09 June 2024

Downtown Plaza, Sacramento, CA

 A dead mall

My family and I were spending a few days in the Bay Area in 2008 when they decided to do some sightseeing.  Having visited the same region several instances during my years with the airlines, I decided to go off on my own adventure as one can only take in the sights and smells of Fisherman’s Wharf so many times.  Where did I go that day?  I took a short drive inland to California’s capital city, Sacramento.

1- The downtown skyline from the Sacramento River.  2- Downtown from the California State Capitol lawn.  3- The California State Capitol building.  4- One of the many murals downtown.  5 & 6- Scenes of Old Sacramento.

Back in those days, urban vertical shopping malls were still a pretty common feature in city centers.  Horton Plaza was still bringing them in with its unique architecture while Pacific Place and MacArthur Center were still finding success.  I was on my way to see the City of Trees’ own central retail destination, Downtown Plaza.

1- The Macy’s second location, formerly Weinstock’s.  2- The Fifth Street underpass.

After a quick walk through the city’s tourist district at Old Sacramento with its genuine old west theme featuring souvenir shops and microbreweries, I crossed under the steel arch welcoming me to downtown proper.  And just beyond that ornate entrance I could see my destination.

Downtown Plaza lease plan ca. 2011.  View the full PDF version here.

Though not fully enclosed, most of the common area was fairly sheltered from the elements.  The double tiered facility ran for several city blocks between Seventh and Fourth Streets with a portion running over Fifth.  At the time there was only one anchor, Macy’s, though the brand held two separate locations.

1- The eastern entrance of Downtown Plaza. (Source)  2- View of the original Macy’s.  3- The central rotunda during a gala event.  4- The court and mezzanine in front of the original Macy’s.  5- Christmas coming to Downtown Plaza.  6- The center hosting a sandcastle competition. (Source for 2 to 6)

The common areas, adorned in accents suited to weather the elements, were highlighted by an impressive rotunda located right at its heart which played host to scores of community events over the years.  It boasted standard fare for malls of its age such as American Eagle and Payless Shoesource mixed with several entertainment destinations.

Downtown Plaza came to be in 1971 as a hybrid open-air/enclosed facility built to compliment the downtown Macy’s outlet that had been in business since 1963.  One of the earliest examples of its kind, it soon welcomed a second and third anchor with Weinstock’s and Liberty House opening their own locations in 1979 and 1981 respectively.

1- The wrought iron arch welcoming visitors from Old Sacramento.  2- What’s left of the main entrance during reconstruction in 2017.  3- The 1963 Macy’s store.  4 to 6- The new Downtown Commons as a work in progress in 2017.

Liberty House’s short tenure ended in 1984 when they were replaced by I. Magnin, which itself departed in 1992.  The structure was then integrated into the common area of Downtown Plaza.  Weinstock’s was darkened in 1995 and reopened in 1997 as a second Macy’s location.

DOCO Mallmanac ca. 2022.  View the full PDF version here.

After my initial visit in 2008, many changes came to Downtown Plaza.  I was witness to some of them in my last visit in 2017.  By then, a large portion of the old building had been demolished.  Only the former Liberty House, a small portion of the mall in front of Macy’s and the Macy’s itself were kept.  Where the balance of the retail facility once sat was built the Golden 1 Center, home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

1- A new sign announcing DOCO near the Fifth Street underpass that was kept for the new development.  2 to 5- The Golden 1 Center and its surrounding plaza where the mid-section of Downtown Plaza once stood.  6- Macy’s next to the Golden 1 Center.

Overall I like what’s been done with what was once Downtown Plaza.  Now named Downtown Commons, it is mostly referred to as DOCO.  It now exists as an entertainment district to compliment the Golden 1 Center and once again is a valuable asset in the city’s central business district.

Shadybrook Mall, Columbia, TN

 A dead mall

In the nineties, the small city of Columbia, Tennessee was absolutely booming.  Located in between Nashville and Huntsville just off of I-65, the community of Spring Hill just to the north was awarded one of the first large scale automobile manufacturing plants in the south, the Saturn plant.

Goody’s.  (Source for both)

My uncle was employed there as an engineer upon its opening, so we made the short trek from Huntsville quite a few times to their cozy little subdivision just to the northern outskirts of the rapidly expanding town.  On one of my early visits to their abode, I got to visit for the first time a retail destination with which I would become very familiar, Shadybrook Mall.

Shadybrook Mall Mallmanac ca. 2002.  View the full PDF here.

I was rather impressed with Shadybrook upon my first visit.  Most small town enclosed shopping malls are of the garden variety dumbbell layout, a straight line main corridor with a single anchor at each end.  But Shadybrook was a full cross shape in the tradition of places like Hickory Hollow Mall, albeit as though someone had put it in the dryer.

1- The mall entrance next to Sears.  (Source)  2- JCPenney exterior.  (Source)  3- The former JCPenney comes down.  (Source)  4- Demolition work at Columbia Mall.  (Source)

The interior was very neutral, also in the tradition of small town enclosed centers.  There was a Sears and JCPenney anchoring each end of the main corridor while Goody’s home was at the far end of the cross concourse.  In the middle was a small center court boasting a diminutive water feature.

Shadybrook Mall Mallmanac ca. 2010.  View the full PDF here.

I really loved visiting the tiny complex on James Campbell Boulevard and would even stop by occasionally on trips from Huntsville to Nashville even after my uncle had departed for greener and less cult-y pastures in South Carolina.  It was small, simple and inviting.

1- The Peebles mall entrance.  2- The Sears entryway to the mall.  3- Christmas time at Shadybrook Mall.  4- Columbia Mall in its later, more vacant days.  (Source for all)

Shadybrook Mall opened its doors in 1981 as a nearly 300,000 square foot enclosed retail facility hosting three anchors.  The arrival of the Saturn plant brought more national names to the mall, but after a while it was feeling the effects of CoolSprings Galleria’s presence in nearby Franklin with more pain coming from the eventual discontinuation of the Saturn line.

Shadybrook Mall proposal ca. 2023.  View the full PDF here.

By the late 2010s, nearly all tenants had departed besides JCPenney, several military recruitment offices, a few stores and an outpatient center.  Shadybrook Mall, which had been redubbed the bland moniker Columbia Mall a few years previously, was dead.

Columbia Mall was demalled in the early 2020s while the Maury Regional Medical Center moved their oncology department into some of the existing square footage. And while Columbia, being in the shadow of booming Nashville, is experiencing accelerated growth of their own, it’s unfortunate that Shadybrook Mall won’t be a part of it.