I was in California last month, and I had a few hours to kill one afternoon when I was in the East Bay area so I swung by the Eastmont Mall in Oakland California. I didn’t do any research beforehand, I just saw it marked on my Rand McNally map so I toodled by.
It was worth it.
Now, let me step back a bit. Had I done some research beforehand, I might’ve heard some of the horror stories about how this is a pretty dangerous place, and a pretty tough part of Oakland. I could tell it wasn’t exactly the best part of town when I visited but it seemed OK to me–even kind of cheery–and I wasn’t even remotely scared to be prowling around. Of course, then I come home to write this article about the place and I find heartwarming stuff like a YouTube video of a drive-by shooting while it is occurring in 2006.
The Eastmont Mall–or Eastmont Town Center as it seems to be referred to nowadays–is a pretty strange mall. Built in 1970, the large two-level mall served the vast southeast side of the city of Oakland. The mall’s floorplan is relatively typical, with a “T” shape and two large anchor stores, but is a bit unusual because a long strip mall flanks the mall’s southwestern edge facing Bancroft St., and one wing of the mall protrudes through the center of the strip mall and exits to that side of the parking lot. Originally, the mall’s primary anchors were JCPenney and Mervyn’s, and a Safeway Supermarket and Woolworth were amongst the more junior tenants.
The mall fell into steep decline in the early 1990s when JCPenney and Mervyn’s left, and the reputation of the declining neighborhood kept most suburban shoppers away. Over the 90s, the mall was gradually converted into county offices, including a health clinic, police station, and other services (somewhat famously, there’s also a Planned Parenthood). The strip mall portion continues to house retailers, and there are a few isolated stores or cafes within the mall itself, but only a few.
Because Eastmont Mall hasn’t functioned as a true “mall” for a good 15 years, it’s retained much of its vintage early 1970s decor. This isn’t to say it’s terribly pretty–in fact, it’s a pretty plain and ugly mall. But it is stuck in a time warp, and for that reason alone it’s kind of interesting. Also, it’s available as a location to film your next movie. What’s not to love?