With redevelopment proposals now before Council, decisions affecting this landmark will determine the future of the building and its neighbourhood, for better or for worse.
Woodward’s has anchored the Victory Square district since the building’s construction in 1903, when Charles Woodward chose the northwest corner of Hastings and Abbott to build his second department store.
Despite twelve additions occupying almost an entire city block, the building maintains a strong sense of architectural cohesion. Its muscular massing, red brick facade, and continuous streetwall define the area’s historic character.
The red neon ‘W’, atop an 80-foot steel tower, is a city icon. Hidden, but no less significant, is the massive, first-growth, ‘heavy-timber’ structure supporting the original building. Since Woodward’s closed in 1993, the building has remained vacant. A parade of development proposals have come and gone.
In 1996, the City designated Woodward’s a heritage building, and finally purchased it in 2003.
Last May, the City relit the neon ‘W’ as a gesture of its commitment to revitalization of the Woodward’s site and the wider neighbourhood.
Unfortunately, that commitment does not extend to preservation. In contravention of its own heritage standards and guidelines, the City’s ‘proposal call’, (to potential developers) contains no specific requirement for retention of this designated building, or even portions of it, stating only that proposals should “[take] advantage of heritage opportunities” and “[celebrate] the symbolism of this historic building.”
So it should be no surprise that many of the schemes now before Council propose major demolition and fail to respect the character of the building and the streetscape it anchors. Aside from the obvious degradation of an historic landmark, there’s a serious risk of losing the district’s historic ambience if the building’s exterior, or major parts of it, are destroyed. Let’s hope City Council does the right thing.
Updated May 1, 2006: The Woodward’s development is currently going forward, with a recent pre-sale of condos slated for the property. The original corner 1903/08 building will be restored, along with the “W”, and the remaining building structure on the property demolished. Key features have been identified throughout the entire structure (both exterior and interior), and will be retained for potential incorporation into the new developments.
Updated January 19, 2006: All structures on the site have been demolished, with the exception of the original 1903/1908 building, which will be restored. The “W” is in storage, along with several other building elements from the demolished structures.