Woodwards – West Hastings and Abbott

Woodwards 4

We featured an image of the Woodward’s store on the corner of Abbott and Cordova in an earlier post (over three years ago). Here are two more – the first a Vancouver Public Library image dating back to 1903 when W T Whiteway’s first building for Charles Woodward (in this location) was just complete. Actually, it wasn’t just Charles’s store: he started out on Westminster Avenue (Main Street today) but partnered with a jeweller, a crockery store and a boot and shoe storekeeper to expand into the much bigger new building in what Woodward believed would one day be a more central location. When he bought the site for $25,000 it was less promising: ‘at one corner of the lot was a deep hollow, a swamp eight feet below the elevation of the sidewalk, wherein grew huge yellow skunk cabbages and bull-frogs abounded. The wooden sidewalk was built on stilts on a level with the street. Across the road was a cistern for use by fire-fighters. “People forgot” said Charles, “that the hollow saved a lot of excavating and reduced expenses and the drain which was put in by the city took care of the swamp“‘. The Woodward’s family biography records that because the contractor offering the lowest cost was considered to be ‘anti-union’ the building took over a year to complete; for example the stone for the foundation had to be shipped from the US by scow as supplies couldn’t be obtained in British Columbia. Charles finally negotiated with the local Labour party executive, showed them that the next tender was $7,000 higher, and persuaded them to drop their obstruction to his building. (E Cook was the contractor of the $60,000 building). A month after the store opened the BC Electric Railway company decided to run a streetcar up Hastings, from Main to Cambie, confirming the value of the location.

The gamble to expand so dramatically initially looked like it hadn’t paid off. In early 1904 the store had lost $7,000 to $8,000 in its first three months of operation. It was over-stocked with expensive but slow-selling merchandize like diamonds and china. A Receiver was appointed at a cost of $5,000 who fond the store had $199,500 of assets and $89,000 in liabilities, and recommended that the firm should be allowed credit from the Bank of British North America at an interest rate of 6% to pay off trade creditors and allow the firm to trade out of their precarious position. The directors fell out even more; led by jeweler Cicero Davidson (who had his jewelers store nearby, and lived on the west side, on Burrard Street).

They tried to get Charles Woodward to resign as Manager; he resolved to continue in control and to buy them out. He sold his original Main Street premises for cash, paid off the mortgage on the building and had enough left over to buy out the Davidson Brothers and T B Hyndman, another director. (He was running the crockery department of rival store R G Buchanan Co in 1901; we recorded some of his history in connection to his later Canada Hotel investment).

Over the next few years Charles Woodward managed the store, paid off the creditors, the mortgage and eventually a $30,000 bank loan that had kept the store solvent. He added two additional storeys in 1910, designed by Smith and Goodfellow. Architect Sholto Smith had married the youngest Woodward daughter, Cora (who hated her given name, and was known as Peg), and he also designed the company stables as well as the store’s vertical extension. The arched window in the centre bay of the original building was rebuilt so that it didn’t look odd on a middle floor of the larger building.

Woodwards 3

This 1981 view shows that the Woodward’s store continued to grow over the years. George Wenyon designed an addition in 1913 to the west of the original store. H W Postle designed an addition in 1925 along Abbott and Cordova, while W T Whiteway was responsible for several elements added to his 1903 store over nearly 30 years (including the parking garage in 1930). By 1981 the business had expanded to 21 stores, but the flagship Downtown store had already faced declining business once the Pacific Centre had opened on Granville. The 1980s saw the entire business facing challenges; the family relinquished control in 1989, and the Downtown store store closed in 1993. It took nearly 20 years and several false starts before a City of Vancouver initiated redevelopment, (hustled by Jim Green) designed by Henriquez Partnership for Westbank saw the original corner store reconstructed and the remainder of the site redeveloped.

Image source: Vancouver Public Library and Peter B Clibbon

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