The Bride of the First House (bride) wrote,
The Bride of the First House

The Old Woodward's Building

weather: mostly sunny
outside: 14°C
mood: nostalgic
If you Google for the old +"Woodward's building" (100 W. Hastings Street) in Vancouver, you'll see that it's been a point of contention in the city. Since 1993, it's been a bloody mess of local politics, urban planning and social issues. It's been sitting empty but it looks like they're starting to make progress again on deciding what to do with it.

But there's almost nothing about it before 1993 which I find really sad, considering all the good memories I had of it before that.

The "W" sign is a local landmark. It used to slowly spin in place and the four sections of lights underneath it would come on in sequence, from bottom to top, then flash once together and repeat. I'm pretty certain I'm only one of thousands of kids who used to watch it, unblinkingly from a window at the top floor of a house.

Every Christmas, there were animated window displays at the street level. Each display was a different scene with motorized wooden figures. One was a group of carollers, one was a bunch of elves packaging gifts, bears playing in the snow, a sooty-faced chimney sweep on a ladder, etc. Since 1993, they've all been showcased every year at Christmas at Canada Place.

Woodward's was a giant department store with six floors that sold absolutely everything. Well, there was a seventh floor but it was Administration and was not accessible to the public. Department stores in Japan are like this. But, it's really no wonder they couldn't keep it going here. Shopping malls and warehouse-like places are probably much more cost efficient. Woodward's was The Bay and Eaton's biggest competitor. Eaton's has since disappeared, tried to make a come-back, wobbled around a bit and I think it's disappeared again. I think the only reason The Bay is still around is because of the Canadian historical and heritage aspect of the Hudson Bay Company.

The basement of Woodward's was the grocery floor. We never got anything there. Either their produce was never as fresh or it was much more expensive than Chinatown.

The Men's Department was half of the main floor. I think my Dad might have bought a belt here once. Most of the stuff was too expensive. I don't remember what the other half was... probably miscellaneous, jewelry repair, customer service, etc. Cosmetics and fragrances might have been on the main floor.

The second floor was the bargain floor, housewares, kitchen gadgets and appliances, outdoor gear (camping, fishing and what-not). I think the bargain floor was the only reason my family shopped at Woodward's. Especially on $1.49 Days. I still remember the jingle: "dollarfortyNINEday... TUES-day." =)

There was an old weigh scale that stood up against a pillar, on one side of this floor where we all went to weigh ourselves every week. It was one of those tall warehouse weigh scales with a big round face with a Metric and Imperial markings along the outer rim. The pointer needle would swing up when something was put on the platform. This one had a transparent face and you could see the gears moving inside it. And there was a sign on the wall behind it that said, "No springs! Honest weight!"

The first weight I remember being was 20 pounds on our first trip there shortly after we arrived in Canada. Yes, I was underweight for a 3 year old. The last time I was there as a teenager, I had just broken 100.

I watched my mother's weight go from 110 pounds to 135 pounds over the years. My Aunt Dorothy always hovered around 155-160. Aunt Alice, about 130. I made it a game to guess before they stepped on and then see if I was right. None of them made a big deal about their weight. They didn't make a big thing about me quipping, "Wow, you're heavy".

The third floor was the Women's Fashion. Clothes and shoes were on the third floor. The skywalk to the parkade was on the far end of this floor. There was a portrait studio near the parkade entrance where we got our citizenship photos and a few family portraits taken.

I'm pretty sure the parkade is now owned and operated by Imperial Parking Corp. Anyone and everyone who has gotten a $40 violation ticket for being there 5 minutes past 6pm would know. =P

The fourth floor was bed, bath and baby stuff. We didn't spend a lot of time here. It was a lot of expensive things that were not our style.

The fifth floor was furniture and home electronics. About a quarter of the floor was taken up by the pianos. I loved it when there was someone in the music department and they actually played when it wasn't busy. Over time, they just left the department unattended more and more often. I can't imagine inventory turnover would be very high for pianos and it was just useless to staff it fulltime.

SIXTH FLOOR - TOYS!!! Yeah, guess where I spent most of my time. My parents would drop me off here. In later years, I'd just go up there by myself. It was a safe enough world back then to be able to do this.

I'd read and play with stuff here while they shopped. I knew that if I broke anything or got it dirty, my parents would have to pay for it, so I was extra careful with everything I played with. I'd flip the pages of the books I read very carefully. And that made me careful about using anything that I owned and didn't own.

This is why I wasn't too traumatized to not have a lot of toys of my own. I'd never be short of anything to play with. For the hour or so that I was at Woodward's, all their toys were mine. They just couldn't come home with me, but they'd be there the next time we went. And I always got to play with the newest stuff.

Every year, at Christmas, they'd set up a section along one wall of the floor for the Enchanted Village (or something like that). It was more of the same type of motorized wooden figure displays as the ones at the street level. And at the end of the Enchanted Village was the Santa Photo booth. I don't think I ever got a picture with Santa, even when they didn't charge for the photos. In my family it was, "who the hell is Santa Claus and why do you need a picture with him?"

I don't really have an opinion as to what they should do with it. It would be nice to be able to keep the old "W" sign; it would be nice for the animated displays to be able to return home; it would be nice to clean that neighbourhood the hell up. But in the end, I just want them to do something and not let the space go to waste. It's been 11 years.

Tags: reminiscence

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