The Woodward's beacon circa 1938

The Woodward's beacon circa 1938. In 1927, Charles Woodward had a replica of the Eiffel Tower placed on top of his department store. In 1955 he installed a revolving neon W on top of the tower. City of Vancouver Archives Van Sc P114

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Corner of Abbot and Hastings circa 1907

Corner of Abbot and Hastings circa 1907. Woodward's Department Store opened in 1903 after Charles Woodward moved his store from Main Street to 101 West Hastings. Philip T. Timms photo, Vancouver Public Library 5248

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Save on Meats exterior

Save on Meats' over-the-top, animated neon sign was grandfathered in under the 1974 sign by-law and had to be repaired where it hung during recent renovations. If it had been removed, the City would not have allowed it to be reinstalled. Vancouver Sun photo

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Installation of New Woodward's Sign

A re-creation of the original 1955 sign was hoisted on to the building on January 9, 2010 to mark the completion of the Woodward's redevelopment project. Vancouver Sun photo

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The New Woodward's Sign

The new Woodward's sign weighs 2.5 tonnes and uses 6,000 energy-saving LED lights. The original sign was removed in 2006 and is now displayed on Cordova Street outside the Woodward's atrium. Vancouver Sun photo

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Save on Meats sign detail

The Save on Meats sign features two flying pink pigs and a sack of coins. The design is an example of the craftsmanship and playfulness of 1950s neon.

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The Save on Meats sign at night

When Save on Meats opened, interurban trams still dropped off as many as 10,000 people a day to the depot at Carrall and Hastings. After the transit system closed in 1958, Hastings Street drifted into a slow, steady economic decline.

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John Ethier, a former fisher, lived at Main and Hastings in the late 1980s.

NARRATOR
DJ Joe has lived in the Downtown Eastside for 12 years, and has spent the last
11 years living in the Balmoral Hotel on Main and Hastings. She remembers the
affordable food at the original Save on Meats.

DJ JOE
Save on Meats had the cheapest restaurant here in the Downtown Eastside. It
had the meat store, you got the bakery, you got your fruit and vegetable stand
too, and then a little restaurant in the back.

NARRATOR
John Ethier, a former fisher, lived at Main and Hastings in the late 1980s. In the
1990s, construction work drew him to Hastings Street again.

JOHN ETHIER
When you went in the front doors, there were two entrances: the seafood was on
the left, produce was on the right, bread was in the back, meat was in the middle,
and the lunch counter, which had two U-shaped things with stools, was right at
the very back with an open kitchen.

I was working on Abbott Street on a construction job. I was there for about six
month, so I used to eat lunch there five days a week.

NARRATOR
John tells us about what he used to order on his lunch breaks in the diner.

JOHN ETHIER
The daily special sometimes, maybe just a burger. Sometimes just a bowl of
soup. I used to like their liver and onions.

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Helen Hill shares her thoughts on the Save on Meats revival. Save on Meats owner Mark Brand reflects on the sign.

NARRATOR
Helen Hill is a longtime Downtown Eastside resident who works at the Potluck
Café on weekday mornings, and in the Save on Meats deli in the afternoons.She
shares her thoughts on the Save on Meats revival.

HELEN HILL
They were able to save the pigs at our Save on Meats. Which was really special
for the neighbourhood.

NARRATOR
Save on Meats owner Mark Brand reflects on the sign.

MARK BRAND
The vast size of the Save On Meats sign always takes people aback. You know,
you can see it from four to six blocks away with no problem.

And it’s an exceptionally cool design, as well. They really went for it. It’s
ostentatious at best, you know. And why not, for a meat shop, have a sign like
that.

I was blown away by it, the first time I saw the Save on Meats sign. And I think
that has something to do with why we’re sitting here right now.

NARRATOR
Helen Hill says she’s grateful that Mark revived a Hastings Street icon.

HELEN HILL
Thank god they saved it. Because I think if that sign would have went, it would
have meant that the building was going to go. And nobody wanted the building to
go. Nicole and Mark deliberately bought the whole building because they knew it
was a landmark.

NARRATOR
For Mark Brand, preserving the neon sign made good business sense.

MARK BRAND
There’s uh, arrows on the outside that draw you in. And I talked to Al, the former
owner, about those. I was like, “Do you ever get any complaints about those
lights?” He’s like “Nope, but business went up 25 per cent when I installed them.”

So not only do we have beautiful design, we have the functionality as well. And it
works for business.
The motivation behind it was, if you’re gonna bring back an icon, the icon is the
icon. You don’t open Save on Meats and change everything about it.

But, at the same time, what was it known for? It was known for serving a good,
delicious cheap burger that was very nourishing. It was known for a great butcher
shop, and it was known to be community based. So that’s great. Those three
things are great, but we can expand on that. So we took it, that idea, and just
exponentially like took it out.

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Local residents like Helen Hill remember the original Woodward's W as an orienting downtown landmark.

NARRATOR
The original Woodward’s W was visible for miles. Local residents like Helen
Hill remember it as an orienting, often comforting, landmark in the midst of an
unpredictable downtown.

HELEN HILL
I moved from Burnaby into Vancouver, then I had second thoughts of coming in,
because I thought I’d get lost. But a woman says to me, you always look for the
Woodward’s sign. Because when you walk towards it, you’re in downtown. And I
always walked towards the W.

My kids, when they were little babies, you know, I’d hold them up when we were
up high in the street, right. I’d say, oh that’s the Woodward’s sign. That’s where
we’re going today. And you know, they’re like, I could hold them in two hands,
you know. But I says, that’s where we walked to. To have fun.

NARRATOR
Vancouver architect Gregory Henriquez is the managing partner of Henriquez
Partners Architects. Henriquez Partners was selected by the City of Vancouver in
its call for developers to revitalize the Woodward’s site.

Construction for the Woodward’s redevelopment started in 2006. Gregory shares
his recollections of the original Woodward’s W.

GREGORY HENRIQUEZ
It’s huge. It’s two storeys high and two storeys wide. It’s a big, big W. And it
rotates and it, you know, it’s up on a replica of the Eiffel Tower. So originally,
there was the Eiffel Tower up there on top of the building with a searchlight. And
then the W was mounted onto the concrete base, which supported the Eiffel
Tower.

And then in later years, they moved it up and made it rotate. Because I think the
searchlights interfered with airplanes when airplanes came along. Before that,
there was a big searchlight, that’s where Woodward’s was.

So yeah, so there’s a big history to that W. It’s a part of our skyline, but also
part of sort of the zeitgeist of the community and a symbol of really sort of an
important social and economic anchor.

NARRATOR
The original W is now encased in glass and displayed on the Cordova Street
walkway outside the new Woodward’s atrium.

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Liz Lee remembers the scene from Woodward’s $1.49 Days.

NARRATOR
Liz Lee remembers the scene from Woodward’s $1.49 Days.

LIZ LEE
We used to go grocery shopping and that was in the basement. And I remember,
it was huge. It took up the whole bottom floor.

And people were in there always, $1.49 days, who can forget that? I think they
were on Tuesdays or something. You’d always remember that jingle. “$1.49 Day,
doo-doo.”

NARRATOR
DJ Joe remembers riding the Number 20 bus from her former home in Grandview-Woodlands to $1.49 days at Woodward’s.

DJ JOE
We used to live up on Broadway and Commercial. That’s before we got
the SkyTrain in. We’d take the Number 20 down and get off right in front of
Woodward’s. And the kids would get all excited, and they’d be singing that song
on the bus. Everybody knows they’re going to $1.49 Day at Woodward’s. And
everybody would be laughing.

NARRATOR
Helen Hill recalls the frenzied crush of the crowds.

HELEN HILL
My mom told me when she went to $1.49 Day, she was like, “This lady pushed
me and my pocket got caught.” She had a leather jacket on. Half her coat ripped.
That was her thing.

And then I go to my first $1.49 Day, and all of a sudden I’m in the crush of the
crowd, and I get the same thing! I got my coat torn, too! So I went home and told
her that I got ripped up, going in the $1.49.

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© 2012, Museum of Vancouver. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

This Visible City activity is based on the debates around the redevelopment of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver. The photos and descriptions of two iconic neon signs in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, as well as original interviews with residents will introduce students to the neighbourhood and the importance of the places that the signs indicate. Students will do some basic research on the contemporary settings of these signs and the surrounding neighbourhood, play a game that will enact urban development, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of developing the Downtown Eastside.

Learning Objectives:

- Demonstrate effective research skills, including accessing and assessing visual and auditory information in order to form a critical opinion
- Learn about two significant institutions in the urban history of Vancouver
- Establish links between the identity of a neighbourhood and its economic development over time
- Speak and listen to extend thinking by contextualizing and explaining relationships between new ideas and information
- Understand and analyze the concept of gentrification
- Critically explore the positive and negative implications of the development of urban neighbourhoods like the Downtown Eastside
- Demonstrate written and oral communication skills by developing, assessing, and defending a variety of positions on controversial issues

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