869 to Capt. Charles Wood, a Virginian who had relocated west to seek better opportunities. His family returned to Virginia shortly after he was born. He grew up on the family estate, Spring Hill Farm (itself on the National Register of Historic Places), in Ivy, Gloucester County, Virginia. He eventually attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute for his advanced education.
In 1906 Wood, Donn & Deming became the first D.C. architecture firm to design a bank high-rise in Washington when they designed the Union Trust building. National Savings & Trust, Riggs, American Security & Trust and the National Metropolitan Bank had each retained nationally renowned architects. D.C. architects were "only entrusted with branch banks and additions" until "Union Trust interrupted this trend by choosing Waddy Wood's firm of Wood, Donn & Deming" to design its headquarters at 15th and H streets, according to Commercial National's files in the National Register of Historic Places.
Wood's work for Union Trust and later, on his own on the Commercial National Bank Building, the National Register files note, "represents a coming of age of the local architectural profession, particularly since both designs were published in national architectural journals."
Wood's partnership with Donn and Deming is best known for the firm's work in 1907 on the Masonic temple at 13th Street and New York Avenue NW, now the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The building, a specimen of neo-Renaissance and Renaissance Revival styles, was declared a D.C. historic landmark in 1984 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
The building originally housed professional offices, the George Washington University law library and a movie theater in addition to the Masonic lodge hall. The exterior has never been altered substantially. As the Temple Association envisioned, the building's location at the tip of a wedge-shaped block provides an aesthetic buffer zone which "permits of no future building being erected sufficiently near to mar [the Temple's] monumental effect ... ."
Despite the successes of Wood, Donn and Deming, the firm was dissolved in 1912, and Wood opened his own practice.
Waddy Wood's most famous buildings were created after he left Wood, Donn & Deming. In 1915 he built a home for Henry Parker Fairbanks, which was purchased by Woodrow Wilson in 1920 and became the Woodrow Wilson House (or the Fairbanks-Wilson house). As his reputation grew, his client list became quite prominent. In addition to President Wilson, he designed a home for Howe P. Corcoran and remodeled the interior of Senator Oscar Underwood's home in Fairfax County - Woodlawn, a home originally designed by William Thornton, which Wood had worked on previously during his association with Donn and Deming.
In the late 1910s, Wood was featured in an exhibition - at the famous Octagon - of architectural drawings by Washington architects. In 1920 after the Octagon exhibit, Wood was selected to present drawings for the National Architectural Exhibition at the Corcoran Galleries. The drawings selected were a mix of works between 1914 and 1920. A larger number were drawings of United States Housing Corporation buildings that he designed to house World War I workers. He also featured commercial buildings, such as the Shoreham Hotel and Commercial National Bank. His residential work featured at the exhibit included the Lawrence Lee Residence.
During the World War I period, Wood designed many temporary wartime buildings in Washington. He did not take a fee for the cost of designing the buildings and as a result was praised by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then a partner of the law firm Roosevelt and O’Connor of New York. Roosevelt and Wood first became associated when Wood designed a house for Roosevelt’s uncle, Frederic Delano. Wood was active in the Democratic Party and their relationship continued after Roosevelt became President. Wood was commissioned to design the inauguration court of honor for President Roosevelt, as he had done for Roosevelt’s predecessor, Woodrow Wilson.
Wood was a proponent of the Colonial Revival style. In a 1922 article authored by Wood and published in Country Life magazine, he stated that architecture was “frozen history” and evidence of our past. His romantic view of buildings and architecture had its source in the days of the Colonial period, when the craftsman worked their buildings into an art form. His proponence of the Colonial Revival extends beyond the romantic view of the link between our past and present, but to its economic sensibilities of the early 20th century. He argued that the heavy articulation of the Craftsman style was much more costly than the Colonial Revival which is more delicate and simplified.
While many urban architects of the early 20th century applied classical design values with little adaptation, Wood spoke for an emerging school that regarded classical design as an accent to inspire and punctuate modern design.
Though his government buildings are his most prominent, Wood was also recognized for his housing design. His former partner, William I. Deming, was skilled in the restoration of old homes, and during Wood’s association with Deming he was exposed to numerous renovations of historic houses in Virginia. He designed housing largely in Washington, DC, but also in Virginia for private clients, and some government clients. In addition, he designed school buildings for the Washington, DC school system.
His greatest work is the Department of the Interior Headquarters Building in Washington, DC. Then Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes personally selected Waddy Wood as architect and worked very closely with him to ensure comfort and efficiency in the innovative new building. He was so involved with the design and construction of the Interior building that when the building opened, it was referred to as "Ickes new home."
The Interior building is 7 stories with a basement (an additional floor between the 5th and 6th stories is devoted entirely to mechanical equipment). Above the central axis is a setback 8th story. The building is arranged into 6 east-west wings connected by a central north-south spine. This massing creates ten U-shaped courts, allowing each of the 2200 rooms an exterior exposure.
The Interior building featured a number of 'firsts' for Federal buildings: the first to have a central vacuum cleaning system, one of the earliest to be air-conditioned, and one of the first to incorporate a parking garage in the building. The somewhat austere 'Moderne' exterior belies the interior's abundant artwork and ornamentation. The building's of corridors are lined with many murals and sculpture. Six Native American artists painted more than of murals.
The central corridor contains the Grand Staircase and has a checkered marble floor, bronze railings and a coffered plaster ceiling. A pair of marble bas reliefs by Boris Gilbertson adorn the walls: one of moose and the other of buffalo. The buffalo motif is found throughout the building including in the Departmental Seal and on the doorknobs of the Secretary of the Interior's Executive Suite. The Executive Suite has oak paneling with a marble fireplace. Besides offices, the building contains an auditorium, museum, Indian arts and crafts gift shop, library, post office and gymnasium-all part of the original design.
In addition to his work, Waddy Wood served as the president of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In that capacity, he said in a 1928 speech "We will eventually build up a modern style of architecture based on evolution and not revolution, which has to rest, as all civilization does, on a foundation of precedent."
He died at his home near Warrenton, Virginia, January 25, 1944