Serramonte Center Mall; Daly City, California

We’ve covered hundreds of malls on this site, but only a few dozen of them have much of a personal connection. The Serramonte Center Mall in Daly City is one of those, since I currently live only about 4 miles away in San Francisco. I’ve learned a lot about the Bay Area in my 4 years living in the area, and this old gem of a mall (and the area its located in) both have an interesting back story.

Daly City, California, is a dense older suburb located immediately south of San Francisco proper at the extreme northern end of San Mateo County. Incorporated in 1911 and named for local rancher/land owner John Daly, Daly City was primarily a small farming and ranching community with a town center located along El Camino Real — the main old highway running north-south in California — until the late 1940s. That was when developer Henry Doelger, who had recently developed several large suburban-style housing tracts in the adjacent southwestern portions of San Francisco proper, built the Westlake subdivision just south of the city line, in Daly City. Westlake was one of the first large suburban-style planned communities in the US, built out with vaguely atomic-age monostylistic architecture, a charm that it has retained to this day. Westlake was also criticized–then and now–for its architectural blandness and boxy homes, and was the subject of Malvina Reynolds’ folk hit “Little Boxes,” a popular anti-conformity song in the 1960s and later the theme to Showtime’s TV series, “Weeds.”

Westlake itself was centered along John Daly Boulevard, and was a true “planned” community with a ring of single family homes, a cluster of multifamily apartment complexes, and a large retail mall at the center named Westlake Shopping Center (originally Westlake Town & Country Center). Opened in 1948, the open air mall was one of the oldest in the United States, and unlike many of the other malls around the Bay Area has never been enclosed. It’s still operating today, but as a more community-oriented, big box-anchored center.

The Serramonte Center Mall came later, and a few miles south. As the Bay Area continued to grow in the post-war era, development continued to sprawl southward from Westlake and a new set of developers, Fred and Carl Gellert, set to develop the Colma Hills and Serramonte Ridge area with a new set of homes in the early 1960s. Much like Westlake to the north, this development was set to be anchored by a large new suburban-style retail mall, but unlike Westlake the new mall would be fully enclosed. The center’s original anchor stores were Montgomery Ward, Macy’s, and Long’s Drugs and the mall was organized roughly in a “T” shape and located in the crux between two freeways: CA highway 1 (the famous Pacific Coast Highway, which had recently been re-routed and expanded to a controlled access freeway in this area) and interstate 280. The mall also saw a small expansion not long after opening, with a slightly expanded eastern wing and a new Mervyn’s California store as the final mall anchor.

Daly City has remained a largely midrange suburb in the decades since, with some significant and interesting demographic shifts coming along the years. Daly City is one of only a handful of US cities that is majority-Asian, and 33% of the city’s residents are Filipino, the highest percentage in the United States. Daly City proper has just over 100,000 people, and is the single largest city in San Mateo County, which occupies most of the peninsula south of San Francisco itself.

The mall remains successful as a middle-tier, 865,000, one-level center today. Montgomery Ward departed the center upon their bankruptcy in 2001, and were promptly replaced by Target, despite that Target already had another location across the street in neighboring Colma. Both Target stores continue to operate almost within sight of one another today. The mall began a renovation in 2007, which saw a modernization of the structure inside and out, replacing much of the interior with Asian-inspired rock, plant, and water features, including bamboo plantings and a koi pond. The mall’s Long’s store departed at a similar time, and the space remained vacant until 2011 when it was filled with a Crunch Fitness. Mervyn’s California departed when the chain closed in 2009; after sitting vacant for two years it was replaced with a small but modern JCPenney store which always featured the short-lived “red square” logo design. The original Macy’s store, still in operation today, retained its vintage signage until 2011 when it was sadly replaced with the modern Macy’s red star signage. Overall, the place is nearly always busy due to the midrange tenants like Target and H&M, and the surrounding sea of big box centers are extraordinarily successful due to the proximity to San Francisco, where land is too scarce and expensive (and political opposition to this type of development is too great) for many of these chains to operate.

I like the design of the Serramonte Center Mall a lot. The size and design reminds me a lot of the malls of my youth, with the high center court/significant water feature as a dominant focal point. The “Zen” renovations of 2007 and 2008 did nothing to ruin the mall, if anything this is one of the more faithful re-dos of a mall this type that I’ve seen. Serramonte also has a significant number of food options, ranging from a sizable food court to an outdoor promenade with fast casual options such as Andersen’s Bakery and Rubio’s and in-line traditional fast food restaurants like Burger King, McDonalds, and Taco Bell. There’s also legitimately decent pho–a rarity in a mall!–at the Pho Garden next to the food court.

The photos here were largely taken in spring of 2008, not long after I moved to the Bay Area, and as such you’ll notice a few things that have already changed. The Target Greatland signage is gone, and the Mervyn’s California is also (obviously) gone, plus I managed to get shots of the Macy’s before they removed the old signage. I did also go back and snap a few quick shots of the new JCPenney, just so you all could see the new lowercase “red square” logo that is unlikely to ever make it onto many of their stores.

Palm Springs Mall; Palm Springs, California

The Coachella Valley is a desert region in eastern Riverside County, California, stretching through the desert north of the Salton Sea. One of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country (with an estimated 2010 population of around 600,000 permanent residents, plus hundreds of thousands of seasonal residents), the region has been a popular tourist destination since the 1920s when many in Hollywood were drawn to the hot, sunny weather and seclusion. The region’s anchor city and historic heart (though not the largest community) is Palm Springs, at the far western edge of the valley.

Development patterns in the Coachella Valley are more or less what you would expect of a region developed almost entirely in the 20th century (and very significantly in the last few decades). The region is criss-crossed with a network of wide grid-pattern arterials and a sprawling network of low-slung housing developments, many of them resort-style communities for part-time residents. Like most places that have exploded in this manner, there are dozens of strip malls and big box centers scattered across a 25-mile wide swath of the valley stretching from Palm Springs to Coachella. Buried within that mess, there are no less than four enclosed malls, and shopping in air conditioned comfort makes sense when the region is known for it searing heat and blinding sun. However, 3 out of 4 of these malls are dying (and one of the four is shuttered entirely). We posted the Fiesta Mall in Indio, at the eastern end of the valley, about a year ago. Today’s mall is 25 miles to the west: Palm Springs Mall, while technically still open for now, is one of the near-dead.

Located on Tahquitz Canyon Way about 2 miles northeast of downtown Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Mall is a relatively small, T-shaped community center, with an extension on one side that housed a Von’s supermarket and several smaller outdoor-facing stores. Architecturally, the exterior almost looks like a fairly standard strip mall, but the interior still has terra cotta tiles and other trappings of malls from several decades ago. There are also some interesting soaring ceiling features and skylights that clearly date the mall to its original construction in the late 1960s, even if it otherwise appears to have gotten a facelift sometime in the 80s. Until the middle of this past decade, it was relatively successful, with Gottschalks, True Value, Ross Dress For Less, and Office Max all functioning as the mall’s most recent anchor stores.

The Palm Springs Mall opened with San Diego-based Walker-Scott in 1970, who lasted in the space until the entire chain folded in 1987. Long Beach-based Buffums’ replaced them, but they also folded in 1991. Gottschalks took over the space right up to that company’s demise in 2009. The large anchor at the southern end of the mall was for a time a Kmart store, but that space was subdivided into True Value and Ross Dress For Less at some point later. I can’t find if there was a tenant in that space before Kmart, and to add to the confusion many news articles on the internet seem to confuse this mall with another dead mall in Palm Springs, so there is some question as to whether this mall or the other ever had a JCPenney anchor store. Just over the last few months (since these photos were taken in February, even!) the True Value fled the mall for a new location.

Rumors of a redevelopment have been swirling since at least 2007, when the mall was at least still somewhat viable (and still had its main anchor store in Gottschalks). There continue to be rumors of *something* to happen at the property, but in the meantime it continues to bleed tenants. The location is also somewhat strange and off Palm Springs’ main arterials, so it may make more sense to repurpose the property as something other than retail though the empty lots that dot the nearby area seem to indicate there isn’t a ton of demand.

Like a lot of dying malls in growing sun belt cities, we couldn’t find much about the Palm Springs Mall online–there probably aren’t that many current residents who remember much about the glory days. Do you know more about the history? Use the comments section to fill us in.


Blackhawk Plaza; Danville, California

I’ve been meaning to get around to posting Blackhawk Plaza for some time. Blackhawk Plaza is one of the weirdest malls in all of California–an excessively upscale, kind of dead-ish small outdoor mall that’s unfailingly pretty. I really wish all lifestyle centers were this nice, and I hope this place is someday able to find the success it mostly deserves. In the meantime, let’s dig in, and make sure you stop to check out some of the pretty pictures since this is an extremely attractive shopping center.

The Blackhawk Plaza opened in 1989 at the intersection of Camino Tassajara, Crow Canyon Road, and Blackhawk Rd in Danville, a rapidly expanding suburb in the hills of the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay area, approximately 30 miles east of San Francisco and 20 miles east of Oakland. Most of the established development at the time was located in lowlands along I-680, but a series of large new subdivisions began to creep up into the hills to the east, and the growth of these developments has continued to explode until today. If you’ve ever seen “Weeds,” you know precisely what to expect in these communities: large, vaguely Tuscan-looking McMansions set on winding, sprawling developments with relaxing views of the hills, and all of these fairly interchangeable houses tended to sell for around a cool million. It’s also an insular and pretty boring area: there’s not much to do up there beyond putter around your house and yard, and there’s next to no commercial development in the hills at all. Prangeway and I even had an uncomfortable encounter here in the fall of 2008 that defined Blackhawk Plaza for us. It was just weeks before the elections, and we were approached somewhat surreptitiously by an elderly woman discreetly distributing “Yes On Prop 8” literature out of her satchel. It was kind of an alternately bold and timid thing to do, but probably par for the course for “political engagement” in an area populated in large part by people who want to isolate themselves from “others.”

Blackhawk Plaza was devised as part of a plan to generate a commercial center far up in the hills and well off the freeway. Unlike most large shopping malls which locate near a freeway to serve a large geographic area, Blackhawk was intended just to serve the affluent suburbanites nestled in the removed area east of I-680. As a result, it’s a fairly small shopping center with just around a quarter of a million square feet, but the developers made up for size with attention to detail. Most of the center shares some of the architecture of the surrounding area, setting a series of buildings around a man-made brook, with the main pedestrian walkways criss-crossing the brook for the length of the mall. There are ample spaces set aside for outdoor dining, as well, to take advantage of the mostly favorable and warm climate of the area. As Scott at BigMallRat calls it, it’s like a little man-made San Antonio. Also, people seem to really like feeding the ducks here. They also seem to not really like spending much money.

The architecture is unsual even beyond the beautiful (by mall standards, anyway) lagoon. The southern side of the center looks like a more typical enclosed mall, with stores on both sides and a roof on top, and the stores on the side closest to the lagoon mostly have outdoor patio spaces reserved for dining. The other side of the center faces the lagoon directly, with a walkway between the stores and the lagoon. There are also stores on all sides facing the parking lot and some outparcels such as a movie theatre. At the mall’s eastern end, there’s a rather unusual anchor: a large automobile museum. There’s also a wheelchair foundation office, mysteriously up a large set of stairs (??).

And that leads us to the rub. When Blackhawk Plaza was opened, most of this area was still pretty sparsely built, and as noted earlier, it was designed as a somewhat insular shopping mall meant for the surrounding neighborhood, not for the region on the whole. This meant there wasn’t quite the critical mass of population to support the kind of mall they built with Blackhawk, and as a result the center has spent two decades being plagued with vacancies and weird occupancies. It’s also had a significant shuffle of anchors in its tenure: initially, Bonwit-Teller was supposed to anchor the center, but they pulled out before the store was ever built. Instead, the initial anchor was Blackhawk Market, an upscale grocer that even had cell phones attached to each cart (weird?), but they went out of business. I wonder why. They were replaced by Saks Fifth Avenue–a real boon, and a more typical anchor for a center like this (and in fact, the only Saks located in the East Bay), but they were  a colossal failure, closing after only six months. They were replaced by Fresno-based Gottschalks, a significantly frumpier but more sensible alternative, but Gottschalks was bizarrely and unceremoniously booted out in favor of local upscale grocer Draeger’s, who anchors the center now along with the auto museum, a Crunch Gym, and a large Century Theatres.

In the past two years, since we first visited, the mall has shown some significant signs of life, however. Increased development south of the mall in San Ramon increased the population of the area significantly in the 2000s, helping justify a new class of tenants in Blackhawk’s location. Many big-name national tenants, including Anthropologie, Restoration Hardware, Brookstone, and See Jane Run, have all moved into the center, and many high-quality local tenants such as read. and a handful of restaurants have also taken up space inside of the center, and this is all in spite of the condition of the economy and the fact that the surrounding area hasn’t exactly escaped the foreclosure crisis. The blend of everyday tenants (a market, a gym, a theatre), upscale fashion-oriented retailers, and local bistros certainly seems to make sense given the center’s style and location, but the tenant mix remains bizarre due to things like the auto museum (which may well be legitimately neat, I’ve never been inside) and the wheelchair foundation. I give the center’s developers credit, though: Blackhawk Plaza is an unusual mall that attempts to run with a unique formula–to create a genuine community gathering space for an area that would otherwise have none–and they’ve succeeded at least in part. I hope the trend over the last two years continues, and the mall’s fortunes continue to improve.

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.

Beverly Center; Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles is known for its malls in a way almost no other major city is. Its urban built environment is proto-suburban, an odd blend of almost-urban density and car-culture all blended into a stew. So unlike other large cities, where malls feel like something of an afterthought, grafted onto the edges of cities at a beltway, Los Angeles is a place where they feel purposefully like hubs within the urban fabric.

The west end of Los Angeles is this sprawling city’s most famous swath–the ten or so miles from the beach in Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles are home to a jumble of infamous neighborhoods, including Hollywood and Beverly Hills. As you might expect with names such as these, it’s a fashionable and affluent stretch of the city, home to multiple malls and miles of street-front retail.

The Beverly Center is something of a monolith at La Cienega and San Vicente Boulevards, between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills (both actually separate cities from LA itself, but totally surrounded by it). From the outside, the mall is positively gargantuan, standing well above all surrounding structures and visible for miles down Beverly Blvd. The center is organized in an odd fashion, with a six story parking garage beginning at ground level and leading up to the mall, which is perched atop the large structure. In actuality, this is horrendous urban form; instead of interfacing with the street and surrounding neighborhood, the mall is above its surroundings as if a massive luxury penthouse.

Opened in 1982, the Beverly Center was developed by legendary mall developer A. Alfred Taubman and replaced a small old amusement park on the site. The mall’s vaulted structure–criticized earlier–does serve a purpose: there’s oil underneath the mall, and the structure of the center allows for an enclosure for active oil wells underneath a portion of the property. Originally anchored by Bullock’s and The Broadway along with a movie theatre, the Beverly Center was also home to the first U.S. location of the Hard Rock Cafe. Today, mall itself is an attractive blend of upscale stores, anchored by Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s (both of which replaced the original anchors after they were absorbed into Federated in the mid 90s). The theatres which opened with the mall in 1982 just closed this month; they were open at the time my photos were taken in March of 2010. The three-level mall is somewhat austere and ’80s modern (with updates, of course), but it earns some significant points from me for its almost total lack of kiosks and its hotel-style center court bar, both of which lend to the un-harried ambiance.

Also, due to its location, the Beverly Center has unsurprisingly been mentioned in a ton of movies, books, songs, and whatever else, plus it has served as a spot for B list (and lower…) celebrities to take part-time retail jobs while waiting for work. Case in point: Danny Pintauro of “Who’s The Boss” apparently worked at The Gap for awhile. Don’t remember Danny Pintauro? That’s why he was working at The Gap!

Fiesta Mall (Indio Fashion Center); Indio, California

Fiesta Mall is Indio’s enclosed shopping mall, and one of three enclosed malls in the Coachella Valley. It was built in 1974 as Indio Fashion Mall, and aside from minor cosmetic updates has the same layout as it did then. Sears and San Bernardino-based Harris were the original anchors, and a small single-level mallway connected them with only 225,000 square feet of total space. Indio was a much smaller city then, with a population under 20,000, and had a caucasian-majority demographic.

Indio, California is a city of over 80,000 people located on the eastern edge of the Coachella Valley, a sub-region of southern California’s massive Inland Empire.  The Coachella Valley is home to nearly 600,000 residents, and also includes the famous city of Palm Springs, which is located 25 miles away from Indio on the other side of the valley.  Indio is also 125 miles east of Los Angeles.

Indio’s population is over 75 percent Hispanic, and this demographic has grown rapidly in recent years.  Many of Indio’s residents work in either agriculture or support services for the Palm Springs resort areas.  Indio is also the largest city in the Coachella Valley, having passed Palm Springs in the early 1990s, and is projected to have 130,000 residents sometime this decade.  However, the recent economic bust has hurt Indio a lot, pushing the unemployment rate from 5 percent in 2006 to over 20 percent by 2009.  As such, many businesses – including Indio’s mall – have suffered, despite numerous renovation and expansion efforts.

Fiesta Mall is Indio’s enclosed shopping mall, and one of three enclosed malls in the Coachella Valley.  It was built in 1974 as Indio Fashion Mall, and aside from minor cosmetic updates has the same layout as it did then.  Sears and San Bernardino-based Harris were the original anchors, and a small single-level mallway connected them with only 225,000 square feet of total space.  Indio was a much smaller city then, with a population under 20,000, and had a caucasian-majority demographic.

Throughout the 1980s, the demographic shift to Hispanics changed the face of Indio Fashion Mall’s offerings, and more stores catering to Hispanics popped up in the small mall.  In 1988, an anchor change took place as Harris was sold to Gottschalks and became Harris-Gottschalks.  By the time the 1990 census rolled around, Indio and the eastern flank of the Coachella Valley were majority-Hispanic.  The city was also rapidly growing, adding tens of thousands of residents every few years, so the mall’s developer began to initiate a proposal to more than double the size of the mall, adding a food court and another anchor in the process.  Unfortunately, though, the project was stalled during the early 1990s recession and in part to local political pressures (read: NIMBY-ism).  Meanwhile, the most centrally located mall in the Coachella Valley, Westfield Palm Desert, gained foothold as the Valley’s best mall – a designation that still holds true today.

The 2000s were extremely unkind to Indio Fashion Mall.  In 2003, plans emerged once again to expand and renovate the tiny center, but were slowed due to the departure of Sears in 2004 for a much larger store at Westfield Palm Desert.  Then, during the late 2000s recession, Harris-Gottschalks closed in 2009, leaving the mall anchor-less for the first time in 35 years.  More stores began leaving in droves, leaving quite a few vacancies in the mall, as well as more mom-and-pop style stores that mostly cater to a Hispanic clientele.

With the latest stint of decline, management decided to rename the mall from Indio Fashion Mall to Fiesta Mall and give it some cosmetic updates such as a new coat of southwestern-styled paint inside and out.  The renaming was probably a wise decision, because calling this place a ‘fashion center’ is a bit misleading.  A leasing flyer indicates the mall is located at the busiest intersection in the eastern valley, with over 53,000 cars passing daily, and that one of the former anchor tenants – Gottschalks – is going to become a cinema.  The former Sears is up for sub-dividing, and it’s possible the mall’s corridor would continue through the former store if a large enough suitor cannot be found to lease the entire space.

As of June 2010, the only national chain stores in the mall are Anchor Blue, GNC, and Foot Locker.  But their days may also be numbered, as the mall continues sans anchors – like a ship without a sail.  However, an aggressive marketing campaign, combined with the mall’s location and visibility, should help turn things around.  Westfield Palm Desert is 11 miles away along Highway 111, and the 100,000-plus residents in the east valley should be able to support a better mall than this.

We visited Indio’s Fiesta Mall in June 2010 and took the pictures featured here.  Feel free to leave your comments, questions, and anecdotes here.

Peach Tree Mall (Feather River Center); Linda/Marysville, California

The Feather River Center is located just southeast of downtown Marysville, in the unincorporated community of Linda. Originally constructed in 1972 to serve the rural Yuba-Sutter metropolitan area an hour north of Sacramento, the 400,000 square foot center was dubbed simply “The Mall” at the time and is to this day the only major retail center in Yuba County. For 14 years, the center was the largest retail draw in the area, serving the mostly agricultural/military population in this part of the Central Valley. Due to the absence of information about the mall on the internet, I have little sense of what the mall’s anchors were. The southernmost anchor strongly remembles many of the Kmart stores built in the mid-70s, especially the mall-based ones, and I wouldn’t be shocked if either of the other two anchors was a Sears or a Montgomery Ward. Given how long it’s been since this mall was a viable retail center–and given my lack of awareness of the area’s smaller regional retailers–there’s not really much guesswork (or labelscar investigation) to do.

In 1986, the Yuba-Sutter area endured a devastating flood that left many areas around Marysville and Yuba City under water, and it was especially devastating in the Linda and Olivehurst area. The mall was flooded to the ceiling and was effectively destroyed in the floods. As a result, planning began almost immediately to replace the mall on higher ground, with the larger Yuba Sutter Mall in Yuba City. Yuba City–across the river from Marysville and Linda–was where much of the area’s new population growth and development was beginning to occur. Yuba County, which includes the Linda and Olivehurst area, is one of California’s poorest and the impact of the floods worsened this trend considerably. (This UC Davis paper on migration trends in California’s northern Central Valley details many of the larger trends impacting the area in the 80s and 90s).

Despite the devastation of the flood and the flight of retail dollars to the new Yuba Sutter Mall in Sutter County, the mall soldiered on post-flood as the “Peach Tree Mall,” but it appears this wasn’t successful in the long-term, if the dated and worn appearance of the outside of the mall is any indication. The mall more or less failed completely as a retail center at some point and was renamed the “Feather River Center” and used as a home for county and medical offices. It appears that the last of these functions exited the mall in 2006 or 2007, however, leaving it almost completely abandoned today. The only tenant in the center is a FoodMaxx store occupying the anchor at the mall’s southern end.

As of 2007, there was news that the mall may be slated for redevelopment. Several proposals were being circulated–and there were stories in the news–that the site was due to be sold for redevelopment as a cluster of big box stores, likely featuring usual suspects like Home Depot and Target.

Truth be told, it’s not often nowadays that you find a mall that’s as abandoned and as forgotten as the Peach Tree Mall. Dead mall “tourism” means that most of these places were long ago heavily documented on Flickr, but this one strangely hasn’t and there’s almost nothing about it on the internet. It’s a creepy, sad place and I didn’t honestly want to stay anywhere near it for long, hence my sort of crappy photos. Maybe people in the northern Central Valley don’t care, but if you want to buy it, it’s for sale: $10 million even.

More Links:

UPDATE 8/12/2012: We received an email from a man who has been a resident of the area for a long time and worked as a contractor on the mall who was able to fill in some of the mystery. The Peach Tree Mall was constructed in 1972, but not in its entirety; the entire southern half (by Kmart) was an expansion in 1984, not long before the flood. The original northern anchor stores were a Pay-N-Save drugstore in the northwest corner of the building and a Safeway in the northeast corner. Just south of the corridor south of the Safeway on the front side of the mall was a Chuck E. Cheese Pizzatime Theatre. The large tenant space south of the Pay-N-Save Drugs on the west (back) side was a regional sporting goods store which was one of the few tenancies to include a basement.  The two-story largest tenant space on the west at center was a J.C. Penney store open from 1972 to February 1986 (flood).

On the west side of the building, south of the J.C. Penney store, there is a public exit corridor that exactly aligns east-west with a change in the front line of the east side (front) of The Mall, which was the southern end of The Mall, as originally constructed in 1972.

The “K-mart” looking facade fronts a public corridor, part of an expansion completed circa 1984.  The actual K-mart occupied the space presently occupied by the Food Maxx Store, with the glass front entry of the K-mart facing north along the main interior corridor of The Mall.  The large space at the rear west side of The Mall, was a four-screen movie theater, one of the few tenants to return for a while after the 1986 flood.

Contrary to other posters: Sears was never a tenant.  Some time in the late 1950’s Sears was in Marysville, but relocated to Yuba City in its present location approximately 1962.  There has never been a Macy’s store in The Mall.  Montgomery Ward was located in Marysville, near Hwy 20 at I Street until it closed in the late 1990’s. Also, we neglected to mention one other active tenant at the mall today: a Les Schwab Tires in the former J.C. Penney Auto Center at the front of the mall.

Westfield Oakridge; San Jose, California

San Jose is the third largest city in California, and the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, trumping even the region’s more famous namesake city in population. San Jose, however, is a much different kind of city than San Francisco: sprawling and modern, built mostly in the automobile age, this formerly agricultural metropolis with around 1,000,000 residents is the hub of the world’s high tech industries, with many computer manufacturers and internet companies (Apple, Google, HP, etc.) all calling the region home. The San Jose MSA–even viewed separately from San Francisco–is one of the highest-income metropolitan areas in the United States and also amongst the most expensive places to live.

Because San Jose is mostly suburban in character–with much of it built in the post-war era and cris-crossed with massive boulevards and defined by tract housing–it’s surrounded by a bigger crop of malls than much of the rest of the Bay Area. We’ve already discussed the most prominent dead one–Cupertino Square/Vallco Fashion Park–but here are some tidbits about the most significant one serving the city’s mostly middle-class southern flank.

Westfield Oakridge (formerly known as “Westfield Shoppingtown Oakridge” or, originally, just “Oakridge Mall) is a large shopping mall located on the south side of San Jose, in the Almaden/Blossom Hill area. One of three malls along the Blossom Hill Road corridor and the largest by far, the mall is one of the largest and most dominant malls serving Silicon Valley and one of the largest overall in Northern California. Westfield Oakridge was originally built in 1971 by The Hahn Company, with anchors Montgomery Ward and Macy’s. A Bullock’s store was added somewhat later. Bullock’s closed in 1983 and was replaced by Nordstrom in 1985, when Nordies acquired all of Bullocks stores in the region. Unfortunately, the store underperformed and was sold to Sears in 1994, and they continue to occupy the space today.

Westfield bought the mall in 1998 and did their standard rebranding deal wherein they make the logo look like every other Westfield mall on the planet. Bigger changes came the following year when Target replaced bankrupt Montgomery Ward to anchor the mall’s eastern end in 1999. As you can see from the photos, the exterior of this Target store is *really* cool and modern but with quite a bit of the hip old verve of the department stores of the old days. I have to give Target credit; their mall anchor stores (and even their standalone multi-level stores) have some of the best new department store architecture today.

In 2003, Westfield decided to significantly upgrade and expand Oakridge with a $150,000,000+ renovation that added a new multiplex Century Theatres and tacked an entire new parallel wing in front of the old mall. This is a fairly standard tack for Westfield (they’ve done similar at other malls in Northern California, including Westfield Valley Fair and Westfield Roseville Galleria) and it created a distinctive “racetrack” design and significantly expanded the size and dominance of the one-level mall. Borders, Old Navy, and Nordstrom Rack (originally Linens N Things) also complete the roster as junior anchors, and there’s a restaurant row outside of the mall along the side facing Blossom Hill Road.

East Hills Mall; Bakersfield, California

The East Hills Mall in Bakersfield, California is the smaller of the two malls serving this central valley city, and is one of California’s most troubled malls. All of the anchor stores–Harris, Gottschalks, and Mervyn’s–in the 415,000 square foot center have shut, and it serves an area of Bakersfield that is impacted heavily by both crime and the housing crisis of the late 2000s.

During the height of the economic collapse last winter, I took a trip to one of the most threatened malls in California: Bakersfield’s East Hills Mall. It doesn’t take a genius to see why this place is having a hard time, because it has practically everything stacked against it:

  • Its anchors are/were Gottschalks (which was, at this point, a few weeks shy of announcing that they were going out of business), Mervyn’s (whose stores had all just shuttered), and Harris, who were acquired several years ago by Gottschalks. The Harris store at East Hills Mall was shuttered a few years ago. This leaves only a United Artists Theatre as a major anchor tenant in the center.
  • It’s located in California’s Central Valley, one of the regions of the nation most heavily impacted by the precipitous drop in housing prices from 2007-2009
  • It’s located on the *EAST* side of Bakersfield, which is a higher-crime and lower-income part of town.
  • East Hills Mall isn’t a terribly large mall overall.

First, just a few notes about Bakersfield itself. Bakersfield is one of the largest cities in California’s central valley, located about 100 miles north of Los Angeles and due west of the Mojave Desert. The region has long been known for its oil production and agriculture, and was one of the prime spots for migrants from the Dust Bowl during the depression. As a result, the region has long held the honor of being California’s most conservative city, due to the influence of Evangelicalism and country music (Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were both from here, and Bakersfield is sometimes referred to as the Nashville of the west). In recent years, however, Bakersfield’s identity has been transforming from its Okie past as new residents–mainly from the Los Angeles area–have come to the area in search of cheaper housing. In addition, a significant number of immigrants from locations as diverse as Mexico, Phillippines, and many countries in the middle east and northern Africa. Bakersfield has even become known as something of a destination for Basque food, which isn’t easy to find just anywhere. Despite the city’s considerable growth, however, it does not remain much of a cultural hotbed, and has significant issues with poverty and crime (as well as a nasty history of racism), and its hot, dusty climate is one of the least favorable in California. With a population of around 330,000 in the city proper and approximately 800,000 in the entire metropolitan area, Bakersfield is the third largest inland metropolitan area in California after Sacramento and Fresno.

The East Hills Mall is one of only two enclosed malls serving the Bakersfield metropolitan area, and is the far smaller of the two. Unfortunately, there’s also almost nothing about the history of this unloved mall floating around on the internet. Judging by the architecture, it appears that the 415,000 square foot mall was probably built sometime in the late 1980s. Although we know Harris and Gottschalks were former anchors, I’m not entirely sure if the third anchor was originally a Mervyn’s–something about the architecture of the store tells me it may have been a Target originally (and there is a Target on the outlots of the parcel) but I’m not entirely sure if the timeline matches up for Target to have been in California at the time. I also wouldn’t be shocked if one of these anchors had at one point been a Montgomery Ward or a Robinson’s-May, but I am really guessing here. It does appear that the mall’s decline began a long time ago–late ’90s-ish, and was sold in 2003 to a developer who had a plan to modernize and expand the center, especially to cater to the growing suburban area in the city’s northeast hills. Bakersvillians, help us out!

When I visited in early January 2009, there was a robust plan to redevelop the center, bringing in new tenants and adding more of an entertainment and dining focus. A year later, the anchorless East Hills Mall filed for bankruptcy, its hopes dashed by the low likelihood of a housing rebound in this somewhat depressed corner of California. While the mall remains open, it serves as little more than a lobby for the movie theatres and a handful of local merchants who have been able to survive with so little foot traffic. The bankruptcy itself may also force even more dramatic changes–such as the (possibly likely) outcome that the mall will be demolished and completely replaced. Given its condition, that may not be a terrible option.

Coddingtown Mall; Santa Rosa, California

Santa Rosa's Coddingtown Mall, early 1960s
Santa Rosa's Coddingtown Mall, early 1960s

Coddingtown Mall, in the Sonoma County city of Santa Rosa, is one of the largest and oldest malls north of San Francisco along the California coast. Unfortunately it seems to be a bit troubled nowadays, but historic mall geeks may find a lot to love. Let’s take a look:

Coddingtown Mall opened in 1961 just off US 101 in the city of Santa Rosa, the population and business hub of California’s wine country region. The Coddingtown Mall’s most notable feature is a spinning neon pylon–original from its construction–that continues to spin today. Look:

I had a bit of a hard time cobbling together much history about the center, but it apparently began as an outdoor mall before being enclosed sometime later. Although the 800,000 square foot mall’s recent anchor roster was Gottschalk’s, Macy’s, JCPenney, and Ralph’s supermarket, the Gottschalk’s wing is of somewhat newer vintage and the Macy’s store was almost certainly originally an Emporium location.

Due to the Coddingtown Mall’s age and the fact that it began life as an outdoor mall, it has some pretty neat interior and exterior architecture. The inside, in particular, caught my eye; the mall’s corridors are wide and sunny, adorned in wood beams as a nod to the redwood-filled nature of this part of Northern California, and there are various grade changes throughout. It seems most modern malls are on sites that were so heavily graded before construction that there’s none of these interesting slopes and sub-levels anymore, but these variations make the interior of the mall more entertaining and pleasant.


Codding Enterprises, owners of the mall, were aware by 2005 that the aging center would need an upgrade to keep up with the larger and newer Santa Rosa Plaza in downtown Santa Rosa, so they inked a deal with Simon Property Group to update and revamp the aging plaza. From a 2005 newspaper article:

A hint of what those changes might be can be found on Simon’s Web site, which shows a “proposed bookstore” where Big 5 Sporting Goods is located. A “proposed restaurant” is also shown over the Narsi’s space, while another “proposed restaurant” and “proposed theater above retail” are shown in the space where Old Navy is located.

One of the first fruits of the Coddingtown Mall redevelopment appeared in 2008, when an expansion project began to replace the former Ralph’s grocery store with a Whole Foods–somewhat of an unusual choice for an enclosed shopping mall–but construction on this has recently halted as a result of the economy and the mall’s increasing misfortunes. Whole Foods claims they are committed to open the store by fall 2010, however. During the same timeframe, one of the mall’s three main anchors–Gottschalks–went out of business, creating a large vacancy that will prove difficult to fill.


The photos here were all taken in October of 2008–just about a year ago–and show that while the mall isn’t exactly thriving, it’s filled with a mixture of national and local tenants and seems to be hanging on. However, this was fairly soon after the economic collapse of 2008, and as a result the mall has fared somewhat worse since–just check out this article from the Press Democrat about how many stores closed in early 2009.

As the closures continued, the local half of the ownership team–Codding Enterprises–stepped back in to take a more active role in managing the center, apparently unhappy with Simon’s inattention to the center’s decline.

More on Coddingtown Mall: