Arsenal Mall; Watertown, Massachusetts

Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

A couple weeks back, we were featured in an article in the Weekly Dig. The reporter who wrote the story was big on getting me “in my element,” so to speak, and really wanted to take a field trip to a dead mall. Problem is, the Boston area doesn’t really have any dead malls anymore. Instead I chose one that I think is really interesting from a design perspective, and is a good example of the kind of mid-range mall that’s struggling nowadays. They also took some pictures. The Arsenal Mall is that mall.

The Arsenal Mall opened in 1983 along the banks of the Charles River about five miles west of Boston as the “Arsenal Marketplace.” It occupies two buildings that were part of the Watertown Arsenal, a massive Civil War-era arsenal complex that operated from the early 1800s until 1965. The mall was built by skywalking two long buildings together, and creating a roadway passage underneath the skywalk that allowed cars to drive from the front parking lot to the rear lot. Because of the building’s heritage, it has many historic architectural details (lots of brick, etc.) and because it involves an older, retrofitted building, it has a truly unusual layout. In addition, the mall was constructed directly across the street from the smaller and slightly older Watertown Mall. Shockingly, both malls still operate today.

Arsenal Mall pylon in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007With about 600,000 square feet and approximately 45 stores, the Arsenal Mall is far from huge. It does fill a void as a convenient, mid-market alternative in the dense inner western suburbs, however: the closest major malls are the Natick Mall (now “Natick Collection”) and Burlington Mall, both 15 miles away, and the Cambridgeside Galleria, which despite being only one town over is kind of a hike and lacks free parking. In addition, there is the Mall at Chestnut Hill and the Atrium Mall in Newton, which borders Watertown to the south, but both malls skew upscale and are somewhat small.

When originally constructed, the Arsenal Mall’s main anchor tenant was one of the few outlets of Rhode Island-based Ann & Hope Department Stores, a chain that practically invented the supercenter discount store (which none other than Sam Walton himself would copy for Wal-Mart). The Ann & Hope store occupied about 80% of one of the mall’s two buildings, with a small “T” shaped court in front. From there, the skywalk carried patrons to the main building, where the concourse turned again before entering a large, airy center court, complete with any original brick details. At that point, the mall split into two levels–the second floor houses a small food court and ultimately ends at a Filene’s Basement anchor, and the first level contains many clothing stores before ending near the mall’s main entrance and a Marshall’s, located underneath the Filene’s Basement.

Mall directory at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Food court at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

The mall’s second-level food court was renovated in the mid-late 1990s after the closure of the Boston Garden. The mall incorporated the Garden’s original scoreboard as well as some of its flooring into the food court, and Foot Locker extensively beefed up their facade to match, creating a sports-themed food court that also contains a bit of Boston history, which is pretty neat.

arsenal-mall-2001-05.jpg

In 2001, Ann & Hope closed all of their stores, including this one, although the chain still exists in a more limited capacity as a low-cost outlet for curtains, bath, and garden supplies. As a result, mall owner Simon decided to carve most of the awkwardly-shaped Ann & Hope store into a Home Depot, leaving a smaller parcel facing the mall. This space would be occupied by Linens N Things. Today, the mall has five anchors: Linens N Things, Old Navy, Marshalls, Filene’s Basement, and Home Depot (which lacks mall access).

The Arsenal Mall’s unusual design and location within a historic structure means it’s an unlikely candidate for big boxing, even if it doesn’t do as well as it once did. For a mall of its size, it has quite a bit of personality and even seems to be getting a few new mid-market tenants (The Gap Outlet and Olympia Sports recently opened, and Samsonite and Stride Rite are coming soon) to replace some of the dollar stores that have recently occupied the center’s mid section. And while it’s far from a dominant mall, it has managed to hang on to a variety of standard mall fare, such as Express, B. Dalton, Victoria’s Secret, Aeropostale, and Bath and Body Works. A lot of clueless Yelp!ers hate it, but what else is new?

Luckily, we have two sets of photos of the Arsenal Mall. The first set was taken in 2001 by Prangeway, and still shows the signage for the recently-shut Ann & Hope store. The second set was taken in May of 2007.

2001:

arsenal-mall-2001-01.jpg arsenal-mall-2001-02.jpg arsenal-mall-2001-03.jpg

arsenal-mall-2001-04.jpg arsenal-mall-2001-06.jpg arsenal-mall-2001-07.jpg

arsenal-mall-2001-08.jpg

2007:

Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

Home Depot (former Ann & Hope) at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Bridge connecting two buildings at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Home Depot (former Ann & Hope) at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Street side of Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

View of Arsenal Mall from parking lot of Watertown Mall, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

View from second floor food court towards center court at Arsenal Mall Second floor elevators at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Food court at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Old Boston Garden scoreboard at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

Foot Locker at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Second floor looking towards Filene's Basement at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007 Main entrance from second floor at Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts, May 2007

24 Responses to “Arsenal Mall; Watertown, Massachusetts”

  1. Really like that authentic brick infrastructure. A very interesting history here enough to make the mall look like a series of tunnels today. Also, does anyone else think the logo is a little Caldor rainbow-era ish? Can’t help it, it”s the New Englander in me…

    Fascinated to know one of the last live Filene’s Basement stores exists here.

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  2. By the way, The Weekly Dig was a great read. I’m sure you speak for most of us when describing the state of the shopping mall today. I’d say you should’ve mentioned Alfred Taubman in the article. Like Gruen, Taubman Company molded the enclosed shopping mall with the passion they once had for amazing people with their iconic, architectually complex centers and their contribution of the “seating pit”, primarily at their peak within the 1970s with their Euro-tilted designs.

    Now I say you *should’ve* mentioned them because most of the centers have either been sold off or one’s they currently own have really become the worst of malls today by removing many of the seating areas, fountains, and clogging central court areas with play areas or advertisments. Some of their centers seemingly will only accept you if you’ve got the bucks (Mall of Millenia and Short Hills among many others, for example).

    To be inflammatory, the biggest offenders of mall lobotomy today are either, notoriously, Westfield for their brand-centricness and lets-see-how-many-ads-we-can-clog-corridors-with centers of today or General Growth Properties. Macerich perhaps, but they are choosing not to turn every formerly owned Wilmorite mall into a lifestyle adaptation.

    Yeah, well, they’re all the same. No one cares about shopping malls beyond the mighty dollar anymore. Perhaps it’s the people who dictated this…

    It’s also nice to see you!

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  3. OK, two questions:

    1) Wait, HOW are the buildings connected? Skywalk? Basement tunnel? Is it pedestrian accessible?

    2) In regard to XISMZERO, you should check out CBL Properties, who let their malls have their own website, and some of their malls have neat architecture. My local mall has late 80s/early 90s, and trimmed with neon with small sunwindows (and lots of plants and kiosks), and the Richland Mall (Waco) has funky architecture and bungee jumping. Fun!

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  4. Jonah:

    The two buildings are connected by skywalk, and there’s a driveway that connects the two parking areas that goes under the skywalk. There’s actually a picture of it above.

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  5. Hmmm….overall I do kinda like the architecture inside and out, but I must say the interior does look like Simon and Mills had a strange love child…

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  6. This mall seems to be being reinvented. It appears there is quite a bit of leasing activity going on. Stride, Rite, Keds, Sperry Outlet opened there today and suppossedly a Samsonite Outlet will open in August along with an Aldo and Wet Seal. Filene’s Basement is also expanding for October ’07. It’s great to see this property start to grow! Let’s see what else the future holds!

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  7. The Ann & Hope in this mall was seriously the biggest Ann & Hope ever! I swear it seemed like it was miles long.. I think when it went away, it was replaced by a Bed Bath and Beyond a Linens and Things AND a Home Depot (which are usually pretty big on their own).

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  8. Oh- AND the Filenes Basement was UPSTAIRS too. Hmmmm….

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  9. I have shopped at that Ann & Hope many times! Really miss that place! There is really nothing to replace it. Still one of my favorite malls, and I love the food court.

    What makes a guy so enamored of malls and the stores in them? Who knows, but to me it’s just a totally cool place to be!

    George

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    The Kid Reply:

    @George Parigian Jr.,

    Since Ann & Hope closed up 10 years ago, Arsenal Mall in general has NEVER been the same. My family went to Arsenal the year it opened and that has been our go-to place for shopping on weekends. During the 1980s, I remember Arsenal being packed – you are hard-pressed to find a parking spot. A&H naturally being the store that seemed to have ANYTHING you need at affordable prices. Pretty much like K-Mart, only with tons more floorspace.

    The Arsenal stores I frequent most in my youth was Waldenbooks, KayBee Toys, and Strawberries Records.

    I still remember the Food Court being 100% occupancy on the second level for the first several years. A far cry from today where its basically half its size, with Foot Locker and a few smaller stores taking up that space.

    I actually worked at this A&H as a full-time sales associate back in 1997-98. In hindsight, perhaps retail sales there had been steadily declining when I landed the job. But not from my eyes at work; customers were always streaming in and they never leave me alone. :-) So you can understand why I am disappointed after I learned that A&H closed just three years after I moved on. I have always wondered what went wrong.

    We STILL go to Arsenal for Home Depot (A&H’s replacement in that location) but I can tell Arsenal’s customer turnout has not been like what it was. I went through the mall and its seems I’m like only 1 of about 30 customers roaming about. I do believe the big reason is everyone goes to Watertown Mall’s Target which is directly across the street.

    Every time I go to HD, you can still see the ceiling and walls left untouched from A&H’s time. That always brings back my memories as a customer and employee.

    The Kid

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  10. I was here last week, there are no ZERO stores open on the second level aside from the Filene’s basement which has expanded into the former army navy and arcade space.

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  11. If that was true, it would really suck, because the Boston Garden-themed food court and Foot Locker are there.

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  12. I really like how a number of the stores (from the pictures) incorporated the brick work into their storefront (Hallmark, Bath & Body Works, Home Depot) It makes the mall unique from the everyday run of the mill mall of this size. I think the Simon leasing team has made a smart choice of transitioning this mall into a mix of outlet stores, value stores, and specialty stores. It is an affordable alternative to the other malls in the area, especially during these hard economic times. It’s also a lot closer to go there for a specific outlet store than treking it to Wrentham Village Premium Outlets of Kittery.

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  13. Foot Locker is definetely closed. The only store open on the second floor now aside from Filene’s Basement is some Vitamin Outlet.

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  14. Spoke to mall management today!

    The Footlockers have closed and below on teh first level there seems to be allot of vacancy but those stroes are opening in other parts of the mall. I asked What’s Up with the mall. I was told They just opened Ann Taylor Factory Store, moved Fampus Footwear ,Yankee Candle and Verizon to teh otehr end of teh mall and will soon open a very large fashion store that will take up all 3 Footlocker stores and the now vacant spaces on the first floor. This store will be 23,000 SQ FT. That’s HUGE! Tehy wouldn’t tell me whats coming in but they said it shoudl open in the fall! Anyone have any ideas?
    This mall is really going through some great changes. I told teh managers to keep up the good work!

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  15. Mall staff has been claiming that an H&M store will be opening there soon – don’t know if it’s true, but that could be the “very large fashion store” the commenter above is referring to.

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  16. It was a neat place to shop and aimed at a lower income demographic for the most part. I used to buy all my heavily discounted Miami Dolphins t-shirts at Ann & Hope, lol, and even some collectable Christmas decorations (still have them). But what was all the fuss over the Cinna-Bos store?! The line was often 20 deep! At the time, we lived in Brighton, just up the hill and I walked to the Mall at least once (3.5 miles?) – right after a major Nor’easter roared thru the Boston area – and found Ann & Hope open for business!

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  17. The “very large fashion store” opening in the former Footlocker space is Forever 21. This chain seems to be popping up everywhere now. Let’s hope they don’t overexpand as is the case with so many retail chains.

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  18. Will the Filene’s Basement close soon? And what of the Boston Garden sign?

    With the Linens N Things now gone, I think they should blast through it and open up an entrance to Home Depot.

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  19. I think this is a great mall to shop and relax because it is right in the heart of the Boston area and with lot of discount stores with decent quality.

    So cheer up with your wishes and run there.

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  20. I remember while my Mother had a check up at the Watertown Harvard Vanguard, My Father, My Brother, And I hang out at The Disney Store at Arsenal Mall back in 1997. Suddenly when my Mother went to this mall (after her appointment at Harvard Vanguard), She fainted and she lied down on the floor. I was shocked on what happened. A mall cop called 911 for the ambulance, And took my Mother to the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge Massachusetts.

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  21. The Arsenal Mall may be getting redeveloped:

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2013/07/01/boylston-properties-teaming-with-athenahealth-ceo-bid-remake-arsenal-area-watertown/ip76EwRUiOBCZvFH1HmaTK/story.html

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Caldor, Take a gander at this blurb I just found – Joint Venture Purchases Arsenal Mall in Metro Boston
    Watertown, Mass. — A joint venture that includes Boylston Properties, The Wilder Cos. and Jonathan Bush Jr. of athenahealth has acquired the 225,000-square-foot Arsenal Mall. The joint venture also purchased the adjacent Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates building in Watertown for an aggregate purchase price of $70.5 million. The new Boston-based joint venture is also acquiring the Golfsmith building, a property adjacent to Arsenal Mall. The mall’s tenant roster includes Sports Authority, Old Navy, Marshalls, Gap Outlet and Chipotle.

    The companies plan on revitalizing and modernizing the property. Boylston Properties also recently purchased the building that was the home of Charles River Saab, also located on Arsenal Street, and expects to bring a new idea for the property to town officials in the near future. In addition to its ownership, The Wilder Cos. will take over the management of the Arsenal Mall properties. The seller in the transaction was Simon Property Group Inc.

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  22. I cannot believe they recently renamed the mall as “Arsenal Project”. I is not cool, Not a cool at all >:( And this reminds me of when Natick Mall in Framingham became Natick Collection. Let’s hope this does not happen to The Mall at Pheasant Lane, The Mall at Prudential Centre, The Mall at Chestnut Hill, South Shore Plaza, Burlington Mall, The Mall at Rockingham Park, Square One Mall, CambridgeSide Galleria, The Mall at Solomon Pond, The Maine Mall, or other malls in New England. I don’t like name changes of those mall.

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