I had the joy of joining one of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s walking tours. My work allows me to have Fridays off and I finally found an event I can attend on a Friday. This fall, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation is organizing two-part historic walks of Hastings Street. I missed part one in September, which was the Hastings West walk, but I jumped all over this Hastings East walk last Friday.
After crossing from the south side of Hastings Street to the north, we entered the building. We were in a totally different world. We passed by the resident art gallery and entered the courtyard area of the Woodward’s complex. This new addition to Hastings Street is new and modern. It seems a little at odds with life on Hastings itself. In the middle courtyard, we found the original Woodward’s W on display at ground level.
Within the new Woodward’s complex are many parts. There are commercial offices, condo apartments, social housing, Simon Fraser University, and stores on the ground level. It is possibly the pinnacle of Vancouverism, where mixed use and mixed incomes live together in one complex.
The steel red columns that run up the entire height of this building are meant to green over over time. At the bottom of the columns are the start of vines growing. Eventually, the vines, and possibly other fauna, will grow over the red columns and it will become a vertical garden of sorts. For now, we have the eye-catching red that matches with the colour of the brickwork of the original Woodward’s facade.
The new red W atop Woodward’s is not the original. They had to create a new W. The old one was not in an operational conditional. So it now sits on display at the foot of the building with the red steel columns just off of Cordova Street. However, this is a classic Vancouver icon for anyone who has spent a lot of time in the city. It is a necessary finishing touch to the new Woodward’s.
The main atrium of the Woodward complex connects the different buildings together. Stan Douglas‘ Abbott & Cordova, a photographic re-enactment of the Gastown Riots of 1971 dominates the atrium. It is illuminated by the natural light that pours into the atrium. Below the giant mural is a basketball hoop that invites SFU students and locals for a little 3-on-3. London Drugs and Nester’s Market front into the atrium; thus, drawing foot traffic through the atrium into their stores.
Opposite the giant photo mural stands architect Gregory Henriquez’s staircase. The Wikipedia entry for Gregory Henriquez says this about the staircase:
The central stair in the Woodward’s atrium is a symbol of the site’s rebirth, emerging from a shallow pool like a giant umbilical cord.
If you look closely, you will notice the staircase ends in the middle of the air. I suppose it infers that the cord has been cut and the child has been ushered out of the womb.
After walking through the Woodward’s complex, we walk out to see the original facade of the Woodward’s building. This is all that is left of the original. It sits on the corner of Abbott and Hastings. The brick has been restored and some of the original wording from Charles Woodward’s day now adorn the brick. It’s a classy touch and reference back to the roots of this building.
The Woodward’s project is still that – a project. It’s a very new and different entity in the Downtown Eastside. Some locals feel that it’s a sign of further gentrification of their neighbourhood. Whether this project is a successful fit for the Downtown Eastside remains to be seen.
In the next part – we walk past two icons of this part of Hastings and a giant empty lot which was much more grand in its past life.
- Vancouver Heritage Foundation
- Vancouver Archives – Photographs
- Wikipedia entry for the Woodward’s Building