Here’s something kind of authentically Texan: a shopping mall that’s home to “the world’s largest pair of cowboy boots,” a 40′ sculpture outside of Saks Fifth Avenue. Pretty wild!
San Antonio, Texas is a large and sprawling metropolitan area of just over two million people in south-central Texas, and is home to many of Texas’ oldest landmarks (including, most notably, the Alamo). In recent decades, development sprawled almost un-checked in every direction radiating from downtown to such a great degree that the city had to build beltways around beltways.
Most of the city’s major shopping malls were built around what is now the “inner” of these two beltways–I-410–and most of *those* malls are clustered along the city’s northern half. Of these, North Star Mall is the largest and most successful of the fully enclosed malls near San Antonio (there is one newer outdoor mall that arguably has since rivaled it).
The North Star Mall is a 200 store, 1.2 million square foot enclosed mall anchored by Dillard’s, JC Penney, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Originally developed in 1960 by Community Research & Development Corporation (which would later become The Rouse Company), the mall was initially a far smaller center anchored by Wolff and Marx, H-E-B, and Walgreens, along with about 50 in-line merchants. Shortly thereafter, the mall was expanded slightly to include a movie theatre and a new anchor in Frost Bros. By the end of the decade, the mall underwent another expansion, with Wolff and Marx moving to a new five level store and renaming themselves Joske’s.
Also, in 1968, North Star got a buddy–the adjacent Central Park Mall, just across San Pedro Avenue. The 650,000 square foot mall was anchored by Sears and Dillard’s and was, for some time, something of a twin for North Star. You can see a 1982 aerial photo of the mall here. But the continued expansions at North Star would ultimately bring its demise.
The landmark cowboy boots showed up in 1980. Named “The Giant Justins,” and built by artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade (What a Texan name!), the boots were originally constructed a year earlier for the Washington Project for the Arts.
The arrival of the giant kicks kicked off a 1982 revival at the North Star Mall, wherein the center began a major renovation to add a food court and a sub-terranean “music court” as well as add a Foley’s on the original H-E-B site. Three years later, Saks Fifth Avenue was added as yet another anchor. Only a year after the arrival of Sak’s, a new two-level wing was added to the mall, including Marshall Field’s and a new food court. In 1987, Joske’s was acquired by Dillard’s, while Frost Bros. went out of business in 1989 and was replaced three years later by Mervyn’s. Marshall Field’s exited the Texas market in 1997 and their store was converted to Macy’s.
In 2001, the now-dwarfed Central Park Mall packed it in. It was mostly demolished in 2003 although Sears still remains.
In 2004, the ever-evolving North Star Mall began yet *another* renovation, this time by new owner General Growth Properties (who had just acquired The Rouse Company). Renovations aside, the mall continued to see significant churn in its anchor tenants. Due to the Federated/May Merger of 2006, the Macy’s store was shut and the Foley’s store was rebranded with the Macy’s name. This created a space for JC Penney to enter the center, and they opened in the space in 2007. In 2008, beleaguered Mervyn’s exited the Texas market entirely, closing their store at North Star. (More on the North Star Mall timeline)
That’s the straight history, but what makes North Star Mall so interesting is its layout and architecture. Take a look at the directory and try and follow along:
The original section of the mall is the upper “T,” closest to Dillard’s and Saks. This was originally a one-level mall that received a second level and then was soon thereafter twinned (with the lower “T”) in the mid-80s. Strangely, the second level on either side of the mall is discontiguous, meaning that the only way to walk through the entire center is by going downstairs to the main, first level. The passageway between the two “T” areas is somewhat narrow and winding.
The floorplan at the North Star Mall alone kept me pretty entertained, but even aside from the weird layout the place just felt immense. With all of the various additions over the years, the mall doesn’t have much stylistic consistency, creating all sorts of nooks and crannies and twists and turns that look different from each other. All in all, it was a pretty exciting place.
And, as I mentioned earlier, although North Star Mall is San Antonio’s largest and most successful enclosed mall, it’s facing some tough competition. The very large Shops at La Cantera, a massive outdoor mall/lifestyle center, opened far northwest of the city in phases beginning in 2005. In sheer size, this place seems even bigger than North Star and appears to have an even more upscale roster of tenants, without any of the vacancies that plague North Star (which still hasn’t filled the Mervyn’s space that was vacated a year and a half ago. Actually, whoops: Forever 21 plans to open a store to fill the vacant Mervyn’s).