The original Woodward’s W in the 100 block of West Hastings Street was a mammoth in the sky, visible for miles around. The large, almost omniscient W spoke to the wide-ranging role that the Woodward’s Department Store played in the home lives of thousands of Vancouver residents.
Woodward’s was a popular, all-purpose hub for groceries, dining, clothing, and house ware. It operated between 1902 and 1993. Up above, 140 metres of neon tubing outlined the body of the W, and the letter was lit with 572 twinkling 50-watt bulbs.
The W stood 300 feet above Hastings Street on an 80-foot tower designed to imitate the Eiffel Tower in the neon heyday.
Today, the original W is encased in glass in the new Woodward’s courtyard at Cordova and Cambie Streets. A new red W is back in the sky, this time lit with energy-efficient LED lights.
“Every Saturday afternoon in the ‘30s, my family, who lived in Marpole, would drive down to Woodward’s to do Saturday afternoon shopping. We’d do that and then we’d have dinner at Woodward’s. Then we’d walk down to what’s known as Pantages Theatre in those days, the vaudeville house, which is a corner of Carrall and Hastings.
That used to be a huge thrill for me. It was quite an ornate theatre. It was almost in keeping with the Orpheum in design and opulence.
It had an orchestra of course, and when we’d be sitting there and the lights would come up after the movie stopped and the music began, the orchestra was in a pit. I was thrilled out of my bootstraps!
We had the same routine every Saturday: Dinner at Woodward’s. Walk down the street. And see these wonderful vaudeville shows.”
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-Dal Richards, saxophonist, big-band legend