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Male, US, born 1841-06, died 1923-10-02

Associated with the firms network

Wood and Lovell, Architects; Wood, James M., Architect; Wood, Lovell and Claflin, Architects

Professional History


James Madison Wood became one of America's most well-traveled architects of the 1875-1900 period. He specialized in theatre and opera house design, particularly their interiors, and gained commissions from coast to coast, developing a national reputation in this area. Given his national success, the relative paucity of information on his life and career remains puzzling.

Carpenter, Chicago, IL, c. 1866-1873.

Principal, James M. Wood, Building Contractor, Chicago, IL, c. 1873-1880.

Partner, James M. Wood and Son, proprietors of the Blake Hotel and lessee of the Blake Opera House. (He ran both with his son Benjamin Wood. (See Racine, Wisconsin, City Directory, 1883, p. 296.)

Principal, James M. Wood, Architect, Racine, WI, c. 1882-1891. Wood was listed as an architect in the W.F. Curtis & Company's Classified Business Directory Racine 1883-4, (p. 301). In 1883, his office was situated at 322 6th Street. He was not, however, listed in the W.F. Curtis and Company's Classified Business Directory for Racine, 1885, (p. 315 and p. 322), the W.F. Curtis’s Classified Business Directory, Racine, 1887, (p. 291 and pp. 296-297) or the W.F. Curtis’s Classified Business Directory, Racine, 1888, (p. 359 or pp. 365-366), as either an architect or carpenter, contractor and builder. He was likely traveling during 1885 and 1887, as he was known to have designed the Toronto Opera House (1886) and other projects during this period.

Partner, Wood and Lovell, Architects, San Francisco, CA, and Chicago, IL, 1891-1897. The biographical publication, The Bay of San Francisco: the Metropolis of the Pacific Coast and its Suburban Cities: A History,said of Wood: "He has given much attention to designing and erecting theaters, opera houses and concert halls throughout the United States. Among the temples of art designed and erected by him are the New California Theater [San Francisco, CA]; Grand Opera House, Los Angeles [CA]; Grand Opera House, Portland [OR]; the Tacoma Theater [Tacoma, WA]; New Broadway, Denver [CO]; Hennepin Avenue Theater, Minneapolis [MN]; Blake Opera House, Racine [WI]; and Grand Opera House, Warsaw, [sic, should be "Wausau,"] Wisconsin; Rockford Opera House [Rockford, IL], and Grand Opera House, Danville, Illinois; Academy of Music, East Saginaw [MI]; Wood's Opera House, Bay City [MI]; Academy of Music, Kalamazoo; Redmond's Opera House, Grand Rapids [MI]; Academy of Music, Toronto, Canada; Academy of Music at Franklin, Oil City and Altoona, Pennsylvania; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and many others, too numerous to mention. He is an enthusiast in this branch of the profession, and has devoted a great deal of time and study to the comfort, convenience, acoustic qualities and effect in the design and arrangements of opera houses, theaters and concert halls. His design and supervision in erecting the magnificent New California Theater in this city [San Francisco] was through the endorsement and special recommendation of the most eminent artists in the profession,--Booth, Barrett, Modjeska and others." (See Oscar Lewis, Bailey Millard, and Lewis F Byington, "J.M. Wood," in The Bay of San Francisco: the Metropolis of the Pacific Coast and its Suburban Cities: A History, volume I, [Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Company, 1892], p. 644-645.) This article referred to Edwin Booth (1833-1893), Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) and Helena Modjeska (1840-1909), leading dramatic actors of the mid-to-late 19th century.

Other theatres by Wood and Lovell included the 1,500-seat Jefferson Theatre, (1897), located at Free and Oak Streets, Portland, ME and the the Temple Theatre, (1901), 15-19 Monroe Street, Detroit, MI.

As per the Dictionary of Architects in Canada, Wood or his later firms designed the following opera houses and theatres there: Toronto Opera House, (aka “The Academy of Music,”) Toronto, ON, (1886), Grand Opera House, London, ON, (1901), rebuilding of the Russell Theatre, Ottawa, ON, (1901), and the King Edward Theatre, London, ON, (1907). (See Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, "Wood, Col. James M.," accessed 07/06/2021.)

Partner, Wood, [Sidney] Lovell and [Fuller] Claflin, Architects, San Francisco, CA, c. 1893.



The architect was born in New York State and spent his early years in New York, NY. There is some uncertainty about his date of birth, although it is very likely to have been between 1839 and 1841. The US Census of 1850 listed James M. Wood's family living in New York City, where his father worked as a harbor master. (See, Source Citation Year: 1850; Census Place: New York Ward 3, New York, New York; Roll: M432_535; Page: 423B; Image: 378, accessed 02/25/2019.) The 1900 US Census listed it as 06/1841.

Ten years later in 1860, his parents had relocated to Perry, IL, in the west-central part of the state, where they managed a farm. George Wood no longer lived at home, but siblings James M., Henrietta and Henry lived on the farm. (See, Source Citation Year: 1860; Census Place: Perry, Pike, Illinois; Roll: M653_219; Page: 468; Family History Library Film: 803219, accessed 02/25/2019.) His parents did not last long in IL, as his father died in 1864 and this mother one year later.

Wood served in the Union Army during the Civil War, apparently attaining the rank of colonel. A "James N. Woods," born in NY, and the same age, may have been among conscripts gathered in Pike County and seven others of the 9th Congressional District on 09/01/1863. This record indicated that this James Woods lived in Chambersburg, IL, was married and worked as a farmer. (See, Source Citation National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records (Provost Marshal General's Bureau; Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865); Record Group: 110, Records of the Provost Marshal General's Bureau (Civil War); Collection Name: Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865 (Civil War Union Draft Records); NAI: 4213514; Archive Volume Number: 2 of 7, accessed 02/25/2019.)

Another Civil War record noted that a "James M. Wood" joined the Union Army on 09/16/1861 at Ballston Spa, NY, and re-enlisted on 12/25/1863 at the Union Army camp at Brandy Station, VA. This individual was transferred on 11/19/1864 to the Company D Battalion by consolidation. He left the military as a private with the Company A at Washington, DC, on 06/27/1865. This card contained a description of the young Wood in question who was 5-feet, 8-and-1/2-inches tall with blue eyes and light hair, consistent with his appearance at age 51. (See, Source Citation New York State Archives; Albany, New York; Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts of New York State Volunteers, United States Sharpshooters, and United States Colored Troops [ca. 1861-1900]; Box #: 1190, accessed 07/02/2021.) His rank of private does not correspond with the title of Colonel that Wood used later his career. It is likely that this was not the same James M. Wood, as there seems to have been another man born c. 1840 at Saratoga County, NY, likely in Ballston Spa, who lived in Milton, NY, according to the NY State Census of 1905. (See, Source Citation New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: E.D. 03; City: Milton; County: Saratoga, accessed 07/02/2021.)

A "James Wood" was listed as working as a carpenter in the Chicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1867, (p. 973), although it is unclear if this was the same man. This James Wood resided at 298 West Jackson Street. Two years later, James Wood, a carpenter, was listed as working for the firm of Richie and Fullerton, living at 13 Miller Street. (See Chicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1869, p. 965.)

James M. Wood, his wife and three children lived in a comforable section of Chicago, IL, in 1870. The US Census of that year listed his profession as a "painter-grainer." The census noted that Wood owned $18,000 worth of real estate, a substantial sum for that time, and a much smaller personal estate of $500. Robert Slaughter (born c. 1850 in IL) lived with James and Isabelle Wood, and was likely her younger brother. He also worked as a "painter-grainer" in 1870. (See, Source Citation Year: 1870; Census Place: Chicago Ward 5, Cook, Illinois; Roll: M593_200; Page: 287B; Family History Library Film: 545699, accessed 02/25/2019.)

In 1873, James M. Wood operated his own contracting business as per the Chicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1873, (p. 1012) and the Chicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1875, (p. 1061). He lived at 80 Langley Avenue (1873) and 72 Langley Avenue (1875). He continued to work as a contractor in 1877-1878, having moved to 142 Johnson Place. (See Chicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1877, p. 1058 andChicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1878, p. 1113.)

Wood lived at 3835 Johnson Place in Chicago in 1880. The US Census of that year indicated that Wood worked as a "decorator." (See, Source Citation Year: 1880; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 186; Page: 248B; Enumeration District: 029, accessed 02/25/2019.) By 1882, Wood had begun to call himself an "architect." His office was located at 266 Wabash Avenue, and he boarded at 36 Aldine Square. (See Chicago, Illinois, City Directory, 1882, p. 1309.)

He worked in nearby Racine, WI, during the early 1880s, working on the design of the Blake Opera House, and there came into contact with Sidney Lovell (1867-1938), with whom he would later practice. Wood and his family must have liked Racine, as they stayed in the city between 1882 and 1890, at least, and purchased cemetery plots in that city. The Racine, Wisconsin, City Directory, 1882, (p. 265), listed Wood as an architect and proprietor of the Blake Hotel in that city and lessee of the Blake Opera House. He lived in the Blake Hotel, on the northeast corner of College Avenue and 6th Street. (See Racine, Wisconsin, City Directory, 1883, p. 296.) In 1887, he made his residence at 1136 College Avenue and in 1890 at 1201 College Avenue. (See Racine, Wisconsin, City Directory, 1887, p. 298 and Racine, Wisconsin, City Directory, 1890, page unknown.) Wood was not listed in the Racine, Wisconsin, City Directory, 1888,(p. 355).

The two men worked in Los Angeles, CA, between 1888 and 1890, before relocating to San Francisco. In 1890, the San Francisco Call noted: "J.M. Wood, a Chicago architect, is at the Palace." (See "Personal Notes," San Francisco Call, vol. 70, no. 65, 08/04/1891, p. 2.) Wood established an architectural partnership, Wood and Lovell, in 1891 and expanded it to include a third partner, Fuller Claflin.

California voter records for 1892 indicated that Wood resided in Riverside, CA, where he had worked on the Loring Opera House and Office Building during the three years previous.(He registered to vote in Riverside on 10/22/1892. See, Source Citation California State Library; Sacramento, California; Great Registers, 1866-1898; Collection Number: 4-2A; CSL Roll Number: 38; FHL Roll Number: 977092, accessed 07/01/2021.)

It seems Wood and Lovell returned to Chicago, c. 1893, but this San Francisco practice lasted until 1897.

The 1900 US Census located Wood and his wife living in the Arizona Flats apartment building at 4224 Greenwood Avenue in Chicago, IL. (See, Source Citation Year: 1900; Census Place: Chicago Ward 32, Cook, Illinois; Page: 10; Enumeration District: 1004; FHL microfilm: 1240285, accessed 02/25/2019.) The Arizona Flats was listed in the 1904-1905 Chicago Blue Book, a society publication suggesting that it was a comfortable, if not plush, residence in that year. (See the Chicago Blue Book of Selected Names of Chicago and Suburban Towns, for the Year Ending 1905, [Chicago: Chicago Directory Company, 1904], p. 60.)

Wood had likely retired by 1910, when he lived on a farm in Turkey Creek, IN, with his wife, son and his daughter-in-law, Nina Wood (born c. 1871 in OH). The US Census of that year still listed him as an architect, but it seems unlikely that he could have sustained much of a practice in such a sparse, rural setting in northwestern IN. Benjamin Wood made a living as a wallpaper laborer, so it is possible that James continued to work in some aspect of design or construction at this time. (See, Source Citation Year: 1910; Census Place: Turkey Creek, Kosciusko, Indiana; Roll: T624_358; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0082; FHL microfilm: 1374371, accessed 07/01/2021.)

In 1920, James M. Wood, then a retiree, lived with his wife, widowed daughter, Minnie Wood Driver, and her son, Russel Earl Driver, (born 01/18/1893 in WI-d. 01/18/1983 in Palm Beach, FL) at 2910 Hilldale Avenue in Baltimore, MD. The household also included a boarder, Arthur Schneider (born c. 1890 in MI), who worked as a telephone company accountant like Russell Driver. (See, Source Citation Year: 1920; Census Place: Baltimore Ward 15, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll: T625_664; Page: 32A; Enumeration District: 263, accessed 07/01/2021.)

Wood was thought to have died in about 1923 in the Washington, DC, area. A death notice in the Washington, DC, Evening Star on 10/03/1923, indicated that a James M. Wood died at 3224 Park Place within the last 24 hours. His likely date of death was 10/02/1923. (See "Deaths Reported," Washington, DC, Evening Star, 10/03/1923, p. 9.) Isabella lived on for two years after his passing in that city, also dying at 3224 Park Place. (See "Deaths Reported," Washington, DC, Evening Star, 03/17/1925, p. 9.)

Both Wood and his wife were buried in the Mound Cemetery in Racine, WI.


His father, James E. Wood, (born c. 1805 in ME-d. 1864) married Jane Dunning (born c. 1806 in Scoharie County, NY-d. 1865) on 01/11/1827 in New York, NY. A biographical publication of 1890 said this of Wood's father: "His father, James E. Wood, a native of Maine, came to New York and for many years was a leading coal merchant and the head of the Union Coal Company.... He was a prominent Whig and was a leader in the councils of the party. He was president of the Board of Aldermen of the city of New York, and held the office of United States Harbormaster." (See Oscar Lewis, Bailey Millard, and Lewis F Byington, "J.M. Wood," in The Bay of San Francisco: the Metropolis of the Pacific Coast and its Suburban Cities: A History, volume I, [Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Company, 1892], p. 644-645.) The 1850 US Census contirmed that the elder Wood worked as a harbor master in New York City. His mother, Jane, raised four children, who included George W. Wood (born c. 1832 in NY), James, Henry C. Wood (born c. 1846 in NY) and Henrietta Wood (born c. 1843 in NY).

James E. Wood switched to farming between 1850 and 1860, leaving behind the crowding of New York City for farming on the open Illinois prairie.


He wed Isabella S. Slaughter (born 09/1842 or 09/01/1843 in IL-d. 03/15/1925 in Washington, DC) in 1861 in Pike County, IL. (See, Source Information: Illinois, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1800-1940 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016, accessed 07/01/2021.) Her death appeared in in "Deaths Reported," Washington, DC, Evening Star, 03/17/1925, p. 9.


He and Isabelle had had five children, three of whom survived in 1900. Their five children in 1880 were: Benjamin Wood (born c. 1863 in IL-d. 03/31/1912 in Chicago, IL), Nellie Wood (born c. 1865 in IL), Minnie Wood (born c. 1868 in IL), Lulu Wood (born c. 1871 in IL) and Edna Wood (born c. 1877 in IL).

By age 17, Benjamin worked as a clerk in a paper house, according to the 1880 US Census. An obituary for Benjamin printed in the Racine Journal-News on 04/01/1912 stated: "Wood drew the plans for the Blake hotel and the theatre, and his son was manager of the hotel and theatre for a number of years."

Biographical Notes

According to California voting records of 1892, Wood, at age 51, stood 5-feet, 8-inches tall, and had gray eyes and gray hair.

Associated Locations

PCAD id: 2240