Swing on By
Have you seen this girl?
Helen, the iconic neon Swinging Girl, has been inviting people to “swing on by” the special Heights community for more than 50 years. Since 1956, she has swung high above Hastings Street, as part of Helen’s Children’s Wear. She has been making a lasting impression on those who pass by and has become a recognizable landmark of the Heights community in Burnaby, BC.
Smiling as the new Hastings Street Banners, Helen, has a new face; in fact, a whole new body! She now is re-interpreted as a needle-felt doll in Burnaby Heights’ new street banners.
If you recognized her, we are sure you have some questions about her new look. In fact, we are excited to tell you how she came to be, where she came from, and why.
The Heights Merchants Association BIA and Cozy Classics’ artist Holman Wang have partnered in this art commission bring Helen to life.
About the Artist
Jack and Holman Wang, twin brothers and co-creators of the Cozy Classics books.
Holman Wang is the co-author and co-creator of Cozy Classics book series and a renowned needle felt artist. Cozy Classics was created with an integrated approach to illustration which combines needle felting, scale model-making and photography, along with adapting classic literature into kid-friendly narratives.
The Heights Merchants Association invited and challenged Holman to bring the linear Helen to life through his classic technique, and so she was born!
Where did she come from?
In 1955, Helen Arnold, owner of Helen’s Children Wear, was moving her shop to 4142 Hastings Street. Along with other renovations, she decided to have a neon sign created by the Wallace Neon Sign Company, as she was good friends with the owner Jimmy Wallace. Reeve Lehman, one of the company’s designers, set out to create the sign which would later become known as the Swinging Girl. Neon signs were all the rage at the time, and there were many along the street. However, Helen wasn’t interested in a flashing stationary sign like most, and instead asked for a kinetic neon sign that would swing back and forth.
This unique neon sign read “Helen’s” on a blue backdrop, and below the text swung a girl with golden hair and a playful blue dress.
Reclaiming her spot on the Heights
In 2006, when Helen’s was closing, the fate of the Swinging Girl was left up in the air. The neon sign had become a staple in the Heights and many people were attached to it as Helen’s Children Wear was a part of their childhood. From their first dress to their first pair of blue jeans, Helen’s was there every step of the way. While everyone was heartbroken to see Helen’s store close, they were even more upset at the prospect of the Swinging Girl no longer belonging to the Heights.
According to the City of Burnaby, the swinging girl had “gradually become known as one of the best surviving examples of kinetic neon art in British Columbia.” Because of its heritage value and significance, in 2007, the Swinging Girl was approved to be restored and preserved as a heritage landmark by the City of Burnaby in partnership with the Heights Merchants Association.
In 2010, after some restorations and a neon colour modification, now reading “Heights” across the top, the Swinging Girl returned to its home at 4142 Hastings Street. With the community watching alongside Helen and her husband Elgin, Mayor Derek Corrigan unveiled the Swinging Girl, given the name of “Helen.” To this day she continues to swing above Hastings Street, maintained by the City of Burnaby, electricity paid by the Heights Merchants Association, and adored by all.
As a needle felt doll, Helen will continue to feature over Hastings Street on the Heights’ new street banners, and invites all visitors and locals to “swing on by” our friendly neighbourhood, anytime! You are always welcome.
Thanks for swinging by!
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