23 May 2013

Tacoma Mall, Tacoma, WA

An extant asset

The aroma of Tacoma was quite evident as I stepped out onto the city streets of the south Sound city on a crisp morning not too long ago. Seattle's blue collar, industrial neighbor down Interstate 5 holds neither the recognition nor the affluence of its much larger companion to the north, but it's a nice little community in its own right. In certain places, at least.

L- The main entrance plaza. R- One of the peripheral mall entryway's design motif.

Previous to my recent outing to the nearly fifty year-old shopping complex, I had only been able to catch glimpses of the Tacoma Mall from the abutting freeway as we quickly passed through. All that my eyes were able to catch would be very difficult to miss; there was a hulking off-white block of a building adorned with rather pedestrian access point ornamentation and the brand name JCPenney just off center. To the north of that monstrous structure was the dark burnt sienna shaded exterior of the Sears anchor. From my limited vantage point, the facility seemed to be anything but noteworthy, but I was hoping for a few surprises on my initial up close trek.

Tacoma Mall Mallmanac, ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.

The chilly and overcast morning gave way to a comfortable and mostly sunny early afternoon as I traversed the acres of asphalt toward Pierce County's oldest and most sizable extant retail complex. In proximity to the front entrance was the obligatory open air collection of storefronts surrounding an outdoor plaza. It was cleanly designed and executed, but these additions have been implemented to the point of bordering on cliché. Just behind the plain and mainly subdued newer construction, hidden from salient view were remnants of the mall's long forgotten original facade. There, the masonry consisting of varying shades of crimson and cherry still stood proudly in all of their dated luster.

TL- The newish facade of Nordstrom. TR- Forever 21, in Nordstrom's former location, is the mall's newest anchor. BL- The rusty Sears contains a unique second level overpass connecting the main structure to the auto center, with room for automobiles to pass underneath. BR- JCPenney, yeah...

Under its roof, the Tacoma Mall conspicuously displayed the vintage trademarks that it shares with its sister developments closer to Seattle. The ceilings, painted white, of course, were vaulted upward while at certain intervals incorporating modern, new build skylights that actually permitted a significant amount of sunlight to illuminate the corridors. Tapered white columns with blonde brick bases were distributed all about the concourse, culminating at the complex's soaring central focal point adjacent to Macy's frontage of the mall. Nordstrom, located at the plaza's far western edge, used a perfect combination of subtlety and class to mark their access to the common area.

Besides the logo on the walls, the original Bon Marché anchor has thankfully changed minimally as the years have passed.

The food court is a relatively recent addition to the Tacoma Mall, but its decor already seemed a bit tired and dated. The selection of food retailers was average at best, with standard fare like Subway, Sarku and Orange Julius offering their calorie and preservative laced products. What made this particular food court notorious, however, was how it had the most consistently aggressive sample givers with whom I've ever crossed paths. Each business offering some sort of plate lunch, regardless of ethnic basis, wanted me to try the dozen or so slightly differing ways they had prepared their chicken, with each complexly named dish in no way distinguishable from the next. I gave up after a couple of rounds and ended up getting a pretzel dog at Auntie Anne's which, after a couple of bites, I proceeded to drop on the floor. Damn gravity.

TL- The enclosed portion of the mall leading to the main entrance. TR- Macy's and its extravagant court. BL- The tapered columns lined up in front of the former Bon Marché. BR- Patrons gather outside of Nordstrom's well designed and inviting court .

Tacoma Mall opened in 1965 as the second of three Allied Department Store built venues to be constructed in the Puget Sound region. Northgate Mall, in Seattle, was the first while Southcenter, in Tukwila, was the most recent. In contrast with its peers, information on the history of this center has been difficult to locate, so I really don't have that much to go on. As far as I can gather, The Bon Marché, Sears and JCPenney were among the original anchors. I'm not sure if Nordstrom-Best was part of that premiere lineup, but at some point they occupied a pronounced two-level structure on the front face of the mall. At some point, Mervyn's was added as the far western anchor before closing up shop sometime in the 2000s. Nordstrom then took over that idle pad and switched their position after either an extensive renovation or a complete rebuild of the old Mervyn's spot. Forever 21 eventually took control of Nordstrom's vacated smaller, yet more prominently placed location.

L- Tacoma Mall's anchor positions while Mervyn's was still in business. R- Tacoma Mall as of this writing.

The signature of each Allied venue is their flagship store locations. Each is located prominently on the flanking side of their respective malls. Each originally opened as The Bon Marché and have since been converted to the Macy's brand. Virtual clones of one another, the facade of each structure is endowed with uninterrupted faces of scarlet brick immediately fronted by a series of repeating, identically tapered white columns. The store's label is always placed saliently at the highest point accented by three flagpoles rising directly above. And though the remainder of each of these venerable retail destinations may go through numerous updates as trends and preferences evolve, one can only hope that they'll keep doing what they've done in the past, nothing. I really hope that nothing is ever done to alter the famed and unique outward appearances of the vintage Allied stores.

Tacoma Mall's official website

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