Part of the reason Labelscar exists is because tons of enclosed shopping malls have been turned inside out to plazas or lifestyle centers in the last decade, but we’ve actually talked fairly little about the results of these transformations, in part because our focus has been on preserving bits from the old versions of these centers. Sometimes the new product is just as interesting, or at least worthy of discussion.
This is a set of photos I took back in February at the former Huntington Beach Mall in Huntington Beach, California, down in Orange County. The center has since been renamed and re-christened “Bella Terra,” and it sports a cross section of stores that supplements the larger Westminster Mall an exit up the freeway, instead of trying to compete with it.
First, a brief bit of history on the old Huntington Beach Mall. The center originally opened in 1965 at Edinger Ave & I-405 as the first fully enclosed shopping mall in Orange County, with The Broadway, Montgomery Ward, and JCPenney as anchors arranged mostly in a dumbell fashion. The Huntington Beach Mall was expanded with a new Mervyn’s-anchored wing in 1986. Unfortunately, competition from other malls in the area began to have their impact by the early 1990s: JCPenney shut their store in 1992, and The Broadway went out of business in 1996. The mall closed for good in 2003.
Instead of turning the Huntington Beach Mall into a lifestyle center or a big box center, the developers (Bella Terra Associates) went for something about halfway inbetween, where the focus of the center is on a cluster of big box anchors and a movie theatre, with a small pedestrian court sporting a variety of dining options and higher-end street furniture with an Italian village feel, such as fountains and landscaping. The result is a very pleasant center that still retains some sense of the sense of “place” you’d find in larger lifestyle centers or malls. At the same time, the groovy, Googie-style architecture of the massive The Broadway store was cleaned up and retained for Kohl’s to fill the space.
The problem with the Bella Terra development may well be the small size of the pedestrian friendly area, however. Although it’s designed mostly for dining and theatre patrons, the area feels too small to generate much foot traffic or critical mass and it’s questionable how successful it will be in the long term without that degree of a draw. Plus, Kohl’s, Mervyn’s (who was a tenant), and Burlington Coat Factory don’t feel very serendipitous with the higher-end dining options, the movie theatre, or the Barnes & Noble store. On the one hand, Bella Terra is trying to be a convenience-oriented, apparel-heavy, female-skewing big box center, and on the other it’s trying to be an upscale suburban nightlife and lifestyle retail destination, but frankly it’s too small to balance both of these acts.
There is one carrot here for dead retail enthusiasts. The mall’s original Montgomery Ward store still sits completely abandoned at the mall’s western end because the parcel is owned separately from the mall itself. The store looks especially sad and derelict, and given the amount of attention paid to the redevelopment of the rest of the center it’s somewhat shocking that this parcel was never reused.
More on Bella Terra:
- Los Angeles Times article about the redevelopment
- Beach California
- An article about the redevelopment