15 May 2013

Southcenter, Tukwila, WA

An extant asset

6 April 2024

On my first ever visit to Seattle, my eyes were glued to the massive evergreens dotting the urban landscape. They were fixated on the snowcapped Cascades framing the entire urban area just to the east. Then, as we turned north onto I-5 from the airport, something else stole my attention. It was a Nordstrom. Then a Sears. Then a huge freaking Bon Marché, whatever the hell that was. Those red brick structures were all connected by a flat yet expansive one level monolith. This was the Southcenter Mall.

Southcenter Mallmanac, ca. 2001. View the full PDF version here.

Southcenter's location makes it almost impossible to miss as visitors enter the city's winding highway system for the first time. And it makes for a really nice first impression, with big industry names like Nordstrom and Macy's displayed prominently. In its present state, Southcenter is three levels of glass and stone enclosed capitalism, crowned by a massive AMC Cineplex. It lets first timers know that, without a doubt, this mall and this city are both big time.

1- 2003 shot of Southcenter's exterior, including the now defunct Bon Marché.  2- The eastern façade including JCPenney in 2003.

The first time I actually visited Southcenter was in 2001. It was classic old school design sheathed in old school architecture. The first thing impossible not to notice was the massive Bon Marché flanking the mall. It dominated the otherwise supine façade and dwarfed the neighboring Nordstrom located just to the west. Its red brick silhouette was only broken by the repetition of its signature tapered columns of concrete. It was an absolute mid-mod beauty.

Southcenter Mallmanac, ca. 2004. View the full PDF version here.

The interior was quite intriguing as well. The corridors were wide and topped by floating, high vaulted ceilings. The palette of the mall seemed to alternate somewhere between white and off-white. I would have loved to have seen the mall in its glorious 1960s color scheme, but that was all updated away long ago. Another legacy of its sixties design remains to this day- a lack of natural light. In the midst of even more of the mall's trademark tapered columns, small skylights allowed almost none of the sun's rays to reach the inside. I'm sure this worked well for the moody, dark interiors of decades past, but it seems to be requisite for today's shopper to have plenty of light. To make up for this absence, bright, almost harsh luminescence now bathes the mall in an unnatural glow.

1- Southcenter's main entrance. 2- The 2000s addition and AMC theaters behind Sears.  3- Looking east toward Southcenter's front façade.  4- The new main entrance topped by the AMC Theaters. 

After my last visit in 2004, I didn't visit the Seattle area again until 2008. By then, and on my next trip to Southcenter, I was in for quite the surprise. I had read online that the mall was being expanded, but I had no idea that it was being changed to the extent that it was. An entire three level corridor of shops, dining and entertainment was added to the mall's front side between Sears and JCPenney along with two multi-level car parks. Finally, the sprawling one level creation of the sixties was going vertical.

1- The high ceilings just inside the new atrium. 2- The second level food court sits directly beneath the third floor entertainment complex.  3- Where old meets new at Macy's central entrance to the mall. 4- The massive food court in the new addition. 5- A view of the two-level portion of the expansion. 6- A maze of glass balconies and mezzanines crisscross the new space.

The expansion included a food court on the second level with outdoor seating and a view of Mount Rainier. An AMC Cineplex was placed on the third level along with access to rooftop parking. Although still located in the suburbs, Southcenter was no longer just your average suburban styled mall. It had grown into a full scale urban center, more along the line of Philippine malls like Shangri-La Plaza. Its curved concourses, off center escalators and huge atriums make the already immense mall seem that much larger.

-UPDATE- Southcenter lease plan, ca. 2011. View the full PDF version here.

Something that I like best about Southcenter is that with all of these new additions and updates, a lot of the older, classic elements are still in place. The Bon Marché, though signed as Macy's today, still retains that original red brick visage lined with those same white tapered columns. The huge JCPenney, only slightly smaller than the Macy's, is just as representative of the architectural elements that were popular at the time of the mall's conception. The dark brown brick contrasts perfectly with the brutalist cage-like ornamentation adorning the outer walls and framing the JCPenney nameplate. The only way this could have been more perfect would have been if the old Penney's logo from the seventies were still on display.

1- The exteriors of Sears and Nordstrom. 2- The flat profile of the mall's original enclosed portion between the two anchors. 3- The eye-catching Macy's, originally a flagship Bon Marché. 4- The backside of the mall, where Macy's prominence is now shared by that of the third level of the expansion.  5 & 6- The entire exterior profile of Southcenter’s rear-facing side.

Southcenter opened in 1968 at what one day would be the interchange of Interstates 5 and 405. It was created by Allied Department Stores as they hoped to bring the success they had seen in Northgate and Tacoma malls to a site in between those two centers. The original anchors were The Bon Marché, Nordstrom Best, Frederick & Nelson and JCPenney. In 1992, Mervyn's was added just as Sears was taking over the Frederick & Nelson spot.

1- Nordstrom’s entrance.  2- The AMC Theaters, Sears and the Rainforest Café.  3- The striking façade of JCPenney, one of only two original 1968 anchors to remain. 4- At 240,000 square feet and three levels, JCPenney is the mall's second largest anchor. 5- Looking north from the JCPenney to the former Mervyn's store. 6- Seafood City now occupies the former Mervyn's.

In 2002, the mall was purchased by Australia's Westfield and was renamed, per their horrible standard, Westfield Shoppingtown Southcenter. I always hated the Shoppingtown moniker that they haphazardly inserted into the names of all of their American acquisitions, and I was quite happy when they discontinued the silly word's usage in 2005. In 2006, Mervyn's closed their store just as Westfield embarked on the above mentioned expansion. It would bring the mall's size up from 1.3 million square feet to 1.7, making it the largest mall in the Pacific Northwest.

Southcenter Mallmanac, ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.

To this day, Southcenter is definitely my preferred mall in the Seattle area. Seafood City, a market specializing in Filipino brands and cuisines, anchors what has become an Asian wing in the mall outside of where Mervyn's once stood. Philippine chains Jollibee, Chow King and Red Ribbon have opened as well. And I'll gladly take extensive public transportation every so often just to get a taste of Jollibee's Burger Steak with mashed 'taters, one of the few things I miss from the Philippines. Thanks, Southcenter.

1- Jollibee with their Chickenjoy. Ang sarap, talaga!  2- Seafood City anchors the Philippine wing of the mall. 3- A rare shot of Jollibee without fifty people in a line stretching out into the main mall corridor. 


6 April 2024

Since my last update more than a decade ago, not much has changed at Southcenter.  Considering the state of malls today, this is actually welcome.  One of the most atypical situations is that there has been no anchor shuffling in this time.  This is extraordinary when you consider that, one, Southcenter has four traditional full line anchors and, two, one of those is a Sears.

1- The main mall access and JCPenney from Andover Park Way.  2- Some of the outdoor facing shops on Southcenter’s front exterior.  3- The main entrance atrium.  4- Looking east toward the main mall entrance and the JCPenney parking deck.  5- Another shot of Southcenter’s main entrance.  6- The entrance on the mall’s west side between Nordstrom and Sears.  7- The entrance abutting the Sears store to the left.  8- The same entrance from the second level walkway connected to the Sears parking deck.

Southcenter continues to hold its title as the retail behemoth of the entire Puget Sound region.  Still boasting close to a one hundred percent occupancy rate among its interior selection of shops, neither the pandemic nor the economy seemed to have much of an effect on Washington state’s largest indoor retail facility.

1- Just inside the main entrance.  2- The inside of Southcenter’s main entrance from the second level food court.  3 & 4- The eastern half of the spacious food court.  5- Looking up toward the third level.  6- Popeyes and the food court’s western half.  7- The second level expansion looking toward Sears.  8- Looking east from the second level of the expansion.

One of the most recent additions to Southcenter is the build out of what Westfield is calling Restaurant Row.  Located on the northern face of the facility centered around the mall entrance, three restaurants will anchor the new development with more slated to be added in the future.  The first two concepts to open will be Mr. Dim Sum and Gen. Korean.

Southcenter Mallmanac ca. 2014.  View the full PDF version here.

The pavement outside of the restaurants will be expanded to feature outdoor and patio dining areas for each exterior facing eatery.  New lighting, walking paths and calming features and accents will be constructed as well.  Eventually, Westfield hopes to add a total of fifteen new eating establishments to the new district and the entire complex.

1- Round 1 Bowling and Amusement on the upper level of the former Mervyn’s.  2- Southcenter’s north entrance looking east toward Round 1.  3 & 4- The north entrance is the site of the future Restaurant Row.  5- Macy’s to the west of the future Restaurant Row.  6- The barely readable labelscar from The Bon Marché.  7- Some of the classic mid-century lines of the Macy’s store.  8- Macy’s and Nordstrom from Southcenter’s rear.

Atop the Seafood Marketplace Asian supermarket on the upper floor of the for Mervyn’s department store a new entertainment complex has joined the tenant list.  Round 1 Bowling and Amusement opened in 2021 and offers bowling (obviously), billiards and video games.  A few of the other latest retailers to make their debuts at Southcenter include Shake Shack, JD Sports, lululemon and Cotopaxi.

1- A now closed off Sears entrance from the second level.  2- The JCPenney parking deck and Mt. Rainier from the roof.  3- The rooftop parking area and mall entrance.  4- The AMC Theaters.  5- A view of Macy’s and Nordstrom from the rooftop parking.  6- Macy’s and the center court of Southcenter’s older portion.  7- Nordstrom.  8- The Sears from the roof.  There used to be a label placed on this side, but one was not added after the remodel.

I personally haven’t made the trek out to Southcenter in several years.  I definitely haven’t been since before the pandemic.  I finally made my way out on a sunny and relatively warm day in late March of 2024.  Knowing that not much had changed at Southcenter in the preceding years, my main objective was to visit one of the last of its kind.  In fact, one of only twelve left in the country.

1- Immediately inside one of the third floor access points from the roof.  2 to 4- Looking toward the main entrance from the third level.  5- The AMC Theaters on the third level.  6 & 7- Asian themed spring decorations in Southcenter’s original concourse.  8- One of the trademark out into the corridor, fifty foot lines coming from Jollibee.

I had come to make what may very well be my last ever visit to what was formerly the world’s largest retailer, Sears.

Sears at Southcenter pamphlet ca. 2018.  View the full PDF version here.

Being from a blue collar military family, stores like Woolworth, Montgomery Ward and Sears were frequented much more than the upscale names sharing the same malls such as Liberty House, Jordan Marsh, Thalhimer’s and Parisian.  I even worked at the Ward’s at Parkway City Mall before it closed.  But while the bankruptcy of the old catalog retailer was a blow to many of my childhood memories, this agonizingly slow demise of Sears is simply unbearable.

The exterior of the Sears store, one of only 12 remaining in the US as of this writing.

Over the past decade or so the number of the venerable retailer’s locations in the Seattle metropolitan area has been reduced from nine to just one.  Between King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, the locations at Everett Mall, Alderwood, SODO, Aurora Square, Overlake Fashion Plaza, the Commons at Federal Way, South Hill Mall and Tacoma Mall have all been shuttered.  Southcenter’s is now the only one remaining.

1 & 2- Sears upper level mall entrance.  3- Just inside the second level entrance.  4- The sparsely filled large appliance section.  5- The bedding area with little decoration on the walls.  6- Empty floor space on the second level.  7- Looking toward the closed off upper level entrance to the parking deck.  8- All access to the third level, as well as the escalator, has been shut off.

Southcenter’s Sears seems to keep their own schedule, with the doors only unlocked between 11 and 7 daily while the rest of the mall is open 10 to 9 every day but Sunday.  Though the nameplate on the exterior has been updated to their latest minimalist logo, it only appears on two of the walls whereas it used to be proudly displayed on all four.  Several of the exterior facing entrances are no longer accessible, but, hey, it was still open and that was what mattered.

Southcenter Mallmanac ca. 2024.  View the full PDF version here.

I entered through the upper level mall egress and immediately found myself with bedding to my left and large appliances to my right.  It was obvious that much of the lighting was reduced to save on electricity while the walls themselves were stripped of most signage.  It looked as though the store would be going out of business at any minute, which does seem like a possibility considering the way that Lambert has handled the retailer over the past couple of decades.

1- Sears lower level was much less depressing than the second.  2 to 4- The clothing section.  5- A walled off section of the first level.  6- Empty floor space in the accessories section.

While the balance of what was once the middle level was scarcely stocked, with much open space near the second level exterior entrance, the third level had been closed off completely.  It was extremely despairing to witness.  I’ve seen Big Lots that were more inviting.  It was more reminiscent of one of those off-brand, locally owned clearance outlets that pop up in vacated anchors of once viable shopping malls.

1- The escalator leading to the upper level.  2- The central corridor of the first level was the only well-lit part of the store.  3- Looking toward a closed off exterior entrance.  4- The nearly empty jewelry displays.  5- Looking into the Sears store from just outside of the first level mall entrance.  6- The lower level mall entry.

The bottom level was slightly more robust, though there were several walled off sections down there as well.  Nearly all of the merchandise seemed to be selling at a deep discount and there were no more traces of the smells and vibrance that once made me smile as soon as I walked into their doors as a kid.  I purchased a Craftsman socket set and will be holding on to the receipt as a memento of my final purchase ever made from Sears.

What may be my final purchase ever made at a Sears store.  Too bad that it’s not the same quality that my dad bought 30 years ago.

I planned on exiting through the upper exterior doors, but they were locked and no longer in use.  They displayed messages imploring the reader to discover more.  But there was nothing to discover.  Just stained carpets and moribund employees who will be the last to scamper off of the sinking ship.  But there was another sign hastily tacked up next to it stating This isn’t good-bye.  Unfortunately, I would have to agree.  The Sears Roebuck and Company that I grew up with said good-bye a long time ago.


  1. Seahawks will win Super Bowl 51. I guarantee that

  2. I believe that Seafood City only occupies the lower level of Mervyn's. I'm not sure what the upper level is used for these days, if anything.