Manchester Center; Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Before I get too histrionic, this is why I found Manchester Center in Fresno, California to be such a treat. It had been at least five years since I had discovered a mall quite like this one, and it was a shock to find such a creepy time capsule still completely open and accessible.

Manchester Center in Fresno, California

We first started traveling to shopping malls in the late 1990s, and it was during those trips that we were awakened to the beginnings of the death of the American shopping mall. In almost every major metropolitan area, there was at least one white elephant, one center that wasn’t cutting it, one place that for some reason was never renovated and still sported decor from the 1970s. We were fascinated, not only because these malls reminded us of our childhoods but also because it was inconceivable to us then that the almighty shopping mall–a development pattern that had been so dominant our entire lives–could possibly fail.

Historic Manchester Center signage from FresnoNeon.comIn the last decade and change, of course, this reality has been writ large and discovered by many, ranging from to CNN and NPR and (more recently) the entirety of the general public. But the types of malls that we discovered were “dead” in the mid to late 1990s had mostly already gone away: these were the weakest players, the least-loved, and they were wiped off the map before the public’s collective consciousness began to recognize their existence. As a result, our trips since have been somewhat less enjoyable, since most of the remaining malls are at least somewhat whitewashed and there’s a sad knowledge that in just about every city in America, there’s at least one true gem of retail history that’s already long gone.

Before I get too histrionic, this is why I found Manchester Center in Fresno, California to be such a treat. It had been at least five years since I had discovered a mall quite like this one, and it was a shock to find such a creepy time capsule still completely open and accessible.

First, just a quick bit about Fresno: Fresno, California is the largest city in California’s central valley, and the second largest metropolitan area (after Sacramento) in the region. It’s the largest city between San Francisco and Los Angeles and has around 470,000 people proper, with almost 900,000 in the metropolitan area. Like many of California’s inland cities, much of the development in the city and its surrounding areas is fairly new, and the population has been continually exploding over the last decade and a half. Despite anchoring a primarily agricultural region, Fresno is known as a hub for business incubators and is somewhat more politically moderate than some of the other, smaller, more conservative cities in the central valley. On the retail scene, Fresno is the home of Gottschalks department stores, one of the last true independent old-line department store chains in the country.

Like many of California’s Central Valley cities, Fresno doesn’t have the greatest reputation. Its historic downtown area, which is centered around the pedestrian Fulton Mall–one of the first downtown pedestrian malls in the nation, and the home of the original, deceased Gottschalks flagship–is notoriously foreboding and vacant, as noted when the California Planning & Development Report named it the worst big-city downtown in the state:

Bakersfield, Oakland and Anaheim all have less-than-ideal downtowns, but none of those districts is as desperate, depressing and even threatening as downtown Fresno. The hideous 1970s office buildings are the least of the problems in Fresno’s core. The place is one gigantic real estate “opportunity,” and it’s usually deserted after 6 o’clock. Yes, there is a nice new minor league baseball stadium, but that’s about the only reason locals willingly go downtown.

Manchester Center is Fresno’s oldest enclosed shopping mall–I think–heck, I’m not even sure because I can’t find much about it on the internet. It’s over 50 years old, though, and its located near the southern end of the long and massive commercial corridor along Blackstone Avenue, which leads north from downtown. The 950,000 square foot, two-level center contains three large anchor stores–currently filled with Sears, Gottschalks, and a large CalTrans office–and sports a variety of local retailers and office space. Since it was displaced by the more successful Fashion Fair (as well as several burgeoning outdoor shopping malls and one somewhat troubled enclosed one), the Manchester Center has attempted to carve out a niche as a “mixed use” building, with much of the upper level and nearly all of the CalTrans wing occupied with office space. Don’t be fooled, however; the entire mall is open for your perusal!

Manchester Center in Fresno, California

One thing that really struck me, aside from the really dated decor, was the mall’s strange floorplan. Let me detail it as I saw it:

  • I entered at the mall’s northern end. Sears was the anchor here, but when I came in on a side hallway I noticed windows on the second floor leading to a vacant space, and there was visibly an area where a stairway had been removed. The Sears store also faces the mall in a strange way, meeting it only halfway head-on, meaning that when you are standing in the center of the mall and facing Sears, only the left side of the mall enters into the Sears while the right side exits to the rear parking lot (check the pics, it’ll make more sense).
  • It appears that the “ghost” space next to Sears on the second level was at one point some smaller anchor. The mall goes underneath this anchor on the first level, but then emerges on the other side as the mall becomes fully two level. Does anyone know what this floating “ghost anchor” was?
  • Most of the main mall is a two level “L” shape with a carousel at center court. The further you get from Sears and Gottschalks, however, the further you get from retail activity. Most of the southern part of the center is either vacant or occupied by offices. The second level has no retail activity aside from a food court with several tenants.

I wish I knew more about the place… maybe some of you can fill me in. There’s precious little about Manchester Center available on the internet, including huge missing details like what the third anchor originally was. I would obviously add Manchester Center to the death watch, especially in light of this week’s chapter 11 filing by Gottschalks, one of the mall’s two surviving anchor tenants.

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California Manchester Center in Fresno, California

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.

88 thoughts on “Manchester Center; Fresno, California”

  1. Wow, I LOVE the tile work! Great pics.

  2. Great pics and commentary.

    Manchester did not start as a mall, but as a shopping center. My dad’s sign shop ( built the original sign for the then-standard mid-century shopping strip, which originally (I think) contained a Gottschalks, Sears, Long’s Drugs and a grocery store (in what is now the office-converted east-most anchor).

    It was converted into a mall in the 70s, which explains the oddities you encountered. Most of the ‘mall’ sections (pretty much all the 2-level mall areas) were added in the conversion, and you’ll notice lots of non-level walkways and odd places where stairs jump out at you because the various anchors were not at the sale exact elevation.

    When the grocery store went away in the 80s, it was replaced by a Home Express (a sort of proto-Target), which lasted til the early 90s, and the office conversions started there and spread like a cancer from that anchor westward. They added the theatre out back in 2001.

    Gottschalks has repeatedly threatened to move out, and now that they’re insolvent I assume they finally will. Long’s Drugs just moved out, so I assume Sears now has absolutely no reason to stay – this place is solid gone.

  3. Manchester originally had a Mayfair Market, although I’m not sure how it was oriented to the center. It apparently closed in the early 1970s, but I’m not 100% certain of that. I assume it was probably along the front near the Longs Drugs that recently closed.

    There has been considerable alteration to this property. Sears is original, and I’m pretty sure Gottschalk’s was added considerably (maybe even decades) later.

    In the late 1960s, a Safeway was added on the north periphery, and it operated until the late 1980s, per city directory listings.

  4. This place is HUGE, or maybe just appears that way since it’s so empty… Great pics!

  5. The 3rd anchor was Rhodes, opened in 1959. In the mid 1970’s it was rebranded Liberty House, and it ultimately closed in 1984. It was a 2-level store, probably about 120,000 square feet. Afterward, one floor became a Home Express, but that company failed as well.

  6. Is there a 2nd level you can reach between Sears and the 2nd floor ghost anchor, or is that were you said the stairs were removed. Very very odd.

    Also that Sears is LONG.

  7. For a few years in the 80s-90s the “wierd” space next to the Sears was a Sears Home Furnishings store. It was the final capstone completing the Mall-ization of the center, as Sears was still a separate outbuilding until they completed that portion.

  8. What exactly makes Gottschalks “independent” as supposed to say, Belk?

  9. Oops, I didn’t really look at what I typed… the correct question was…
    “What exactly makes Gottschalks “independent” as opposed to, say, Belk?

  10. The largest city between San Francisco and Los Angeles is actually San Jose (which is more populous than San Francisco.) If you meant to say that Fresno is the largest city between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, you’d be correct.

  11. That is true; I meant the Bay Area. I consider San Jose to be within the same clump as San Francisco.

  12. @Alpha, that’s actually a good question and one I’ve thought about before. Due to the smaller size of Gottschalks or Boscov’s (fewer locations), I’m inclined to think of them as independent while there are some other chains that are big enough (think The Bon-Ton and their various nameplates, or Dillard’s) that I think “independent” would be a bit of a misnomer. Belk is probably near the line but they do have a lot of locations. There’s really no black and white answer.

    I used to work for a large independent record store chain (a bit of an oxymoron) and the independent record store association that we were a member of technically deemed us too large because they considered you to no longer be independent if you had more than like, 15 stores or so. We were a bit above that so we were kind of allowed to play along but we were on the border of still being regarded as independent.

  13. The Sun Valley Mall in Concord, CA has a Sears that looks nearly identical. Totally creepy is the fact that it has the same “palm tree through the roof” feature. Weird.

  14. “Fresno! No one goes to Fresno anymore!”
    I had no idea this place was on its way out. The second floor is depressing. Reminds me of Cottonwood Mall in Utah.
    You know, Fashion Fair isn’t exactly the RItz. Is Fresno a retail dud?

  15. Strange empty corridors (two floor), fast-food like food court layout, and weird purple neon! What a creepy place.

  16. @BigMallRat:

    I wouldn’t say Fresno is a retail dud, exactly. The misleading thing there is that the two most upscale “malls” they have are both outdoor; there’s the old Fig Garden Shopping Center which has many of the standard tier-A mall tenants, and there’s also a new shopping center on Blackstone Avenue at the northern edge of the city called River Park Shopping Center. Interestingly, I think this plaza may be the future of new malls: there’s a collection of stores centered around a “town center” type development with a main street, including Gottschalks, a movie theatre, REI, Borders, and some restaurants. Then surrounding that part of the property is a large sea of box tenants. Given the collection of retailers there, it’s a very “current” style of retail development and undoubtedly qualifies as one of Fresno’s major malls.

    Fashion Fair is the only one of their three enclosed malls that’s doing particularly well, but these two outdoor malls clearly take the place of what would be other enclosed ones.

  17. One thing about Manchester Center I vividly remember: in 1984 I worked for Gottschalks out of the Modesto Century Center store, so I had opportunity to visit other Gottschalks locations while working. Space at Manchester Center was in the middle of being “taken over” by Gottschalks, which had built itself out into the second floor space normally leased to smaller stores. Over time, they added on, and added on, while still retaining walkway format and open spaces to the first floor. It felt like the entire mall was becoming a Gottschalks. As I understand, they may have since retreated back into the footprint of the original store – could this be the “ghost” retailer?

  18. I always felt that Manchester would be a great candidate for conversion to a big box strip center similar to what was done to Florin Mall in Sacramento. You tear down everything except Sears, Gottschalks, and the theatre and then build around it. With great visibility from freeway 41, Manchester could re-invent itself as an alternative to River Park. But with the current economic situation, nothing’s going to be done, and by the time things shake out it may be too late Don’t forget too that Fresno’s been hit pretty good with the foreclosure crisis.

    The other question mark about Manchester is what type of lease agreements they have with CalTrans and all those other agencies renting space upstairs. Would Manchester’s owners break long term leases with state agencies just to see if they could get Best Buy and Bed Bath and Beyond? It might just be easier to lease out the old Gottschalks to another government entity (IRS?) and encourage whatever remaining retail there is to service those workers

    The other troubled Fresno mall I presume you’re talking about is Sierra Vista in Clovis. Even before Mervyns and Gottschalks problems I felt Sierra Vista was in trouble. For even though it’s near new development and just added a lifestyle village w/multiplex; the fact remains that it’s nowhere near a freeway and that Clovis’ retail activity is slowly heading North towards Herndon (which IS near a freeway)

    Sierra Vista still has the Target and Sears as well, but the Target is separate from the mall, older, and small compared to other Targets.
    And Sears? Well, isn’t that the one “big shoe” we’re all waiting to see dro in the next year or so? And both Manchester and Sierra Vista have them.

    And if Sears goes, they’ll be so many new “dead malls” out there that it’ll look like the 90’s all over again.

  19. Given the fact that summers in Fresno can be blisteringly hot (100+ temps), it amazes me that any outdoor shopping center can flourish

  20. The Mayfair supermarket was once at the corner where the Chinese Buffet is today. As was mentioned before, Sears was not connected to the mall until the early 1990’s when a small single story wing of in-line shops was added in what used to be Dayton Avenue.

    The pictures I took in the mall sometime ago can be found here:

  21. I should also note that Sierra Vista was never exactly a thriving mall, even when it was new. It has never been 100% full, not even after they added the Sears store in the back parking lot.

  22. Bizarre…this mall has a charter high school inside of it, apparently. And an Orange Julius. Sounds like a fine way to end the day.

    For some reason, this reminds of Cinderella City Mall, as if it cleaned up its act and made it appealing to mixed-use. It’s two story and has that creepy vibe to it…

  23. Most of the above comments cover my memories, but I remember
    going there once in a while with my parents to visit Perry Boys Smorgasbord. This was a fairly popular eatery and, I think, they ended up being a sort of mini-chain in the area–a few different locations.
    This was a well-visited shopping center up until Fashion Fair took the ball in the mid-70’s.

  24. it wasn’t a stairway that was removed it was an escalator, it came out about 8 years ago

  25. it wasn’t a stair case that was removed it was an escalator. it came out 8 to 10 years ago. I dont remember why.

  26. My kids and I love to go to Manchester Center to ride the carousel. I don’t know if it is original but for $0.50/ride (if you buy a $5 card, otherwise its $0.75/ride) its one of the best bargains in Fresno. They have a free day (maybe Tuesday night) and still is a ghost-town. We love to go to Red Robin and visit the carousel but its kind of depressing to be on a carousel with like one other kid…I can’t fathom how they stay in business but we love it, especially on a HOT Fresno summer afternoon.

  27. I think that middle area was part of Gottshalck’s, once. At one point in the 80’s they had a huge area of the mall, including the second floor of where Caltrans is now.

    Also note that there is/was a *second* small mall past Sears. It appears to be a beauty college these days.

  28. I worked in Manchester Center briefly in 1991. Looking at the recent pics, I can see that not much has changed. I do remember shopping at Home Express, now occupied by Cal Trans. The only thing that will save this mall would be a complete renovation.

  29. The “floating ghost anchor” you refer to was indeed Sears’ furniture store, called Homelife by Sears. That whole north end of the mall was added I think in the 80’s to connect Sears to the rest of the mall. The reason it is taller than the rest of the mall is because it has a parking lot in the basement, and also because Sears was slightly higher in elevation than the rest of the property to begin with. Interestingly, the entrance to Sears from the mall was originally closer to the mall entrance facing Blackstone, right underneath the red Sears sign that is still there. The current mall entrance from Sears was just a wall on the left side that said Sears, and then the right side was an exit to the rear parking lot like it is now.

  30. Oh woops, I didn’t know that first post when thru.

  31. Wow. This place is cree-peeeee! Love it…

  32. A new generation of old creepy places. Great ! I love old abandoned buildings that haven’t been vandalized. They would make great museums. I would pay to see an old dime store, or genuine drug store.

  33. I was the operations manager for manchester center I can u everything from the prices cal trans pays for the space they have to the empty space u were wondering about .It used to be a bank and that space is a kitchen..we used it for partys for staff there .the mall also has areas in the basement that seem to take you back to the peace movment back during the Nam war 60s Cal trans pay 150k a month for both spaces they have that includes pg&e and housekeeping sevices but the sad part of the center is that it is dying a slow death there are hords od rats the size of cats there and huge roaches my staff would haft to sweep the center a few times before it opened to make sure the public wouldn’t see it ..The fact of it all is that if caltrans left that center it would be dead …When I was working there they were talking about gotshalks leaving and there was talk of a walmart going into that space now I don’t know anymore about that I did talk to the new operations manager Cal Rodgers and he stated he didn’t know …But any info u need on that center feel free to email me @Mark Winston,

  34. No that is an empty space it was a bank is a huge vacant space the mall has tried to lease the space but to no avail@AceJay, n

  35. Sears is its own space it might be conected to the center but that’s all it shares if manchester closed today sears would be open and still running @Tim,

  36. We have no plans at this time for the empty spaces@Richard bradshaw,

  37. Sears own that spot it has no connection to manchester other than being connected @Mark Winston,

  38. I messed up my wording they had rats and roaches at that time right before I left they had pest control taking care of the proublems I didn’t want everyone to think it was out of control .But the center is in need of some major upgrades and it isn’t a mall anymore the owners consider it a center of comerce since it has so many business there .I never went there before I worked there and I never will go back since…. the Malls in Fresno rock ….@Richard bradshaw,

  39. @Paul,
    Ah, yes, hot during the day…but every night during the summer the evenings are definitive balmy and are among the best in the world!

  40. I worked there till January 14, 2009. The mall manager is incompetent , running the mall with a maw and paw mentality, the mall operations manager is allowing racism, nepotism, good old boy b.s. the rule of law. U.S. Properties shouldn’t have booze at their parties , a security guard went drinking – driving and got in trouble.
    Tile and four big expensive fans disappered from the vallet (…huh Cal)….

  41. Recently thousands lined up and waited for hours….local health dept used the facility for a H1N1 flu clinic, probably the people that mall has had in years….great website.

  42. CORRECTION: Probably the most people that mall has had at one time in years!!!!!

  43. Groceteria and Paul are correct. The original layout of the Center was U shaped, with the base of the U on the Shields Av. side. There was parking in the middle between the “wings” of the U. The Blackstone Av. Fascia is the frontage of theoriginal stores. Rhodes was in a stand-alone building. The very SE corner of the mall, where the dental clinic and law offices is part of that original building.
    Long’s was originally in the SW corner, where Caltrans is now. Heading north there was a small breezeway ringed with small shops,Woolworth’s ,Mayfair Market ,more small shops, with BofA at the corner (Dayton Av.) Sears is in itsoriginal location. The back doors of the east “wing” were roughly aligned with the east end of the Rhodes building and faced an alley. The alley entrance was just west of and across from Effie St. The east “wing” was demo’ed when the mall was enclosed.

  44. Also, I agree with Caldor, I think the days of huge indoor malls are numbered. What were they thinking anyway? The heating and cooling costs of the monstrosities have to be enormous,and for what? Millions of cubic feet of climate controlled air that isn’t generating a dime of revenue for anyone. Oh well, the developer did all right, didn’t he? LOL

  45. @Daniel, I hate to disagree but Longs was located where the chinese buff is now with Childrens Bootery next to that across the walkway. Mayfair was in the area Longs just vacated. I grew up almost at manchester and remember every shop and store from the 60s to now. I still live two blocks away. I used to ride my bike up and down the walkways before it was a closed mall with all the walkways open. Perry Boys and the german deli were favs to go to. My uncle worked at Roos Atkins next to Rodes and I took the “blue blazer Club” manners class there at Rodes.

  46. @Chad, That “second ” mall was Manchester Plaza. It had a Safeway store where the Dollar Store is now and a jewlery store across from there. Carnation Ice Cream was at the other end next to the theater. It was enclosed as well. I remember because I bought my wife’s wedding ring at that store.

  47. @Richard bradshaw, Richard since you were the operations manager, do you know how big Fresno Regional Workforce is in square footage? and what they are paying in rent?

  48. A grocery store called Mayfair Market used to be located in the west end of the mall near the center, and was replaced in the 1970’s by Longs Drugs, which moved from its original location in the southwest corner of the mall, now the King Buffet. A clothing store called Liberty House was located on the southeast corner, which was replaced by Home Express, now CalTrans.

  49. Fresno is, indeed, a retail dud, and the reasons, athough many, are very, very simple: car-dependent, mostly-white, politically-conservative suburban sprawl that has left behind older, decaying inner-ring suburbs and growing numbers of racial minorities and poor whites; tens of billions of dollars spent on freeways that bypass older retail centers, including a downtown core riddled with vast parking lots and almost completely stripped of historic buildings and residential property; massive spending declines in public schools, caused, in large part, by wealthy suburbanites who want more money for roads and, conversely, low taxes, a la, Proposition 13; severely underfunded mass transit that requires riders to wait in scorching 100+ degree temperatures with little to no shelter, trees, benches or lighting and taking 30-60 minutes and multiple transfers to get anywhere; hypocritical white, conservative farmers reyling on Latino immigrant agricultural laborers who don’t receive a living wage, and who, in turn, must rely on welfare in between the harvests and whose poverty, along with low quality schools, breeds gang violence; corrupt local politics in which city council members, often themselves financially struggling, can be easily bribed by multimillionaire business interests into amending or ignoring city planning laws; a near-total absence of thriving, locally-owned, mom-and-pop-type businesses that are the backbone of any economy, allowing corporate America to nearly completely dominate the city of Fresno, sucking away what little dollars remain in the local economy, worsening employment opportunities and driving a 25-30% poverty rate among the citizenry; and, finally, a massively-overbuilt commercial environment that features endless, duplicate Wal-Marts, Targets, Safeways and McDonalds, block after block, mile after mile, without any regard to the impact new development will cause slightly older developments.

    That is why Fresno is never able to fully support its retail. You’d think after 50 years, this experiment in sprawl would finally end with business owners realizing that compact, urban, walkable, mass transit-rich, multistory development, with homes, condos and apartments built directly above stores would create a captive audience of potentail customers, worth untold billions of dollars, and in stark contrast to what the oil and auto industries would have us all believe.

  50. @Robert,

    Will you please describe in more detail, what Manchester looked like before it was enclosed? I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, but I remember cars being able to drive through the center of the mall somehow, from the western parking lot to the eastern. I can’t, however, remember what the current, enclosed walkways running north and south must have looked like. And did the stores on the east side even exist yet? Or was it just the Longs, Mayfair Market, Bank of America, etc, stores along the west side? And where was the smorgasbord located in relation to all this? And, what, pray tell, was that smorgasbord called? Smorgy Brothers? It’s all so hazy! LOL

  51. @Robert,

    Here’s a partially completed floorplan for Manchester Center, as it looked in 1959:

    If you can, please fill in the blanks indicating which stores were where, and show us where cars could drive through the mall, if they ever could. Please also indicate where the outdoor walkways were, and what they looked like (Covered with eaves, like the ones still along part of the west side of the main mall, along Blackstone? Lined with stand alone glass cases? Awnings?), like the one you mentioned as being between where Longs and the Children’s Bootery used to be. Also, where exactly was the Children’s Bootery? North of Longs? East? Also, please indicate if there were stores along the east side of the main mall and could you enter them from the east? Finally, what stores did the annex to the east of the main mall have, besides Perry Boys Smorgy? Or was it just them? And what did the annex look like? Did it have the same former brown metal eaves that covered the wood beam-supported walkways still along the west, on Blackstone?

    Architectural and Fresno history buffs will greatly appreciate it!!!

  52. @MMC,

    Interesting offering. I’ve been trying to understand Fresno’s socioeconomic dynamic over the course of the year or so that I’ve been here and have been stumped for sometime. After watching the community allow its Metropolitan Museum to close earlier this year, I really began to wonder where I had moved to. I mean, is anything sacred to the people of Fresno? I took a look inside this mall last week for the first time and was overwhelmed by the amount of history that is obviously there. Despite the odd office spaces, etc., it really did feel like a sort of time capsule, rich with history and so much potential even as a mixed use facility. Anyway, I am grateful for the commentary from everyone as all have confirmed my ponderings about what its history may have been.

  53. @Paul, Paul you are correct. As a child in the 70’s I use to model and do their (Rhodes) TV commercials. Brings back some fun memories.

  54. Also, I agree with Caldor, I think the days of huge indoor malls are numbered. What were they thinking anyway? The heating and cooling costs of the monstrosities have to be enormous,and for what? Millions of cubic feet of climate controlled air that isn’t generating a dime of revenue for anyone. Oh well, the developer did all right, didn’t he? LOL

  55. Great pics! I worked at the Payless ShoeSource location in 1992, when it was still more or less thriving. I remember shopping a few years earlier at Home Express, and I still have the dinnerware I purchased there. Nice store, as I remember. I think the location/neighborhood was the mall’s shortcomings, and the recent demise of Gottschalk’s.

  56. @Robert,

    The Safeway actually filled the Dollar Tree, the vacant space north of it, and about half of the Hometown Buffet. There’s still a wheelchair ramp “entrance” and benches that will lead you right into the front window of Hometown, where a door used to be to the mall portion, with Safeway just to the right.

    In maybe the strangest part, the Safeway was open to the mall. Never seen that anywhere since, where a mall anchor on one end was a supermarket.

    The mini-mall ended on the other side with the theater, and also included, to my recollection, Carnation restuarant (they didnt just have ice cream) and the jewelry store as you mentioned, a beauty college, a barber shop, a bookstore/newsstand, a florist and a fish market.

    Its strange that shortly after Manchester Center went from a shopping center to a mall, Manchester Plaza went from a mall to a shopping center.

    The Safeway closed in about 1984. It was a Babies R Us for several years, then that moved, and the Plaza was renovated into “Manchester North” in the early 90’s. The theater closed in about ’93 or so.

  57. @MMC,

    These are great, thank you.

    At what point did Longs move to the north location where they remained till closing – did Woolworth close and Longs moved it?

  58. Anyone know of any plans for that Red Robin space that’s empty now?

  59. My wife recalls attending a boy-band concert of sorts back in the early 90’s, in the mall. Anyone recall that? She’s been racking her brain for the name of the group that performed and cant remember.

  60. @Chad,

    Yes, Gottschalks tended to occupy a huge portion at all times that I can remember.

    At one point in the late 80’s, they had a large section of the upper floor, which serves as “Gottschalks Toyland.” Great toy store.

    Then, until the day they closed, they had the clearance center upstairs, which was in the Home Express spot from the time HE closed until Cal Trans moved in at which point it moved next door to the upstairs portion of Gottschalks and eventually encompassed their entire second floor until Gottschalks shut down.

    I’m curious if there’s any plans for that space now – it remains empty.

  61. My parents owned “Kirks” one of the original small stores at Manchester Center. I remember Rhodes, Longs, Lerners, Roders, Wollworths, Bank of America and Mayfair Market. There were shoe stores on either side of Kirk’s. Kirk’s was near the south end of the center. Does anyone remember a store called Normarts?

  62. @Sally Lyon, I vaguely remember my grandmother shopping at Normart’s, or at least talking about doing so. This would have been the very early 80’s.

  63. @MMC, The additional space to the north of the original Sears structure was used by Sears for seasonal merchandising during the time I worked there from 1965 to 1969. It was used for expanded space for bikes and toys and Christmas-related items. The southeast corner of this additional space was used for the lay-away department and for Car Pick-Up of items too large to be carried off the sales floor. An elevator for large items and an inclined conveyor belt for smaller items (and for rides for some of our more daring employees) descended to a basement which ran beneath a small street which, on ground level, was between the original Sears footage and the north addition. The basement extended beneath this street and continued to the south beneath the original Sears structure. There was also a stairway providing entry and exit for employees who went into the basement to clock in and out. The very large basement was used mainly as the stockroom with an intercom connecting the desk in Car-Pick Up with the stock boys in the basement. Microphones scattered through the basement allowed them to repeat the name and stock number of the item they were requested to send up. It was often hard to hear them above all the background noise of the stockroom, so we would duck down behind the counter to get right next to the speaker in Car-Pick-Up. On one occasion an elderly lady with an umbrella walked in and hit my co-worker with her umbrella as she thought he was trying to hide behind the counter. On another occasion, I had to explain to a very patient farmer how a duplication of a stock numbers provided him with a bassinet for his tractor instead of the tractor umbrella he had requested. I have not been back in those parts of the store since the street was eliminated, so I am not clear on what changes were made to convert the original stores into the closed mall. Sears was a place where we felt a close comradery among all the employees spanning at least three generations.

  64. @John, That would’ve been The Backstreet Boys or Nsync. Both are from Orlando.

  65. @MMC, Sorry I took so long to get back. I just checked and saw the requests. The Smorgy was :Perry Boy’s Smorgy” I will try to fill in the blanks on a furture reply.

  66. The site the mall occupies was once a beautiful fig orchard and estate. The land was “stolen” by greedy white power brokers who used eminent domain for the deceptive purpose of building Fresno State college there, and then built a shopping center. Ended up becoming a dead mall. Unfortunate for the innocent retailers, poetic justice for the rest.

  67. @jhshifris, Definitely wasnt them. This predates them by several years. 1990 or 1991.

  68. Looking at the mall website and comparing it to the one on, seems a few things have left since 2009. Gottschalks (duh), about a third of the food eateries, Veronica’s Bookstore and Religious Gifts, and 50 Flavors, which is a lingerie store, but the type that makes Victoria’s Secret look kind of wholesome in comparison.

  69. Manchester Center Fresno 1955. I’m having difficulties linking to the image, so I’ve broken up the website address. You know what to do.


  70. @MMC, FANTASTIC! Thanks for sharing that

  71. When I first moved to Fresno, back in 1996, Manchester was a very different place than it is now. It actually seriously nearly died out by 1999-2000 — my ex-wife worked there from ’99 to 2002 at a call center, and at that time it had shrunk down to practically nothing; the departments stores, the Long’s drug store, a couple of restaurants, and only one or two of the food court denizens remained. Over the course of the next 8 years, it came back — the movie theater really helped. I honestly think its move alive than ever.

  72. @MMC,

    If you’re looking at the world through Goth-colored glasses, then your version of Fresno is 100% accurate. Reality is slightly different.

    The downtown area has lots of historical buildings. The problem is, most are protected and can’t be refurbished or reused because of it.

    Unemployment is about 15-25%, higher than the rest of California, to be sure, but no as high as you place it.

    Bribery and corruption issues were resolved back in the ’90s. People went to jail. There are some rat bastards involved in our local politics, and there have been some bad business decisions made by the various councils since that are resulting in financial problems for the city. The endless attempts to privatize are no doubt going to end poorly for the city’s coffers.

    It is true that Fresno is the wealthiest poor city in the state of California. There is a huge amount of money coming into the area, but it mostly goes to farmers who are bought and sold by Big Agra. The suburbanites, in general, aren’t that wealthy. I know there are some (one car salesman was telling me about how many guys would come into the dealership and drop $25K in cash on the Indian motorcycles when the dealership was here, which has already dried up), but not that many. I think you’d find that a lot of those suburbanites are struggling, just like the poor; they just had a better starting point.

    I think the numbers spent on the freeways were more like tens of millions, not billions. Remember, the money CalTrans spends isn’t just local. You’re right in that the freeways encourage locals to avoid areas. Of course, travel across town would take forever otherwise. I know, I go back and forth across town weekly.

    As to mostly white, not any more. Our population locally is actually mostly hispanic, just more or less segregated based on income.

    Now, one of the ways money gets brought into the area are those few small farmers who aren’t owned by ConAgra and allies going into the Bay Area to the Farmer’s Markets there to sell their wares. Because Fresnans are so poor, the farmers go out of the area to make better money, which leads us to being in the middle of the bread basket of the world but have virtually no Farmer’s Markets (we have maybe 5, but countless little stands).

    I can’t naysay the opinions on the bus system. It sucks. I know, ’cause I used to ride it a lot. On the other hand, they have a huge amount of space to cover.

    Sorry I bounce around so much, but I’ve been jumping up and down the screen trying to remember things I wanted to provide a different, more balanced view on.

  73. @Newbie,

    There are Ivy League Economists who don’t understand the economy of Fresno. I doubt Nobel Prize winners could figure out Fresno in it’s entirety. 🙂

  74. I’ve always thought that one of the things that kills Manchester is the fact that most of the stores open out onto the parking lot. If you only need to visit one of the stores inside, there’s never been a reason to go in and see what other stores are present in the mall. If they’d have not built that in, and forced people to go into the malls through primary entries and then walk to the store, the mall might be thriving.

    Fashion Fair is always busy, and very few of the stores have their own public entrances. The anchors do, but they serve as entrances into the rest of the mall.

    Sierra Vista is suffering from loosing two anchors, Marshall’s and Gottschalk’s. If they could refill those, I think the mall could come back to life. On the other hand, the island stores and the area around the community area on the east end seem to be doing bang up business.

  75. I remember this mall! in the the 90s, when I was a kid, there was a radio station inside the mall. KQEQ also known as la super Q in Spanish. My father worked as a DJ at that radio station inside Manchester!!!

  76. In case anyone was wondering, heres what the mall looks like in 2012:

    Pretty much the same. Sears is still there and is actually one of the top 50 performing stores in the chain. The theater also does brisk business. Theres an outdoors farmers market on Fridays that also does very well.

    Inside, its mostly local stores, the only chain off the top of my head besides Sears is famous footwear, and maybe Clair’s?

    Second floor is still all offices, and the foodcourt is down to one tenant. Actually, an artist did open a studio on the 2nd floor.

  77. The mall is doing a little better now. About 10 new independant retailers have opened on the first floor. No new chains, but there is sears, Claire’s, Payless, DQ, and foot locker. The food court is up to 50% occupancy and the former gottschalks is still empty. The old Woolworth/ longs is now a workforce connection office and caltrans is doin well. For a bit if history if you are there, go down the dead wing walking towards caltrans and there is an elevator in the end. In the elevator one if the buttons says gottschalks clearance center. Of course it doesn’t work, but still neat to see. Also the regal cinema in the parking lot is doing great.

  78. I visited Manchester Center over this past weekend. As has been reported, the mall isn’t doing too bad these days, at least on its lower level. Not many vacancies, although most stores are of the independent or mom-and-pop variety, and many cater to the Hispanic community. Lots of kiosks also. Reminds me of the Belvidere Mall here in Illinois.

    The upper level is another story however. Bleak and empty, it stretches on and on for what seems to be forever until finally reaching the food court, which was filled mainly with old men playing checkers.

    Also worth seeing in Fresno before its gone is the Fulton Mall pedestrian mall downtown. Designed by Victor Gruen and opened way back in 1964, it today is dusty and empty and full of homeless people. Most storefronts are empty and the few which are open are nothing worth shopping at. Wig stores, nail salons, cash-for-gold stores… I’m sure there is a pager store somewhere too. The murals are dirty and faded and the fountains are shut off, and the trees are overgrown, which gives the whole place an unkempt look. An additional disincentive to shopping there is the lack of free parking; everything is either metered parking or you park in the pay garage. No thanks. At any rate, the city has voted to turn the Fulton Mall back into a regular street, so see this one while it lasts.

  79. There is no mall quite like this. It remains untouched and stuck in time. There is some beautiful architecture and the indoor fountains are really works of art. I prefer this type of mall over the newer malls like fashion faire and river park. They lack character and charm compared to the old malls. Manchester is a great place to go to reminisce and zone-out. There is this really interesting art gallery on the top floor called Anvil. It is always closed when I go there but still has works of art on display if you look through the windows.I’m really amazed that such a nostalgic place still exists. I hope it lasts for a very long time.

  80. @Mark Winston,
    When I first moved to Fresno in 1985 I liked going into the Manchester mall when it had a cool bookstore upstairs called Upstart Crow. It was the predecessor to Barnes and Noble. It had a coffee shop and people sat in booths reading books and drinking coffee like the good old days. I do remember the Home Express as well. Then after Upstart Crow went out Red Robin went in. It has since left the mall and now a Kings Buffet is there. Manchester did not really have much . I used to work with a woman whose husband help build Manchester Mall. I recall the Woolworth I beleive the longs drugs took over the space after Woolworth went out. I went to the Woolworth in Fashion Fair many atimes.

  81. @Sally Lyon,

    Hi, Sally,

    Do you recall where the Kirk’s location was at Manchester? Please take a look at this floorplan and let me know if you can place it:

    Also, if you can recall the locations of some of the other stores from days gone by, like Strauss, Party Tips, Mode O’Day, Jr Bootery, Baldwin’s, Eddie’s Pastry and Youngsters, I’d greatly appreciate it!


    PS Here’s a couple of bonus photos from an old Fresno Bee ad. There’s a picture of Kirk’s!

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