The Way We Were: Accidental Innkeepers

The Way We Were: Accidental Innkeepers
Wayne Wood, Margie Wood Fox and John Wood, with a photo of The Woodshed on the mantel

Thanks to the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, a Riverside establishment, fondly called The Woodshed, was home to a significant number of tenants during a 35-year period.

However, as three local descendants of “accidental innkeepers” Guy and Elma Wood recall, the roots of the imposing three-story Colonial Revival mansion at 1035 Riverside Ave. began in the Episcopal Church.

The Wood Family: Sons Bill (back) and Guy Jr., Elma and Guy Sr.

The Wood Family: Sons Bill (back) and Guy Jr., Elma and Guy Sr.

Siblings Margaret “Margie” Wood Fox and John Wood, and their cousin Dr. Wayne W. Wood, shared remembrances of times spent at their grandparents’ grand home on The Row, the nickname for a portion of Riverside Avenue known for its more than 50 spectacular mansions during the early 1900s.

The mansion was built after the turn of the 20th century by the Episcopal Diocese of Florida for its third bishop, Reverend Edwin Garner Weed. The “Bishop Weed Mansion,” as it was called, was fronted with four classical Doric columns facing Riverside Avenue and a lot that extended to the river. After Bishop Weed’s death in 1924, the house was bought by his daughter, Mrs. J. Russell Ingram, and became a leased property.

Enter Guy “Bobo” and Elma “Woo Woo” Wood, Georgia natives who lost their investment in the South Florida land boom and their home to the 1926 Miami hurricane, which caused the Woods to return to Jacksonville where they had first begun their married life in 1914. Much of what follows was documented in a memoir by the couple’s oldest son, William, who was four months old when the family fled Miami.

Elma had an inherent business sense and entrepreneurial vision that was always acknowledged by her family. She was the one who first had the idea to rent a spare bedroom in their Dellwood Avenue home when they returned to Jacksonville. That decision set the couple on their successful life course.

The Dellwood home was near the streetcar stop on Myra Street that Guy rode downtown to his job as a sales agent for Equitable Life Insurance, where he worked for more than 30 years until his retirement in 1958 at age 65.

The family soon had to move to a bigger house at 2103 Ernest St. to accommodate more boarders, and to “provide a nice home away from home for girls and boys who work downtown,” according to Elma in her son’s memoir.

Word soon spread about the friendly couple with rooms to rent, good food to eat and the motherly lady of the house whom everyone called Mom Wood. Soon, more boarders came.

With a deposit of $50, in 1938 Guy Wood bought The Weed Mansion for $9,000. Photo circa 1961.

With a deposit of $50, in 1938 Guy Wood bought The Weed Mansion for $9,000. Photo circa 1961.

Although barely making ends meet themselves, Guy and Elma extended credit to their young tenants who fell on hard times. They told their sons, Bill and Guy Jr., that only one or two tenants failed to repay them in all their boarding house years.

“They added on a room, then kept moving to bigger homes to house more tenants. Their boarding house business just kept growing,” grandsons Wayne and John both recalled. In 1936 their grandparents leased, then in 1938 bought, the mansion at 1035 Riverside Ave.

John Wood, chairman and CEO of Sally Corporation, still has the original yellowed sales deposit slip for $50 signed by his grandfather, Guy D. Wood, to finalize the contract for purchase of 1035 Riverside Ave. for the sum of $9,000. The slip, dated May 5, 1938, is printed on a Tucker Bros., Inc. rental agency deposit slip.

After the Woods moved into the former Weed Mansion, their tenants soon renamed it The Woodshed. Many tenants who boarded with the Woods got engaged (some to other tenants) and married at The Woodshed. There were eight to 10 weddings annually and one spring 13 couples held their nuptials there. Elma was an irrepressible matchmaker who enjoyed that immensely.

The Woods’ six grandchildren not only were thrilled to visit their grandparents, they couldn’t wait to stay at The Woodshed. Its location put them in the heart of everything, and they walked or rode the bus everywhere.

“Our parents were very social and traveled. When they would go out of town, we got to stay with our grandparents. The Children’s’ Museum was on the corner of Riverside and Lomax with a helicopter in front,” said John. “5 Points and the YMCA were right down the street. It was easy to catch the Number 3 Ortega bus and ride downtown, where we watched movies at Center or Florida Theatres and played tag inside of Sears.”

“We were four blocks from Memorial Park and two blocks from the duck pond where Bobo walked us to feed the ducks,” said Margie, who owns Foxy Foliage, a landscape design company.

Old-fashioned pastimes at The Woodshed included parlor games: Carrom, Monopoly, Fiddlestix and Anagrams. The tenants were interesting, especially a gentleman who carved wooden ducks. Miss Iris, a lady with severe rheumatoid arthritis, is remembered because she always took them to the park.

Guy had a favorite spot to sit and swing on the shady back porch in the summer, overlooking his concrete-walled, oval garden. The garden’s wall protected it from cars parking in back of the mansion. He liked to relax, smoke a cigar after dinner and listen to a baseball game on the radio.

At the mansion, Guy had a desk in the front hall just outside the dining room, where he paid bills, did paperwork and wrangled with the wartime Office of Price Administration, which controlled prices of meals at boarding houses. Any increases had to be approved, a process that constantly lagged behind food costs that stretched the Woods’ budget to the breaking point.

On top of Guy’s desk in the front hall sat a handmade wooden mail station with slots for every tenant and family member. The mail slots were the most popular spot in the house when all the tenants returned home after work and stopped to check for mail.

The grandchildren loved to race up to the third floor to drop pillows down to the ground beside their grandfather’s desk to startle him and make him laugh. “We grandkids thought our grandparents were rich. There could be 60 people seated for dinner every night,” said John. “Christmas at The Woodshed was amazing. We never knew until years later how they struggled to meet the monthly mortgage of $100. The boarding houses were never a financial boon, but provided a comfortable life.”

Guy Wood with a string of drum, sheepshead, and croakers, circa 1949 at Devil’s Elbow fish camp.

Guy Wood with a string of drum, sheepshead, and croakers, circa 1949 at Devil’s Elbow fish camp.

The enterprising Woods afforded long summer vacations by renting a beach house that could also accommodate paying boarders. They were able to welcome their extended families, and Elma’s relatives held their annual reunions at the Woods’ beach house.

Because Guy and Elma loved to fish, they often took their 15-foot rowboat, dubbed the EL-BO, or later a rented boat to go saltwater fishing. There were regular weekly fish fries with mouthwatering hushpuppies, where everyone was welcome.

The many cooks and staff who worked for the Woods during their boarding house years were treated like family. They accompanied the family to the summer beach houses. At 1035 Riverside the last couple that worked for them, Leonard and Naomi Jackson, lived in the two-story garage apartment behind the main home.

Margie remembers the cooks would swing her up onto the kitchen counter for a cookie. The grandchildren were treated like royalty by staff and tenants alike.

When Guy and Elma closed their boarding house business in 1961, they rented the mansion to S. C. Henderson & Son for a French restaurant, La Maison. The restaurant had a fire and closed within the year. They continued to rent the mansion until 1971 when it was demolished for construction of an Independent Life Insurance Co. office, but the property is still owned by the Wood family.

In 1974, in reaction to the escalating demolition of historic homes and structures in Riverside and Avondale, Wayne, an optometrist, founded Riverside Avondale Preservation to provide protection and preservation of the architecture, history, cultural heritage and economic viability of Riverside and Avondale.

“Growing up in South Florida in a one-story concrete block home, coming to visit my grandparents in their Riverside mansion was like a fantasy world beyond my wildest dreams,” Wayne said. “I still frequently have dreams of being in that house.”

Guy and Elma bought their final home at 4129 McGirts Blvd. for $12,000 after leaving the mansion. The Ortega home was next door to Elma’s brother and sister-in-law, Charlie and Lula Talley. 

“We loved visiting them at the McGirts house too,” said Margie. “When I was in junior high I remember them letting me play Kick-the-Can in the street until 10 p.m. with my friends. When it was hot out we’d come in the house all sweaty and no matter how late it was, Woo Woo would make us delicious Coca Cola or root beer ice cream floats. We loved being in the kitchen with her. She never cared if we made a mess.”

The Woods never drove or owned a car until Elma inherited her brother John Talley’s 1958 Ford and learned to drive at age 72. After Guy’s death in 1967, Elma bought a new Ford station wagon and took a cross-country trip out West with close friends, Mr. and Mrs. Stanton Cowart, and their grandson, Brooks. At age 75, Elma traveled to Alaska with another lady friend and said she enjoyed the small float plane ride so much she should have gone sooner.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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