Carousel Mall; San Bernardino, California

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Long ago, on the not-so-distant planet called California, a mall opened as part of an urban renewal project in downtown San Bernardino. The year was 1972 and the mall was Central City Mall (later Carousel Mall). It opened to popularity and fanfare with anchors Harris’, JCPenney, and Montgomery Ward. Not too long passed before the mall began to encounter problems. In 1978, it was noted that gang violence was on the rise and shoppers fled.

Despite the gang problem, the mall limped on. Throughout the 1980s gangs used the mall as a local gathering place and prevented the mall from being as successful as originally planned. Also contributing to this was a lack of follow through on the city’s part. Shortly after Central City Mall opened, the city developed a master plan of revitalizing the entire downtown, complete with commercial skyscrapers, a fourth anchor store for the mall, a large central city park, and even an aerial tramway connecting to nearby shopping destination Inland Center and recreational Silverwood Lake. None of these plans ever came to fruition.

By the 1990s, the mall was still limping along and not anything spectacular. The developers and the city felt ashamed that their half-assed downtown redevelopment plan failed and the mall was renamed Carousel Mall in 1991, after a large carousel was added to the center of the facility. Meant to be the new centerpiece of the mall, it was also intended to attract traffic. It attracted some people, but again it did not live up to the hopes and dreams of those who wished for bigger and better things.

Through the 1990s, Carousel Mall went steadily downhill. Competition from nearby Inland Center took traffic and the Harris anchor away as it merged with Gottschalk’s.  Inland Center positioned itself as the successful mall for San Bernardino, with all the popular chain stores.  The anchor stores all eventually left Carousel Mall, and parts of the mall were turned into office space. Carousel Mall’s days as a retail center were over. Today, there are a handful of stores, mostly local, and the carousel still runs at only a dollar a ride. But not for long.

Plans are currently underway for the mall to be slowly deconstructed, and replaced with a mixed-use development consisting of lofts, townhomes, office space, about 120,000 square feet of shops, and a man-made stream. Wow! Sure sounds exciting. Construction should begin by early 2007, and the mall will be taken down in phases. The new development is tenatively called Court Street West, and will end up reopening streets the mall blocked as the mall is disassembled.

I wish San Bernardino a lot of luck with this redevelopment. Hopefully they’ll follow through and make a concerted effort this time, and the development won’t fall flat on its back and lie fallow for years.

In the mean time, take a look at the pictures I took of the mall in March 2005. Enjoy the amazingly wide open first floor, dated tiles and fixtures, globe lights, and neon. There sure weren’t many people in the mall that day (or ever, apparently) so I’m happy to share the mall with the world before it bites the dust.

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49 Responses to “Carousel Mall; San Bernardino, California”

  1. Thats a nice looking mall!

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    Ellen Reply:

    @Bob,

    do you know if Red Eye is still there

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  2. What’s going to happen to the carousel?

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  3. It’s a shame the mall will be torn down. I’ve had a lot of happy memories there with my family. Haven’t seen it since 1996…been out of the country ever since.

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  4. its pretty sad im 19 i remember those good memories as a kid at the carousel mall (mongemory wards, riding the carousel, the little train, the buffet, ill be sad to see it gone but we still got those memories

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    Eduardo Reply:

    @jaime, do you remember Big Boy, the better place to eat hamburguers, good memories when I was kid I hope this place stay like forever

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  5. INLAND CENTER MALL ROCKS!

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  6. […] Two of the five are here in Southern California. And it’s hard to argue with San Bernardino earning the top of the bottom. It has a downtown that would best be desribed by World Wrestling Entertainment commentator Jim Ross as “bowling shoe ugly”. Here’s Shigley: Where to begin? Downtown San Berdoo has been a depressing and dangerous place for a long time. The Carousel Mall (originally called the Central City Mall) opened during the early 1970s, helping kill off mom-and-pop businesses. Before long, the mall itself started to decline and for two decades it has been a white elephant surrounded by empty parking lots in the midst of downtown. For years, developers have been interested mostly in freeway frontage elsewhere in town. During the last 10 years, the city and developers have cooked up numerous schemes to revive downtown, ranging from wiping out part of downtown with a series of lakes and canals, to re-using the mall for housing. But it has been little more than talk. […]

  7. I am also saddened by the shape of the downtown area ever since the low lifes have taken over the Mall. I wish you luck in rebuilding the downtown area and running the gangs out of over great city.

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  8. I like the lake idea. It’s so hot there it could be called the lake of fire.That place is like a hell on earth anyway. I have never seen soo many gangbanging thugs, so many murders, and so many fearful people in my loife. The place is a pit of lawlessness and it is nearly helpless because the people who run the place are just as corrupt as the gangbangers themselves. I think the best way to describe the region is, “got dope”.

    The mountainous landscape is beautiful though, it would work as a place of beauty if only the leaders would leave back to wherever they came from.

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  9. The property has been sold. The housing market was bad, so the project was scrapped:

    http://www.pe.com/localnews/sanbernardino/stories/PE_News_Local_S_mall10.345c06b.html

    Is the mall still open for business?

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  10. i miss that mall..good times with my mom. i love you mom.

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  11. I found a stupid entrance on this mall on Wikipedia, but i think they’ve deleted it ever since, it was under the name “Metrocenter Mall” so far fetch! it said that it had Dillard’s at one time, 2 Macy’s (One Robinson’s May, one Macy’s), a skate park, AN ICE RINK?! A cinema, even a Chick-Fil-A! It said that the Sears is still working, HA! As If, i drive by almost everyday and the only sears i see are the bums and gangs all over the area, it was so dumb! It said Target is going to replace Penny’s! Target would not oven in down town Berdino, it’s just…terrible, man! They also said that a High school to be called “MetroCentre Academy” was going to open! I wish they had done all those nice things to the mall! :) but i think it’s just like a dream, San Berdino is a nice county, largest in our US of A, but their county seat is just awful! I wish them luck trying to fix THAT mess! If it was legal, i’d bet money they can’t :(

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    Jonah Norason (Pseudo3D) Reply:

    Umm…Metrocenter Mall was/is a real mall in Phoenix, Arizona with everything mentioned.

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  12. It appears the new owners of the mall have an idea: turn it into what it already is, but ethnically centered for hispanic residents.

    http://www.pe.com/localnews/sanbernardino/stories/PE_News_Local_D_mall15.2ae96c3.html

    City of San Bernardino doesn’t get to say who owns the place, but they do get to approve what happens to the buildings… I smell another stalemate.

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  13. I was born and raised in Berdoo and when I was in high school Central City Mall was always the place to hang out. I graduated in 1990 but if you wanted to shop we always usually went to the Inland Center Mall. I am not sure why that is just the way it was. Maybe in the late 80s they should have kicked some of the looky loos out and maybe they would have attracted a spending crowd. I had a lot of fun days there though meeting up with schoolmates just talking to people we were loitering for sure.

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  14. I’m a Latino who grew up with Central City Mall. I remember there were a lot of good times at the AMC Theaters and Walden. They should’ve made dress code for gangs. I don’t care if it was considered discriminatory. It’s simple: If you don’t look like a gangster, you can get in. Gangs in Berdoo have made my entire race look like filthy rats and roaches. If you have family who don’t have gang members then you shouldn’t be angry at what I’ve written. In other words: RAISE YOUR FAMILY WITH DISCIPLINE. It worked on me.

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  15. Accultly there not tearing it down..And why is everyone saying its dnagerous cause its not, there acculty alot of people eho go there and they have security guards everywere!!Its not in a bad area its the better part of town..And mike your right they should have a dress code and i think if they keeps those kind of people away more people wont be so scared to go in!!

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  16. INLAND MALL DOES NOT ROCK THERESA CAUSE IT TOOK CAROUSEL MALLS BUISSNESS!!:(((((((

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  17. I remember the best haunted house I’ve ever been to was at the Carousel Mall, the hollowed out several stores where Wollworth’s use to be.

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  18. ive stolen soooooooooooooo much shit from there it would be a shame if they left. besides that chinese food place has the best orange chicken in the city

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  19. I have contacted the mall and they are not closeing it down!!! They are just going to re furbish it.. LOL Nevermind this is your lucky day i am a detective and the San bernardino Police Dpt. is trasing what you said to yuor computer!! HAVE FUN IN JAIL

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  20. Gee whiz I loved that mall. We used to ditch class and catch the Omnitrans bus across the street from San Gorgonio and we’d ride it to the Central City Mall and hang out all day. We’d go into the Carl’s Junior and order 1 thing and some cokes and we’d sit there refilling the cokes over and over, and then when that got old we’d maybe go see a movie or go watch that old guy play the piano. Once we started stage diving off of his little 8″ high stage and then we did a mosh pit (4 guys) right in front of his piano. I guess maybe it’s idiots like me who are responsible for the mall’s failure.

    I remember we’d go there late at night on Fridays and Saturdays to go to movies because it was one of the only things in SB that kids could do late at night. First the knocked over the Pussycat Theater and Lier’s Music, now this. San Bernardino is dead to me.

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  21. its a shame it will be torn down
    im 18 & i grew up in these mall
    i moved to a diff state an went back this summer
    and its so empty and the caurasal isnt ever one
    and so many shops out of buisness
    i love this MALL
    and the INLAND CENTER MALL is not great at all
    its like one block sux ass
    at least this mall at 2 floors
    inland center u go up and u go down and in less then 3 minutes u seen it all
    im gonna miss you MALL!!

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  22. THE MALL IS NOT CLOSING DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  23. I’m from the san gabriel valley and happened to be in the neighborhood today, so I popped in for a looksie. And man, I have to say, that might be one of the spookiest places I’ve visited in the last ten years. You’ve got this huge mall and it has maybe a dozen shops…maybe…and then office spaces along the perimeter? I even noticed that the San Bernardino City USD has an office in there. WTF? And everything is in pink and blue pastel and it’s empty. A ghost town, surrounded by an enormous empty parking lot. It actually depressed me, because you can see the desire to attract families and there’s practically no one. I haven’t seen anything like it.

    Out of curiosity what’s it like living out there right now? Particularly for you other young people around high school age? I hear that the violence and racial tension puts L.A. to shame. Is it as bad as it sounds?

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  24. Im moving my business which does very well online in to this mall… Great lease rates, and because people seek out my type of store I hope it will bring more business to the mall. I also have such good memories of that place from the past. I was manager or Jarman shoes, then Champs for awhile… I miss that place. Watch for Boogie Town in the main entrance.

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    dylan Reply:

    @Boogie Town,
    What are there leasing rates

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  25. I grew up in the San Bernardino area and the Central City Mall was always the ugly step sister of the Inland Center Mall. But it has great bones and a pretty interesting distinguished pedigree. Downtown San Bernardino had been in decline since the 50’s as busnisses fled the downtown core for outlying areas, The mall is built right over third st. which was the retail street in SB. It basically replaced a dying downtown business district to begin with. Plans were drawn up in the 1960’s only to be beaten to the punch in 1967 by the Inland Center. The Inland Center from the start was always the “nicer” mall, it was closer to the freeway and easier to get to. Central City opened in 1972. It was designed by the firm of Victor Gruen and Associates, the firm that basically perfected and spread the mall throughout the country. In the late 1960’s they were concerned how their earlier projects isolated the shopping experience from the surrounding community and so by the time the central city mall came around they were trying to be sensitive (in a 1960’s sorta way) to the adjacent uses, so the central city mall incorporated 1920’s buildings and included a skywalk that connected to the new convention center/city hall/hotel site across E-Street. It was fairly sophisticated for a backwater like San Bernardino. But dispite these ambitious plans they always seemed to be a day late and a dollar short. To be fair though it was a fairly busy place until the department store consolidations of the 1990’s. While there were percieved safety issues that established its reputation as the seedy SB mall it didnt start to dry up until the anchors packed up. The bankruptcies of Montgomery Ward, and the merger and closure of Harris are what doomed this mall, not gang members or the inland center. Without anchor stores a mall will cease to be viable or thriving it is only through “mixed use” solutions like this that keep these places alive and open. Many areas had malls to serve multiple department stores, as the department stores have consolidated or faded from the scene they have taken the malls with them. The Carousel Mall facelift worked for a while, (hence the pink and pastel colors) but it simply could not survive without anchors, they should have put in a Wal-Mart in place of the Wards and that might have saved the pennys(which ended up moving to Redlands) but there really was too much redundancy in tenants between Carousel and Inland Center.
    The architecture is great vintage 60’s though with those suspended clocks and wooden veneered beams, such a rich contrast to the pseudo victorian wrought iron post modern greenhouse malls so poular in the 80’s and 90’s.

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  26. I lived in San Bernardino most of my life. as a kid running between our house ( my Parent’s & us kids), I remember when Inland Center was built. Then a number of years later the Central City Mall.
    As a young man in High School, I really wasn’t thrilled when Central City opened.
    I grew up going downtown to walk up & down “E Street” & go to the diffrent stors.
    Woolworth had a small burger/soda shop in it bthat had honest to goodness “Cherry Cokes” with cherrys, cherry syrip in a large glass & then the coke from the fountain sprayyed on top of it. We had National Dollar store north of there abour half a block & half a block north of that was JC Penny.
    Then the Mall came in & distroyed the fun of downtown.
    Then a few years later the Gang problems hit downtown. At first the PD did a little to keep it under controll, but that ended quickly & nothing was being done. After all the Gangs had more rights to take over the city then the honest citizens had to enjoy downtown.
    In so taking over downtown the mall was also taken over, larger stores left & so did the smaller ones.
    So here San Bernardino is now known best by it’s frequent mentiones on TV shows like “COPS” what a thing to become famouse for

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  27. well that area has bad crime. walmart stores attract bad crime. hey why dont they put a walmart inside the mall. will attract lots of people

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  28. they should put walmart,wet seal,forever 21, pizza hut,dominos pizza or papa johns,wetzel pretzels,target,hot topic,ninas, drink stand,carls jr., music concert [1 singer],agacci, anchor blue,hollister,abercrombie,candy factory,justice,h&m, victoria’s secret,bath and body works,bed bath&beyond, sears,jcpenney&&& more! there are only wig stores,indian stores& yeh.
    check out montclair mall at upland ca, carousel is big as that montclair mall! put more stores!!!! :) GOOD LUCK@@@@ CAROUSEL!

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  29. “Construction should begin by early 2007″
    It’s 2010, and Carousal Mall is still standing. No construction has occurred and the interior is practically a ghost town. So much for city planning. All talk no walk…

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  30. My family in 70’s love to shop there. That was family time. My dad would go to automotive to get car work done. My mom and us kids would head to mall to shop
    and browsed the many shops. Later years I got a job at JCPennys in the mens department and the deliver furnitures for them. I miss this mall.

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  31. I am saddened by what has happened to the old Central City. I remember going to eat at the Howard Johnsons restaurant with my mom and grandpa every Saturday & standing in line with other kids my age to see E.T., Tootsie, Terms of Endearment & The Empire Strikes Back. Shopping for school clothes at Harris’ and loving the beautiful paver-tile staircase that went up 3 stories. I have pictures,(Taken in the Harris’ court section.) from the times I performed excerpts from The Nutcracker to be danced at the California Theatre across the street.
    After an absence of 15yrs, I drove the perimeter of the “Carousel Mall” and was in tears at the dilapidated state of the property as well as the surrounding areas. I know downtown had its dicey rep., but the mall, at least until the late 80’s, never seemed menacing & treacherous in broad daylight as it does now. :(
    I know they are working on the 215 fwy, maybe the completion of that project might jumpstart some sort of revitalization for the county seat.

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  32. Wow. I have wonderful memories of eating at Burger King in that mall. I shopped at Harris’ with my grandma. I remember getting school clothes at Miller’s Outpost, which I believe was across from Harris’. I remember those huge clocks and how it was all decorated at Christmastime. We frequented JC Penney’s. I do remember my grandparents talking about how Inland Center was “safer”, but we still went to Central City I was born in 1975 so my memories are really from the 80s. Awe, I’d love to go back and just see it again. I live in the midwest now.

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    LizzRodriguez-Connal Reply:

    @Nigel, so you got away from here? well i also moved away for years then just weeks ago came back & if you were to come back everything about this area including the mall would make you sad to see just how bad it’s gotten here & you’ll be glad you left.

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  33. I use to work for Harris back in da late 80’s early 90’s it’s really such a beautiful building such a shame if it gets torn down. I thought it was considered an historical land mark because it’s supposse to old, much older then the rest of that mall.

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  34. that mall was once vibrant and a wonderful place to go and shop with a movie theater and a Woolworth’s w
    ith a cafe in it. It had lots of stores a great place to shop and spend an afternoon I loved it and shopped at the central city for a good 15 years before it started going down ….. sad to have seen it go that way but i would be even sadder to see it deconstructed.

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  35. Christmas time was the best time of year to hear the songs playing in the parking lot ……” at the central city mall”….. and they had a huge tree up and a train it was so nice …..sees candy and harris and sam goody’s ….so many wonderful places to shop and eat …… i would pick it over the inland center any day but grateful, we still have the inland center ….. it was actually because of jc pennys they left and slowly everything started to go than harris and it was a painful slow death after that.

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  36. Downtown San Bernardino is ghetto, period. I live in Fontana and was driving out to the Humane Society of SB. What did I saw on my drive? The homeless, thugs walking about, teenage girls on the streets waving and implying to truck drivers. It is pretty sad. Felt like I was driving through the Bronxs, Compton, etc. I wouldn’t be caught dead walking around this area at night time.

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  37. Five years later and it’s still nto closed down. I have so many memories there, but I really think it’s time they tore it down. The only things in there are a Jewlery Shop, Chinese Restaurant, the school district, a radio station and a charter school. They really need to tear the building down and maybe build a park there or something. it’s so depressing.

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  38. I was in the area today and visited the mall. No gang members, just a few Asian teenagers at the Chinese food place upstairs and a guy working the info counter. Some of the lower level is a College Prep school and district offices. There are a few stores that declare store closing and discounts, but are shut up on a Saturday afternoon with a full store. A few restaurants, like Burger Time looked abandoned. I saw a dimly lit bootleg shirt store, a clock repair shop, a nail salon, and a news radio station that seemed operational. It’s quiet, too quiet.

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  39. That mall was a mexican warzone. Back when I was a teenager, me and my friends used to go there in the early 90s, and we would always have confrontations with mexican gang members there. It never failed. We just stopped going there period. It was sad how the mexican gangs destroyed this beautiful place.

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    Buccaneer Reply:

    @Ben, just wanted to reply to what you’ve said about the Mexicans gangs. I used to live in San bernardino on west 16th street and graduated from Pacific on Gilbert ave. I left in 97 after working at kaiser hospital in Fontana. It’s not just the Mexican gangs but also the black gangs also that brought San Bernardino. The real problem escalated with the closing of Norton AFB. After the closing of the base the economy went down and no jobs were left and put the city in a slump that wasn’t never able to recover. I used to hang out a lot in the mall and still think about home while away in the military. You right the gangs took over the city back in the late 80s and worsened since then. It used to be a really good city that attracted a lot of events like Route 66. Now I heard horror stories and I sometimes go online to see how things are back home and I can’t believe what I see and it’s very scary to see and here about the things that happening out there. But I did enjoy reading your input and a lot of what you’ve said true. And the police and desent people lost a good city to a bunch of no goods.

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  40. I THINK IF THAT WE SHOULD ASK THE SAN MANUEL INDIANS FOR HELP. I BELIEVE THEY WILL HELP REBUILD THE MALL AND WE WILL HAVE A SUCCESSFUL MALL ONCE AGAIN, ALWAYS THINK POSITIVE . BUT BEFORE THIS HAPPENS WE MUST CLEAN UP THE AREA AROUND THE MALL SO PEOPLE CAN FEEL SAFE ONCE AGAIN

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  41. I just walked thru the near-empty mall today (10/8/14), which is across the street from my office. One of the custodians told me that all the county offices have moved out, leaving a discount clothing store and the charter school as the only tenants on the bottom floor. He mentioned something about the San Manuel tribe doing something there but not sure what can be done. there’s so much to be undone first.

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  42. What was the name of the cafeteria in Century City Mall a.k.a. carousel mall?

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  43. *Center city mall

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