Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center; Santa Barbara, California

Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California

At this point, anyone who has followed shopping center developments even slightly over the past few years knows that enclosed malls–those raggamuffins we love so much at Labelscar–are kind of on the outs. Everything’s all about big box plazas and lifestyle centers nowadays, and the “eternal springtime” of indoor, air-conditioned corridors has lost popularity to the convenience of parking near the store you want to shop in. Well, what happens when “eternal springtime” describes the weather outside?

This is the case in much of California, but nowhere moreso than Santa Barbara, a picturesque coastal city about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Known for its natural beauty, mediterranean architecture, and favorable climate, Santa Barbara’s metropolitan area is one of the most expensive in the United States. The Santa Barbara area is home to two shopping malls, both of them completely outdoor to take advantage of the favorable climate. This mall, Paseo Nuevo, is also located in the heart of the city’s downtown, and is woven seemlessly into the rest of the city’s bustling heart.

Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California
Beyond that it opened in 1990, I don’t know much about Paseo Nuevo’s history–Californians don’t seem to be as good about putting much of this stuff online, I’ve found. And while we tend to be big fans of enclosed malls around here, I have to admit that there seems to be little reason to throw a roof on places that enjoy such good weather. California has quite a few malls like this, and they seem to fare approximately as well as their sheltered cousins–the ones that are smaller, ancillary centers seem to fail even worse (and mostly wind up as big box centers), while the ones that truly embrace their surroundings or are positioned as a major destination do pretty great.

Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, CaliforniaWhat IS kind of cool about Paseo Nuevo, however, is that it’s an urban mall that exists in complete harmony with its urban surroundings. Paseo Nuevo feels less like a mall than a labyrynth of Grecian alleys, decorated with overgrown vines and tiled fountains and dotted with occasional outdoor cafes. Too many urban renewal-style downtown malls failed to have much impact on their overall downtown districts because they were unfriendly to the street, facing their environments with brutalist multi-story concrete-clad walls or imposing parking structures. Even some of the downtown enclosed malls that were successful–Santa Monica Place or Burlington Town Center come to mind–became victims of their own success. They got people to come downtown and the neighborhood around them thrived, but eventually people simply didn’t want to step inside to the mall anymore. Paseo Nuevo is a fairly successful example of an urban-core, big block shopping center that seems to really work.

So, what’s up coastal California readers? Can you fill us in on the background of this place? Also, given the location, was the original late ’80s development of a center like this a tough sell to the community?

More on Paseo Nuevo: John Dickson’s Paseo Nuevo Guide, with Tour

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Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California

Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center in Santa Barbara, California

23 Responses to “Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center; Santa Barbara, California”

  1. Whoa, a Labelscar entry on not an enclosed mall. Hopefully, it won’t be a trend. But it is cool nonetheless. Imagine a lifestyle addition like this to an existing mall. Hmmm…that does sound awesome.

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  2. Love IT! I also like the idea that it actually contributes to the CBD and features interaction with the surrounding street grid.

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  3. Even the parking structures are concealed within facades of high quality architecture and parapet wall detailing.

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  4. This is beautiful. If only the weather was good enough for something like this in NJ.

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  5. This is a very pretty mall. Even without the roof, it’s recognizable as a traditional design, but the details are done very well.

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  6. I have been there and it is a beautiful shopping center. I don’t know much about the history, other than the original anchors were The Broadway and Nordstrom. One of the original tennants was The Sharper Image (whom I worked for in the San Francisco corporate office), but we closed that store in the early 1990’s. Oddly enough, as you would think Santa Barbara’s upscale clientle would favor a store like that.

    The other big shopping center in town is La Cumbre Plaza which opened in 1967 and has Robinson’s (now Macy’s) and Sears. I always thought it was odd that, until Paseo Nuevo opened, none of the other of LA’s ‘big four’ had a store in Santa Barbara. I.Magnin had a free-standing store since the 50’s and Saks Fifth Avenue still has a store on State Street, but Bullock’s and the May Company never opened stores in that market.

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  7. That’s got to be the most beautiful shopping center I’ve ever seen, and surely is what most developers dream of when planning their “lifestyle centers”. What a cool shopping experience in a perfect climate.

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  8. The Borders looks like it was an upscale department store at one time. Was it an I Magnin or Bullocks Willshire?

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  9. The Borders store was built specifically for Borders.

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  10. To Paul, May Company opened a store in Santa Maria two months after Paseo Nuevo Mall. The Santa Maria Times also had ads from The Broadway in Santa Barbara for a time.

    To Carmen, the Borders building was originally Crocker Bank.

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  11. Randy: Really? I stand corrected. I had information that it was new construction back in the mid 90’s but it must have been just newly outfitted for the store.

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  12. I wonder what the purple ribbons stand for.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_ribbon

    One of these…

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  13. Paseo Nuevo was designed by Field Paoli architects in San Francisco. They do a lot of work in retail and have been at the forefront of the movement towards integrating retail developments back into the urban structure of our cities. They have been involved with projects such as Stanford Shopping Center and Broadway Plaza as well as doing master plan work on such projects as Victoria Gardens at Rancho Cucamonga. You are correct that the intent was to blend the design into the existing surroundings.

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  14. To Randy; Borders Books was originally Bank of America years ago. Crocker Bank was at 1001 State St. where Saks Fifth Avenue is today. I worked there for many years back in the early 70’s.

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  15. What’s great about this place is that it actually replaced a block seedy and partially vacant storefronts along State St., which was becoming a haven for the homeless in the 80’s. The City also relandscaped, etc. the sidewalks and medians and the entire strech is now a huge improvement over what was there 25 years ago

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  16. I was a college student in Santa Barbara in the early/mid 90s and worked at Paseo Nuevo the entire time. So did a lot of my friends. It was part workplace, part social center, with most of the action at The Gap, The Coffee Bean, Z Gallerie, Enlightened Sights, this store dedicated to rubber stamps called “Stampa Barbara” and the restaurants. Because the mall was so well integrated, working there was like being part of downtown – you could live a few blocks away, walk to work, cafes and bars all in one small area. At the time the most obvious mall-like aspect was that the only major chain stores on State St were in Paseo Nuevo. The mall was so successful in “revitalizing” that now chains are up and down State St, and Paseo Nuevo has lost some of its lustre since then. High end stores like Apple and Restoration Hardware have instead chosen more visible locations on State St.
    As far as the building history – most of the downtown merchants supported the deal. I heard rumors that Nordstrom had exacted big price/tax concessions from the city.
    Other than that, one quirky aspect was when Paseo Nuevo was built, one of the “seedy bars” refused to sell. So in the midst of Nordstrom, Pierre La Fond and Banana Republic was a total dive bar called Mel’s. You would walk by the potted palms and bougainvillea on the way to work at 9 am on a Tuesday and Mel’s would be open filled with early bird “regulars” nursing their morning beers. At the time I thought it was cool – totally out of place – but a reminder that SB was not always so sanitized. When I turned 21 I had my first “legal” free shot at Mel’s. The bartender had one with me. Though at the time I grew tired of the mall, now I look back with fond memories of the place.

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  17. OK! The Borders was originally J.W. Robinson & Co. (Robinson’s), then two different banks, and finally Borders. The Robinson’s-May at La Cumbre Plaza was originally a MAY Co., JWR on State st. closed following the MAY Co./Allied Merger and the Robinson’s moniker was not seen again in SB until MAY merged the Robinson’s & MAY Co. divisions in the early 90’s to form ROBINSON’S-MAY. Saks Fifth Avenue sits where another bank used to be, but the current S5A building was built new to blend in. Santa Barbara has some of the most stringent building codes in the world, Spanish colonial architecture is a prerequisite for any building project in SB. Additionally, SB city codes prohibit signage from being “too large” or “unsightly”, you will notice this on the tiny signs on the very large 3 story Nordstrom pictured.

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  18. @ Slane:

    I’m positive that the Robinson’s at La Cumbre opened as a Robinson’s from the very beginning…I’ve spoken with two elderly employees a few years back who had worked since the store’s opening and watched the chain’s demise first hand. As for JWR being in the Borders building…it seems very possible: The look of the building is much like that of the Newport Beach, San Diego and Santa Barbara stores that were designed by Welton Beckett. I’m trying to track down a solid source about 900 State and its history

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    Darrell Reply:

    @Rade,

    Your La Cumbra Robinsons did open originally as JW Robinsons, as I have a book, with a photo in it dated from the very early 1960’s, (page 27)

    If any of you can find a copy it is a treasure, Showing shopping malls from all over the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe, with plans, photos.Both interior and exterior, with renderings from 60’s and 70’s worth the hunt.

    The amount of lone-gone retailers in this book is amazing.

    New Dimensions in Shopping Centers and Stores
    Louis G. Redstone FAIA

    McGraw Hill Book Company 1973
    Library of Congress Catalog number
    NA6218 R43 711′.552 73-4021
    ISBN 0-07-051368-6

    Try Vintage Booksellers, or possibly your local Libarary will have a copy in their collections!

    Best of Luck.

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  19. I worked at The Broadway here in 1991-1992. It was a beautiful store and location. I miss living in Santa Barbara!

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  20. I lived in the city before it was built and it was a hard sell. I liked the small town atmosphere of the town prior to it being built. I was there from 1988 for seven years. I would agree that it’s design complemented the area very well even though space was at a premium.

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  21. I grew-up in SB during the ’70s (moved at 14 in ’81).

    Regarding Paseo, I remember Picadilly Square was there prior. Lots of natural wood and a lot of fun.

    Robinsons was there at La Cumbre. I just love/d the big swoopy cursive of their marque–this entire genre in fact; there are many. My penhand is as such due to this.

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  22. looks so much different than other us cities. Reminds me more of some spanish plaza!

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