In honor of my recent cross-country move, I figured we should offer up a slice of Americana with a lesser-known Route 66 landmark: the Barstow Mall.
Barstow is a notoriously isolated city located in the Mojave Desert, near where I-15, I-40, and CA-58 all converge. It’s also a spot along historic route 66, and as a result the main drag through town is packed with vintage neon hotels, many of which long ago ceased operations.
Like many spots along Route 66, Barstow’s looking a little rough around the edges today. Historically a major transportation hub, Barstow is the home of a large rail classification yard and is known as a freeway crossroads where many trucks pass through, bringing goods to Los Angeles. Its desert climate is somewhat merciless with days in the summer regularly pushing the mercury above 100°F. Barstow’s geographic isolation and unfavorable climate are probably two reasons why it is today one of the ten poorest cities in California.
Barstow may be the home to many notable Route 66 landmarks, but the Barstow Mall is one you won’t normally hear about. A joyless concrete behemoth left over from the 1970s, this unloveable structure has been almost compeltely forgotten, with practically no stores or businesses left operating inside. Fairly typical of “dumbell-style” two-anchor 1970s malls, Barstow Mall is notable because it has retained many of its original details in the form of planters, odd light fixtures, and a whooole lot of concrete. The mall’s two anchors, Sears and Kmart, left long ago.
It’s a frankly spooky place. When I was there it was almost completely empty except for a bunch of teenaged girls with tiaras taking a group photo (?). Barstow in general was kind of a dramatically creepy place, with so many sad vestiges of the glory days of Route 66 and the area’s general lack of vegetation. Given the Barstow Mall’s proximity to major transportation corridors, however, and the fact that it’s such a ghost town, it’s well worth seeing on a swing through town.