Rich­mond’s se­cret salon in the sky

Find­ing and get­ting to G G Hair Salon is com­pli­cated

StarMetro Vancouver - - VANCOUVER - Christo­pher che­ung

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.”

Christo­pher Che­ung/for Metro

Julie ghas­semian at her g g Hair Salon hid­den in Park Tow­ers, one of rich­mond’s first high­rises.

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