29 September 2013

South Hill Mall, Puyallup, WA

An extant asset

One of the many quirky things that I've always loved about the Seattle and Puget Sound region of western Washington is all of the out of the ordinary place names. There are settlements with the monickers Cle Elum, Enumclaw, Index and Mukilteo; Skykomish, Tulalip and Issaquah. And in the middle of it all is the state capital with, perhaps, the most out of place name of all, Olympia. Over the years, I've become pretty well versed at correctly pronouncing each of these vales, but I've just never seemed to articulate the name of the home of South Hill Mall, Puyallup, on a consistent basis. I mean, is it Pew-yallup? Pee-wallup? It just doesn't roll off of the tongue for some reason. At least they have a pleasant and prosperous, if not cookie cutter, indoor retail facility.

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

One of the things that struck me about South Hill Mall was how far out in the sticks it was. From neighboring Tacoma, we went down a highway whose environs became more and more rural as we passed. Just as the banjo music began playing in my head, we turned off of that highway and onto a two lane country route surrounded by rolling green hills and bored looking livestock. Then we happened upon a small village before crossing paths with an impressive looking roller coaster and ascending a hill. Then BOOM- we were back in the city. And there next to a spontaneously appearing limited access freeway and surrounded by acres of peripheral retail was a sprawling, one level facility straight out of the eighties. Our back country adventure had led us to a mall.

TL- The mall's theater entrance abuts the passing freeway and almost no parking. TR- Macy's on the western expansion. BL- Sears looks even more plain when viewed next to the much more elaborate Macy's. BR- The former Mervyn's store in the original section of South Hill is now JCPenney.

The first thing that couldn't be missed was a two storey, grey-toned Macy's that towered over the rest of the single level, white-washed building. Then there was a small JCPenney, next to a less small JCPenney which were both tucked away just to the right. I decided to take a stroll around the facility's exterior and it was then that I noticed just how spread out South Hill really is. The walk seemed to take forever. After passing the twin Penny's, there was a Dick's, then a Target, followed by movie theaters with an elaborate glass entrance hidden in the back of the facility, before some strange unattached shed came into view neighboring a bland, completely unremarkable Sears.

South Hill Mall's interior. Or is it Northgate? Or Everett Mall?

The interior consisted of contemporary stonework, neutral wood tones and gold accents, pretty much the template of other malls in this area. I'm wondering if this scheme is a Pacific Northwest thing or is this palette nationwide? Kind of like the use of pastels and neon in the nineties. Anyway, the most curious thing that I noticed is that this is the only single level mall I've ever been to with a graded parking lot. The eastern two-thirds of the structure is higher up, while the west third slopes downward with the hill, giving the interior in that corridor the appearance of a gently rising mountain trail, albeit one with Zales Jewelers and Aéropostales in the place of route markers, towering evergreens and Sasquatch.

L- South Hill Mall in the early 2000s. R- South Hill Mall today, minus Target's ET.

South Hill Mall opened in 1988 in the South Sound town of Puyallup abutting highway 512. It originally opened with only three anchors, Mervyn's, Lamont's and Target, and with only about one half of its present enclosed area. In 1994, the west wing was added along with the anchors JCPenney, Sears and The Bon Marché. In later years, Old Navy was added while Office Max came and went. The Bon Marché became The Bon-Macy's before converting to a full Macy's while the Lamont's first became Gottschalk's before closing completely. A Linen's N Things and Circuit City split its space and after each hit the financial rocks, Dick's took over. Mervyn's eventually shuttered its doors along with the rest of the chain, allowing JCPenney to double their footprint from their rather small original location.

South Hill Mall aerial. (Source)

South Hill Mall is a nice little place and continues to perform very well. It is one of only two enclosed retail facilities in suburban Seattle-Tacoma's Pierce County, so I don't expect it to go anywhere soon. People these days seem to love their malls with plenty of Lane Bryants', Sbarros' and minimal personality, ensuring South Hill's survival for decades to come.

South Hill Mall's official website

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