There’s still work to be done to ensure that the redevelopment of the Woodward’s Building honours the building’s heritage within its community.
Woodward’s has anchored the Victory Square district since Charles Woodward chose the northwest corner of Hastings and Abbott to build his second department store in 1903. Despite 12 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.
The department store closed in 1993, the building received City heritage designation in 1996, and in 2003 the City finally purchased it, re-lighting the neon ‘W’ as gesture of its commitment to revitalization of the landmark site and the wider neighbourhood.
Unfortunately the city did not build that commitment into its call for redevelopment proposals – there was no specific requirement for retention of this designated building. In the end, Council shortlisted three development proposals.
In its communications to Council, HVS favoured the Concert/Holborn proposal, because it emphasized significant heritage conservation, an appropriate scale of new development, and respectful interventions.
We were dismayed when, in September 2004, Council selected Westbank; while recognizing that the Concert/Holborn proposal “represented the most preferred heritage and urban design and architecture scheme,” the City concluded that Concert/Holborn “posed the biggest concerns in the area of financial performance.”
From a heritage and urban context perspective, the current Westbank scheme is a disaster: token heritage retention, pastiche facadism, and insensitive interventions – not to mention the sprouting of a 30+ storey tower in the middle that ignores the site’s context in a low-rise historic area.
From what we can determine, Westbank would demolish virtually ALL of the existing Woodward’s building outside of the small 1903/08 structure at the corner of Hastings and Abbott – it is doubtful that even facades would remain. We would thus lose more than an historic landmark; there’s a serious risk of losing the district’s historic streetscape and ambience if the building’s exterior, or major parts of it, are destroyed.
There is one last glimmer of hope: in selecting Westbank, Council instructed the developer to “improve heritage conservation” in its detailed design development. This directive must be taken seriously, and we urge Westbank and the City to find ways to incorporate the existing landmark, to delete or reduce disrespectful interventions, and to scale down the height of the proposed tower.
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 1903/1908 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.