Richmond’s secret salon in the sky
Finding and getting to G G Hair Salon is complicated
Longtime Richmondites like Ed and Betty Hoyland are often at Julie Ghassemian’s salon, talking everything from politics to gas prices to the old days of a flatter Richmond.
“We used to call it Ditchmond,” said Ed, a retired engineer who came to Richmond from England in 1973 with his wife.
Ghassemian, who came from Montreal in 1988, also remembers days with more ditches.
“My son used to grab frogs from them and put them in his pocket,” she said.
You might imagine these conversations, always over tea, taking place in a salon on some neighbourly high street. But G G Hair Salon is very, very hidden.
Ghassemian used to work in salons at busy Richmond locations — Woodward’s, Richmond Centre, Broadmoor Village across from Richmond Hospital — but her current salon is the opposite of convenience.
“There’s no way new customers can know where I am,” said Ghassemian.
G G Hair Salon is sandwiched in the middle of three levels of parking in the shadow of three 17-storey highrises, completed in 1973. The entrance faces an elevated plaza and an outdoor pool. You can get there by driving up a ramp (or walking up, but there’s no sidewalk) or go- ing to the B tower and pressing 110 for Ghassemian to buzz you in and ride the elevator to her level.
Even if you know how to get there, it’s complicated.
This is Richmond’s Park Towers. They’re three brick-clad, rectangular slab highrises between Minoru Park and Richmond Centre.
Park Towers are Richmond’s first highrises, designed by famed local architects Erickson & Massey Associates.
Remnants of a different era were present in the Park Towers salon before Ghassemian took over.
“You know that movie with Julia Roberts? Steel Magnolias? It originally looked like the salon from that. Oh my gosh — there was an ashtray in the dryer chair.”
Park Towers was the product of mid-20th century, modernist city-building. Using land zoning, home life was kept separate from shops, work and industry.
So why is there a salon at the heart of Park Towers?
There isn’t supposed to be, as the site is zoned residential, according Richmond spokesperson Ted Townsend. The salon is considered a nonconforming use, but the city has no information on how that exemption was made. If the salon ever closes, a new business is not allowed to take its place.
The city archives couldn’t find an answer either, though old address books reveal that a Park Towers Beauty Salon first appeared in 1976. Before that? A map of Park Towers in an ad booklet shows a rec room at the salon’s location.
Ghassemian suspects part of her salon was once a change room for the outdoor pool she faces because her washroom has tiled floors, hook racks for clothes and a shower.
On hot days, she’ll go for a dip in the pool herself — a plus of the location.
“I like it a lot,” she said. “It’s cosy. It’s tucked away. It’s private. But I don’t have any foot traffic.”
The salon’s origins remain a mystery, but Ghassemian’s clients from previous salons, like the Hoylands, will venture to the heart of the towers to see her, have a cup of tea and share some stories.
Ghassemian loves the people she’s met over the years. And visit by visit, life passes by. “One day they’re in diapers, then they’re getting married.”
Julie ghassemian at her g g Hair Salon hidden in Park Towers, one of richmond’s first highrises.