Recently, we discovered a major hole in our Pacific Northwest coverage. We consider this a major oversight, because we’ve visited most of the malls in Oregon and British Columbia, as well as in western Washington. However, we’ve neglected to post anything in one of the largest cities in the country, Seattle.
So, it seems somewhat fitting to have a big Seattle debut, right? Westfield Southcenter is not only the biggest mall in the Seattle area, but it’s also the largest mall in the entire Pacific Northwest. Located at the intersection of I-405 and I-5, about 10 miles south of downtown Seattle and 20 miles north of Tacoma, Westfield Southcenter is a super-regional draw in western Washington, drawing shoppers from all parts of the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, a region home to 3.5 million people.
Westfield Southcenter opened to humbler beginnings in 1968 as Southcenter Mall. Strategically located at the intersection of Interstate 5, the major north-south corridor through western Washington and the Pacific Northwest, and Interstate 405, which connects Interstate 5 to Seattle’s suburbs on the eastern side of Lake Washington, Southcenter’s success was predicated on this accessibility.
According to mall-hall-of-fame, Southcenter Mall originally had 116 stores on a single level, anchored by three Seattle-based department stores: a 170,000 square-foot Frederick and Nelson, a 240,000 square-foot Bon Marché, and a smaller Nordstrom Best.
Here’s an early shot of the Frederick and Nelson (later Sears) store, courtesy Malls of America:
For those unfamiliar with Nordstrom’s history, prepare to get schooled. The venerable retailer started in 1901 as a shoe store in Seattle. Here’s what I didn’t know, and you may not either: Nordstrom only sold shoes until 1963, when it merged with a Seattle apparel store called Best Apparel. The name was then changed to Nordstrom Best, and later to just Nordstrom by 1973.
Southcenter was developed by Allied Stores, an established department store conglomerate which also owned Seattle-based The Bon Marché. Not surprisingly, Bon Marché was featured as the centerpiece of Southcenter Mall, in the middle of the mall along the main hallway. The court in front of Bon Marché featured an impressive atrium called Columnarium, the focal piece of the mall, which still exists today. Another smaller court, East Court, between Bon Marché and JCPenney, was known for its stunning hanging chandeliers. Allied also developed nearby Tacoma Mall in 1965, using a similar layout, and Northgate Mall, in Seattle, in 1950.
Also present at Southcenter was a 270,000 square-foot JCPenney store flanking the eastern end of the mall, which was the largest in the chain at the time, and a Lucky Supermarket at the south end. Here’s an early shot of the JCPenney, courtesy Malls of America:
Here’s an early shot of the Columnarium, courtesy of DSHistory.com:
Few changes took place at Southcenter during the 1970s and 1980s. A Cinerama-style movie theater, one of the last of its kind, opened in 1970. And, as mentioned above, Nordstrom Best turned into simply Nordstrom in 1973, and in 1989 the Lucky Supermarket closed and was replaced by a food court.
In 1992, two major changes took place at Southcenter. First, Frederick and Nelson closed up shop and was quickly replaced by Sears. Second, a new 13-store wing was added to the eastern end of the mall, ending at a two-level, 86,000 square-foot Mervyn’s.
The 2000s brought even bigger changes to Southcenter, culminating in a renovation and expansion, which was complete in 2008. First, in 2002, Westfield purchased the mall, changing its name from Southcenter Mall to Westfield Shoppingtown Southcenter. Then, in 2003, Federated decided to phase out the venerable Bon Marché name in favor of Bon-Macys. By 2005, Bon-Macys was rebranded as just Macys, and Westfield dropped the rather stupid ‘Shoppingtown’ moniker.
In 2006, a massive expansion project began, which added a new southern wing parallel to the original mall, with 300,000 square feet of additional space, 75 new stores, 5 sit-down restaurants, 2 parking structures, an AMC Multiplex Theater, and an expanded second-level food court with views of Mount Rainier. The expansion was dedicated July 25, 2008, almost exactly 40 years after the mall’s grand opening.
During the expansion, in 2006, troubled and now non-existant retailer Mervyn’s shuttered their stores in the Pacific Northwest, including the one at Southcenter. After remaining shuttered for several years, Westfield secured a non-traditional anchor tenant, Seafood City Supermarket, to retenant the space in 2010. Seafood City is an asian-themed supermarket with an emphasis on Filipino items, and helped establish an Asian-themed wing of Southcenter, complementing fast-food restaurant Jolibee and other Asian-themed retailers also in operation. This theming is a creative way of dealing with having a short wing die in an otherwise successful mall.
Here’s a shot looking south from the food court. If you look closely, you can see the outline of Mount Rainier at sunset behind the trees:
Caldor and I visited Southcenter Mall together in October 2010 and took the pictures featured here. Leave some of your own experiences and impressions in the comments.