Southland Mall; Hayward, California

Hayward, California is a large blue collar suburb of 151,000 people in the central East Bay region of California, located about 15 miles south of downtown Oakland. Like much of the Bay Area (and the East Bay in particular), it’s a culturally/racially and economically diverse city, with recent immigrants and long-time residents alike. Historically an industrial suburb–fruit canning factories dominated the job base for much of the 20th century–Hayward today still has one of the larger industrial job bases in the Bay Area. On a retail-related front, Hayward was also the home base of Mervyn’s department stores until their bankruptcy and closure in 2008.

Hayward is in many ways typical of a post-war suburb, with a large stock of housing built in the 50s-70s, and it exists more or less as the southern terminus of Oakland’s street grid. As a result, it’s little surprise that the Taubman Companies constructed the Southland Mall in the middle of Hayward’s development boom, in 1964. Southland was one of several malls being developed at the time in the rapidly developing region, part of Alfred Taubman’s plan to move business from his native Michigan to growing sun belt cities. Interestingly, Taubman’s own autobiography claims that Southland was the first mall in America to include a food court, a claim I haven’t been able to corroborate anyplace else (and an odd revelation, since Taubman malls rarely ever included food courts, and the architecture of Southland Mall is quite atypical of Taubman malls of this period).

Southland actually began its life in 1961 as a somewhat more modest outdoor shopping center named Palma Ceia, featuring a Lucky’s Supermarket, Thrifty Drug Store, and Sears as anchor stores on the sprawling lot off Hesperian Boulevard. Three years later, the first large enclosed portion of the mall was added, with Woolworth and JCPenney added as anchor stores. The original enclosed incarnation of the mall included the aforementioned “World’s Faire” food court in the space currently occupied by Ross Dress For Less, and the mall also sported a large aviary (popular at the time), indoor water features, and a large arcade and bumper car attraction called La Mans Speedway, located in the mall’s basement. Another large expansion was added in 1972, adding a Liberty House department store at the end of a whole new wing that also included an ice rink. This expansion may have also involved moving the food court to the basement space underneath JCPenney, where it resides today, but I may be wrong about this.

Over the years, the mall saw many changes, though most of these didn’t change the basic structure of the center. In 1983, Liberty House shuttered, and was replaced by an Emporium-Capwell. A large flagship Mervyn’s store opened in the mall in 1995, and Old Navy replaced Woolworth’s the same year. The ice skating rink was at some point replaced by a Good Guys electronics store, which itself was later replaced by Steve & Barry’s. Lucky’s, Steve & Barry’s, Mervyn’s, and Old Navy all closed in the late 2000s, but the Mervyn’s space was quickly replaced by a large new Kohl’s store.

In the meantime, development shifts caused more development to move further into the suburbs, causing other malls to supplant the dominance of Southland. Ironically, it was the Taubman-developed Stoneridge Shopping Center–over the hills seven miles away in affluent Pleasanton–that probably was the biggest factor in kicking Southland down to “B” mall status. (also, it was Southland that probably played some role in dinging the nearby Bayfair and Eastmont Malls down a notch–the ecosystem goes on…) Today, the mall is still mostly leased and seems to do relatively well, but it has a fairly anemic tenant mix. The aging 100-store, mostly single-level mall is owned by General Growth Properties, and sports Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Kohl’s as primary anchors, and also contains Ross Dress For Less, Planet Fitness, and even Sears Outlet (on an outlot pad adjacent to the main store) as secondary anchors. The old gal is showing her age–as you can tell from these photos–but it still retains some of that “old mall charm” (high ceilings, wide open corridors, the cavernous center court and basement food court) that has been renovated out of so many malls of this era. General Growth had been planning a full update and refresh of the mall prior to their recent economic troubles; it’s a relatively safe bet that a renovation will come for the still-relatively-successful Southland (and Newark’s nearby Newpark Mall) in the next few years.

More on Southland over at BigMallRat.

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.

14 thoughts on “Southland Mall; Hayward, California”

  1. I believe the Emporium-Capwell that took the place of Liberty House was essentially a relocation of the mid-50s downtown Hayward Capwell’s store (one of their first suburban branches.)

  2. This mall could use a little TLC, and it’s definitely un-Taubman.

    I’ve always wondered why both Taubman and Jacobs Group (whose designers must’ve been brothers) held off on food courts for so long.

  3. From what I remember reading over the past few years, food courts were tried in several malls, but without success until James Rouse reworked the consept at Paramus Park in 1974. It wasn’t til the 1980s that food courts became a mall staple& yet most Taubman malls still don’t have one.

  4. The food court we see today came in the early 80s. I don’t remember Ross being the old food court. I remember it as Walgreen’s or something along those lines. Perhaps someone else can chime in.
    I wish GGP would remodel this mall. Heck, even a fresh coat of paint would help.

  5. I think Taubman held off on food courts for as long as it did because it wouldn’t appeal very much to the upscale atmosphere of its malls and the prospect of teens gathering in the area.

  6. I’m not so sure Taubman held off on food courts. I know Eastridge in San Jose had one when they opened in 1971, and I’m pretty sure Sunvalley in Concord (1967) had one before that. IIRC, they were all called ‘World’s Fare’ like the one at Southland.

    J-Man is correct. Capwell’s Hayward store (c 1957) closed when the Emporium-Capwell took over the Liberty House space in 1983. It was Capwell’s second branch, following Walnut Creek (1954). It was a huge 2-level store, the upper level fronting on Foothill Blvd and the lower level opening onto a large parking lot. Like the Walnut Creek store, the store had a Gene Compton’s cafeteria. AFAIK, the store never underwent a substantial renovation, and looked much the same on the day it closed as it did on the day it opened.

  7. @Paul, was this Capwell store what ultimately became the Mervyn’s headquarters, and is now sitting vacant? I always assumed that building was once a department store.

  8. Yes, the ex-Mervyn’s headquarters was the old Capwell’s. It was the anchor of the Foothill cooridor and it’s never been the same since Capwell’s departure (least according to my mother). Frankly, Foothill is so congested for most of the day, people seem to avoid the area. I know I do.

  9. The original World’s Faire food court at Southland was located in the strip center that fronted Hesperian. While this was technically part of the Southland complex, it was separated from the actual mall by a large parking lot and today would be considered an outparcel. In the 80’s, it finally moved to the lower level area below Penneys.

    So, did Southland have a food court in the early days? Yes and no.

  10. What can one say about Southland? It had a captive audience for years and has been there forever, has weathered every bad thing that can be thrown at it, and survives.

    I often referred to it as “gangland mall”. However, it is so centrally located like New Park, that it just keeps renewing itself and it is small enough not to become a dinosaur like many malls featured here.

    As for history: It did not have a food court originally that I can remember (foodcourt was added after arcade closed sometime in the 90s, it had a lovely ice skating rink with large oval bubble windows you could watch the action. Also an extremely large, loud bird cage in the main area. In the 70’s downstairs was La Manz (sp?) Speedway, a huge arcade and indoor bumpercar attraction which was the the coolest place to be before New Park opened in 1980. It had a cinema that was large in its day. I remember going there when it was really old and the place had rats everywhere.

  11. Yes, Southland was Taubman’s attempt to outdo Victor Gruen with his mall designs. The original indoor portion had the wide brick-paved corridor with the bird cage, airport-like lounge seating, and the “Wonderfall” in front of Sears. There was another fountain by JC Penney that turned into a little river that you crossed on bridges to get to some of the children’s stores. Taubman built nearby Sunvalley Mall in similar design.

    The WorldsFare restaurant was over by Hesperian Boulevard which was a long distance from the rest of the mall, especially before the Liberty House section was added. If one wanted restaurant dining, the Harvest House next to Woolworth’s was the place to go. Southland also had one of the few Olga’s Kitchen’s on the west coast.

    For a time in the 70’s, thee was an abrupt transition from the original Gruen-style mall to the new modern Liberty House addition which looked more like Eastridge in San Jose. The 80’s remodel pushed the storefronts out past the bulkheads, removed the 70’s seating pits, and covered the floors with tile.

  12. @Rob,
    No – the early days held no food court at Southland proper. The World’s Fair food court was adjacent to Thrifty’s and accessible via a main entrance and a pass thru from Thrifty’s. There was the lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Southalnd proper.

  13. Thank you! “Olga’s Kitchen” was the name of the restaurant right next to Woolworth’s. I was racking my brain the other day trying to remember and yes, the food court was added in ’84 / ’85 as part of “the new” Southland and no, it is nothing like what the World’s Fair used to be except for maybe in terms of variety. The food court is just an assortment of fast food stuff but the World’s Fair had individualized type restaurants under one roof that were titled “Mexican” “Chinese” “Bar-B-Que” etc. Very much like the Gourmet House that used to be at the Fairway Park center in south Hayward. There was also an access to Thrifty’s without having to first exit and then re-enter. On the other website, there was a discussion about Southland’s earlier lower level with LeMans Speedway, Grutmans, the tobacco shop and the cocktail lounge called the Courtyard. Is anyone aware that those stores are still existing and intact? That’s right! With the exception of just a piece of the north hairpin of the bumper car track left. Does anyone recall the huge fake tree that was in the middle of the Courtyard lounge and appeared to be growing up through to the concourse above? Still there! It’s whats refered to as the “Dead Mall”. The next time you are looking down at the food court from above – try to visualize everything that was down there before and you will see that the food court doesn’t even take up half of the space. Then, notice the double doors on the north wall. That accesses the “Dead Mall”. I was a security officer there for more than two years and I’ll tell you what, folks! During that time, I seen it all! I mean, the place was off the hook! I have war stories from things like the suicide that I stumbled over in the parking lot – west of Sears automotive to the actual rape attempt at Regis Hair Styling at around 2:00 in the afternoon one day. Along with the KMEL scavenger hunt riot when every store was forced to close 3 hours early for the first time in mall history! That was the night when I prevented a gangster from taking a female police officer’s gun from her and he was seconds away from getting it too! Multiple trash can fires! Crazy but fun! I can’t let myself forget about the time when there was a complete power failure and the emergency generator didn’t kick in for about 5 minutes! Pitch darkness at 7:49 pm which resulted in a major panic scene with women screaming every where. Our radio repeater was dead so, there was no communication between us for those minutes. If anybody would like for me to elaborate on any of these incidents – email me.

  14. CORRECTION: Since I couldn’t find a way to edit my previous post – which has some geographical errors (I guess you could say) I’ll just list them here. The mentioned “double doors” in the food court are actually on the west wall and not the “north wall”. In fact, where the person is standing that took the above photo of the food court – these double doors are almost directly benieth them. The same goes for the mentioned bumper car track as I meant to say the west portion of the track and not the “north”. Sorry!

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