Coddingtown Mall; Santa Rosa, California

Santa Rosa's Coddingtown Mall, early 1960s
Santa Rosa's Coddingtown Mall, early 1960s

Coddingtown Mall, in the Sonoma County city of Santa Rosa, is one of the largest and oldest malls north of San Francisco along the California coast. Unfortunately it seems to be a bit troubled nowadays, but historic mall geeks may find a lot to love. Let’s take a look:

Coddingtown Mall opened in 1961 just off US 101 in the city of Santa Rosa, the population and business hub of California’s wine country region. The Coddingtown Mall’s most notable feature is a spinning neon pylon–original from its construction–that continues to spin today. Look:

I had a bit of a hard time cobbling together much history about the center, but it apparently began as an outdoor mall before being enclosed sometime later. Although the 800,000 square foot mall’s recent anchor roster was Gottschalk’s, Macy’s, JCPenney, and Ralph’s supermarket, the Gottschalk’s wing is of somewhat newer vintage and the Macy’s store was almost certainly originally an Emporium location.

Due to the Coddingtown Mall’s age and the fact that it began life as an outdoor mall, it has some pretty neat interior and exterior architecture. The inside, in particular, caught my eye; the mall’s corridors are wide and sunny, adorned in wood beams as a nod to the redwood-filled nature of this part of Northern California, and there are various grade changes throughout. It seems most modern malls are on sites that were so heavily graded before construction that there’s none of these interesting slopes and sub-levels anymore, but these variations make the interior of the mall more entertaining and pleasant.


Codding Enterprises, owners of the mall, were aware by 2005 that the aging center would need an upgrade to keep up with the larger and newer Santa Rosa Plaza in downtown Santa Rosa, so they inked a deal with Simon Property Group to update and revamp the aging plaza. From a 2005 newspaper article:

A hint of what those changes might be can be found on Simon’s Web site, which shows a “proposed bookstore” where Big 5 Sporting Goods is located. A “proposed restaurant” is also shown over the Narsi’s space, while another “proposed restaurant” and “proposed theater above retail” are shown in the space where Old Navy is located.

One of the first fruits of the Coddingtown Mall redevelopment appeared in 2008, when an expansion project began to replace the former Ralph’s grocery store with a Whole Foods–somewhat of an unusual choice for an enclosed shopping mall–but construction on this has recently halted as a result of the economy and the mall’s increasing misfortunes. Whole Foods claims they are committed to open the store by fall 2010, however. During the same timeframe, one of the mall’s three main anchors–Gottschalks–went out of business, creating a large vacancy that will prove difficult to fill.


The photos here were all taken in October of 2008–just about a year ago–and show that while the mall isn’t exactly thriving, it’s filled with a mixture of national and local tenants and seems to be hanging on. However, this was fairly soon after the economic collapse of 2008, and as a result the mall has fared somewhat worse since–just check out this article from the Press Democrat about how many stores closed in early 2009.

As the closures continued, the local half of the ownership team–Codding Enterprises–stepped back in to take a more active role in managing the center, apparently unhappy with Simon’s inattention to the center’s decline.

More on Coddingtown Mall:

Author: Caldor

Jason Damas is a search engine marketing analyst and consultant, and a freelance journalist. Jason graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a minor in Music Industry. He has regularly contributed to The Boston Globe,, Amplifier Magazine, All Music Guide, and 168 Magazine. In addition, he was a manager for a record store for over two years. Currently, he focuses on helping companies optimize their web sites to maximize search engine visibility, and is responsible for website conversion analysis, which aims to improve conversion rates by making e-commerce websites more user-friendly. He lives in suburban Boston.

31 thoughts on “Coddingtown Mall; Santa Rosa, California”

  1. Thank you for the write up! During my trip to Cali this past year I saw it and was impressed with its retro charm along US-101!

  2. Wow, Ralph’s was interior! 😮

    Whole Foods isn’t THAT unusual. After all, the last post mentioned grocery stores possibly becoming the next big thing, and of course, Bergen Town Center has a Whole Foods now.

  3. Yeah, everyone’s gotta stop blaming “the economy” for these setbacks…if Gottschalks was able to make it thru the ’70s without a hitch then simply poor management got them to chain defunction. If so many stores went out of business this easily in the mall, I doubt they were absolutely “thriving” before the economy took a nosedive.

  4. What a neat mall! I am a real sucker for malls with wood beams in the ceiling…I think some of my posts really demonstrated that. The spinning sign is awesome, too. I tend to believe that it is the economy more than anything else killing some of these malls.

    I just went to a mall the other day that in just two years time is in the death throws partly because of department store consolidation and mass closings of another. Another one not too far away…no anchors gone but was over 50 percent vacant. The situation in my part of the country is getting kind of scary, because it isn’t competion killing these malls…just nobody in the area has the money to shop at their local mall. I guess the bright side is that this should put the brakes on the lifestyle center craze which threatens the livelihoods of even the better malls.

  5. That looks like a really neat mall, it’s almost like being inside a log cabin.

  6. Pretty neat! The diagonal wood ceiling is very similar to the interior of Westland Mall in Hialeah, FL.

    I like how the wood gives the mall a cozy, almost home-like feeling. Like the poster above said, it’s almost like being inside a log cabin.

  7. Is it just me, or are alot of malls linked with Simon having trouble with their management?

  8. What a cool mall! I hope if they redevelop it they don’t get rid of the wood or the retro spinning sign – it seems nice and bright and open inside.

  9. And there’s a celebrity connection: the introductory video at the Charles M. Schulz Museum mentions that Schulz would walk to the mall from his studio, and spend time in the bookstore in particular.

    The museum is in front of the former location of the studio, just a couple of blocks west of the mall, so it’s very easy to visualize, or even follow in his footsteps — although I assume Guerneville Road, which Schulz would have had to cross, was narrower than it is now back when he started making that walk.

  10. Yes, Macy’s opened in 1966 as The Emporium (known colloqually as ‘The Big E’). Years later, in another location, I worked with a woman who was part of the opening staff at Coddingtown’s Emporium, and she told me that people drove from miles away just to ride the escalators (remember, this was farm country back then). The store was billed as the largest department store between San Francisco and Portland, which was probably a stretch, since it was a carbon-copy of the Emporium’s Marin County store, about 30 miles south. Nevertheless, at just over 200,000 square feet, it was a huge store, and it had everything from fashion to furniture, including records, books, notions, candy, major appliances, and a restaurant. The last time I was there, about 3 years ago and the second floor still had not undergone a major remodel, retaining much of its 60’s modern decor. As a testament of its lower population center, for years the store was open from 10-6, staying open until 9 only on Monday and Thursday, unlike most of the Emporium’s other branches which were open weekdays from 9:30 until 9:30. Sunday openings (12-5) occurred along with the rest of the chain’s suburban stores about 1970.

    The Gottschalk’s store (about 100,000 square feet) originally opened in 1981 or 1982 as Liberty House. When LH closed in 1984, Macy’s took over that location as a soft-goods location, despite the fact that they had a full-line branch about 5 miles away at Santa Rosa Plaza. When The Emporium folded in 1996, Macy’s took the larger space and Gottschalk’s opened in the smaller store (got that?).
    Penney’s was always Penney’s.

    Another interesting note is that, up until the early 80’s when the whole chain folded, Coddingtown used to have a branch of Joseph Magnin, the San Francisco-based high fashion women’s store. For some reason, JM never had a store in trendy Marin County, but they had a store way up in cow-country. Go figure.

  11. @danroman,
    I highly doubt it’s just you. They own and / or manage several malls here, and right now, they’re all experiencing trouble, compared to other malls owned by other large REITs.

  12. Where was the Magnin?

  13. @Paul,
    Do you recall the name of a men’s store in Coddington in the early years?

  14. I Magnin was accross from the Emporium.
    If my memory serves me.

    Gee those escalators are some dinasoars.
    Sounds dangerous to me!

  15. Long time lurker, first time poster. Thanks for the article, I visited Coddingtown in mid-July while in Santa Rosa for the Schulz museum, and I wanted to add a couple points:
    1. The mall does make mention of Schulz, it even points out in a couple places where he used to shop in the mall (And you can guess I went to every spot)
    2. I fully scoured the interior of the mall (near triple digit heat prevented me from doing the exterior), and the Gottschalk’s space in my view is going to be real hard to fill; not only with the economy, but with the lack of anchors out there. Sears if they can get their head out of the ground maybe; or maybe a Target type tenant?

  16. @TenPoundHammer, I didn’t live in Santa Rosa so I only visited Coddingtown infrequently. I know there was a Roos/Atkins mens store (every mall in NorCal had one) and maybe a Grodins. In those days, all malls had locally owned stores, so there’s a good likelihood that Coddingtown had one too.

    TenPoundHammer: IIRC, Joseph Magnin occupied the lower right-hand corner spot in the arial photo above, facing the parking lot. It wasn’t a freestanding location, but I seem to remember it wasn’t in the inside of the mall.

  17. A Target-type anchor may work, or what about a Kohl’s?

  18. @Gary, Either would make a good fit at the mall. Just two things:

    The vacant Gottschalks is located in the back of the mall. I’m pretty sure Target wouldn’t want the space for that reason alone–when they locate in malls, they like to have a placement where their customers can easily come in/out without going into the mall, if they choose.

    Santa Rosa Plaza, the larger and more successful mall located in downtown Santa Rosa, is anchored by Macy’s and Sears and also has a (smaller) vacant anchor space left by Mervyn’s. This would actually make a more ideal fit for Kohls than the Gottschalks simply because the store plate size is more appropriate. That space in SR Plaza is really not expandable, and because it’s downtown, I doubt Target would be interested.

    So *really* the best solution is for Kohls to move into SR Plaza and Target to suck it up and move into the back of Coddingtown, but I don’t know if they’d really be interested.

  19. @Caldor, Kohl’s in Santa Rosa is located just down the street a little ways from Coddingtown (just North of K-mart) in a free standing two or three story building that they just built a few years ago.

    Kohl’s passed on the downtown Santa Rosa Mall former Mervyn’s location because of this.

    Kohl’s took over many of the former northern California Mervyn’s locations but passed on a few of them here and there. The Downtown Santa Rosa Mall was one of the locations they passed on as well as Petalima.

  20. Hello Caldor ,

    I would love to republish this on, if you’ll give me permission.


  21. @Andy, Sears has a reasonably successfull location at the mall in downtown Santa Rosa. And that’s a rather interesting store. It was an old fashioned, free standing downtown department store. When Santa Rosa Plaza was built in the 1980s, it engulfed that old Sear’s store. The interior was completely updated, but I would suspect some of the ‘behind-the-scenes” areas are still from that original building. I think I remember riding WOODEN escalators in that original store, but people tell me I’m crazy! It would have been about 1978 or 1979.

  22. A few more tidbits:
    Coddingtown had cinemas in a detached building in the 1980s. They were really beat up by the time they were torn down sometime in the 1990s, maybe early 2000s.
    There’s an abandoned motor-lodge property right next door…complete with plywood covered window openings (I think the actual windows were sold at auction!) and a cyclone rent-a-fence surrounding it. In the next economic boom, maybe someone will acquire both properties and combine them into a mega-center…or, maybe not…

  23. @Paul, Emporium didn’t fold, they were bought by then-Macy’s-parent Federated. (Federated bought Macy’s in the early 90s. Later, in the mid-2000s, Federated renamed itself Macy’s and renamed all its non-Macy’s stores Macy’s.)

  24. @Jason, The old cinema wasn’t completely torn down, it’s now a Beverly’s craft store.
    The hotel used to be one of the premiere places to stay in the city. Los Robles Lodge.

  25. The downtown sears was originally at the NORTH end of SR plaza where the parking garage north of Macy’s now stands, so the present Sears is the same vintage as the rest of the mall, circa 1980……

  26. I was born the year the mall opened (1961) and spent most of my childhood in Santa Rosa. This mall was considered a joke and white elephant when Codding first built it; but he was a visionary. It was actually nicer when it was open air and you had to dodge the spring rain storms, going from store to store! Later, I worked at Joseph Magnum as an adult. Many good memories of back to school shopping in this historical place.

  27. I’ve lived in Santa Rosa since 1972 when Coddingtown was an open plaza. It was Santa Rosa’s first major shopping plaza. Back then, Santa Rosa Plaza was just a pile of dirt. I think to get Coddingtown back on its feet again would be to add an Apple Store. Every Apple Store that I’ve been to is always full of people. I think having an Apple Store in Coddingtown would bring a lot of business to Coddingtown. Once people start coming to Coddingtown then more tenants would come to Coddingtown too.

  28. I was born in Santa Rosa in 1957, and I lived there until 1973. I have very vivid memories of going to Coddingtown, as it was the only real mall in the area. We had Montgomery Village and Downtown Santa Rosa for shopping, but they paled in comparison to Coddingtown. The last house my family lived in before moving to Los Gatos, was in the Montecito Heights area of Santa Rosa, and it was Hugh Codding’s former residence.

    I saw a question posted here earlier about a men’s store in Coddingtown. Yes, there was a Roos Atkins, but there was also a Hastings. Hastings was more upscale, and catered to businessmen with fine suits. I recall the Joseph Magnin store as being very close to Hastings. Joseph Magnin was “THE” place to get your school clothes in Junior High and High School. I still remember the diamond patterned paper bags and boxes they used. Joseph Magnin stores were quite a bit more expensive than Sears or JC Penneys, and were our “designer labels” of the time. But the only labels or logos shown outside of clothing in those days were Levi’s lol!

    I also remember a leather shop in the mall, that had the most amazing scent when you entered it. The store owners made the leather clothes, purses, and belts etc., right on the premises. Every once in awhile I will come across a leather handbag that has that same unique scent and it brings back memories. They truly don’t make things like they used to!

    There were several other 70’s “hippie” style shops with candles and jewelry. And of course there were good old fashioned record stores and poster stores.

    The 70’s were the best decade to grow up in for sure!

  29. was there ever a dry cleaners in the coddingtown mall?

  30. what was the name of the store that sold leather goods

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