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By: Lawrence Herzog
Edmonton’s Ultimate Hardware Store on Jasper Avenue
If you talk with anyone who lived in Edmonton in the 50 years starting in 1930, they’ll attest that W.W. Arcade was the ultimate hardware store. If I really think about it, I can still smell the place and hear the squeak of the floors underfoot and, if you were in the basement, overhead. I can see the shelves piled high with an array of goods and hundreds of other items dangling from the ceilings.
The store, on the northeast corner of Jasper Avenue and 97th Street, was, as the signs out front proclaimed, where prices are lower. It was a treasure trove of dohickeys, thingamabobs and thingamajigs that you just couldnt find anywhere else. The staff always seemed to know where everything was because, well, they were usually the ones that had stashed all the goodies in their many years working at the store.
The story of the business and the building it called home goes back to 1911, when Leonard A. Goodridge announced his plan to build a new business block at what was then the heart of downtown, the corner of Jasper Avenue and Namayo Avenue (now 97th Street).
The story goes that during the excavation, the west wall of the adjacent Jasper House Hotel (now Hub Hotel) began to crumble and fall into the hole. Crowds gathered to observe the catastrophe but disaster was ultimately prevented when large timbers successfully held the hotel in its rightful place.
Construction on the building continued without further incident and, when it opened in 1912, the Goodridge Block instantly became a local favorite. The design, by local architect Robert Percy Barnes, was hailed for its handsome qualities. Architectural experts call the building a fine example of classical and commercial design and note it was very sophisticated for the time. It is nicely proportioned and boasts superb rhythm of its openings and rusticated corners. And the Block features some marvelous small touches, like keystones above the window arches and a southwest corner that, because the meeting of the two streets isn’t perpendicular, actually comes to a point and juts out further than it normally would.
The street level originally housed a men’s wear store; a barber shop; a wine, liquor and cigar store and a pool hall. The upper floors were used as offices, and the first tenants included the Edmonton Mercantile Company, King Investment, L.A. Webber Real Estate and Drs. Raymond Landry and James and Clara Kelly. In 1930, the main level was taken over by Samuel Peter Wilson and a fellow named Welsh and they opened a store called W.W. Sales (for Wilson and Welch). Wilson retired in 1942 and Alex Ainslie, the gentleman who had managed the store, joined with his brothers Bob and Dave and they took over the store. That’s when they changed the name to W.W. Arcade
The store sold not only hardware but also, as the sign on the facade proclaimed, Radios, Refrigerators, Washing Machines, Electrical Supplies, Mechanics and Carpenters Tools. The signs on the parapet read: W.W. Sales Bldg right into the 1980s. The grand old building was alive with character and, thankfully they left well enough alone. There was just one major renovation in 1967 when the east wall was rebuilt, the roof was refinished and the storefront was modified.
By the late 1980s, the block was the last remaining remnant of early 20th century architecture on Edmonton’s famous corner that for a long while boasted the Dreamland Theatre, Riviera Caf, Coffee Cup Inn and Alberta Hotel within a stone’s throw. They all fell with alarming speed in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s. Changing shopping patterns brought by mall culture, a shift to the suburbs and bad decisions about downtown signaled an end for W.W. Arcade. In February 1991, after more than 60 years of hardware business at the location, W.W. Arcade closed the doors and the structure fell silent. It looked for awhile like the building may have lived its last, but then a visionary group with a stubborn zeal for heritage came to the rescue. The Edmonton Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC) took on the building as its own and, despite the odds, fought diligently for its preservation.
The EDDC began a $2.3 million restoration in 1992 and the top floors were converted to 18-apartments for lower income citizens. The restored building, officially opened in 1993, was again a source of civic pride — just as it had been in its earliest days. The five-thousand square foot main floor, with its grand 14-foot high ceilings, eventually became the Hardware Grill, one of Edmonton’s preferred dining spaces. Now, the structure is the westernmost anchor of downtown’s largest intact grouping of pre-World War I buildings, saved only by the simple fact that downtown moved further west after the war.
The Jasper East Block runs between 96th and 97th Streets and includes the aforementioned Hub Hotel, the Gem Theatre, the Ernest Brown (Brighton) Block, the Pendennis Hotel and the Gibson Block. In recognition of its significance, the Goodridge Block is designated a Municipal Historical Resource and is included on the “A” list of the Register of Historic Resources. W.W. Arcade is but a memory now, but what a memory it is!
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