27 December 2014

The Commons at Federal Way, Federal Way, WA

An extant asset

One of the more unconventional, non Native-American town names that I've come to know in the Puget Sound area is Federal Way. Seattle's suburban neighbor is located smack in between the major city to the north and Tacoma to the south. And in that town, located directly beneath the final approach to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's runways, I first noticed our next venue on an evening arrival into my favorite city in the early 2000s. It was nothing special from my vantage point a few thousand feet up, just a simple linear vessel of shops, but a mall nonetheless. However, with my not normally straying to that end of the metro, it would be another decade before I'd finally see the old place up close.

The Commons at Federal Way Mallmanac, ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.

It seemed to take forever to arrive at the mall's oversized porticos on that sunny day in the spring of 2013. I had to hire the services of three buses and a train to get all the way down to The Commons. And what I found was your average, run of the mill, seventies built and early new millennium re-imagined mid-size regional. One of only a handful of malls in the area without a Nordstrom, it offered center of the road fare with anchors like Target, Sears and Macy's. The selection of shops lining the wide interior were of the similar vein, with mall standards like American Eagle, Payless and Lane Bryant in the mix. The interior offered several stunning shades of white, but without the wood accents ubiquitous to other malls in the area.

TL- One of the two oversized entrance porticos. TR- The backside of the mall between Sears and Macys. BL- Another of Sears plain, brick boxes from the seventies. Though unremarkable to many, I do love the simple styling over the stucco and faux crowning used today. BR- I loved the wooden styled entrances at Macy's. They were definitely my favorite feature of The Commons at Federal Way.

I entered through the Target located at the eastern terminus of the mall. When it was time to enter the main concourse, boy, was I in for a treat. There were no bright lights, ficus trees or uncomfortable wooden and tile benches to greet me. No, it seemed that area was in a state of destruction. That entire end was being extensively torn apart, so I was greeted by a plywood tunnel over a concrete walkway, all there protect me from the progress surrounding me. The Commons at Federal Way was in the midst of a retraction of square footage, shedding the dead square footage, as many malls are apt to do these days. Right-sizing seems to be the best strategy for survival for a lot of these mid-range facilities.

L- The Commons at Federal Way in the early 2000s. R- The Commons layout around 2010.

One of the things that I remember most about the Commons, and in not so much of a complimentary way, was the food court. Or, perhaps, a more proper description would be the food closet. Just past the tunnel of timber and across the spacious Century Theaters in a forgotten nook seemed to be the hastily designed and gathered collection of grub counters. The ceilings were low, the ambiance was lacking and the lighting was sparse. Few names were recognizable and its absence of patrons revealed to me that my thoughts on the atmosphere were pretty well universal. In testament to this lack of fare, I ended up getting a sampling of the dry as stone baked chicken fingers at the Target lunch counter. Mmm.

One of The Commons at Federal Way's two main courts. At Christmas. Ho, ho, ho.

The Commons at Federal Way opened in 1975 as the Seatac Mall, which is a strange moniker when you realize that there is an actual city of Seatac located a few miles to the north. It would be kind of like naming The Bellevue Center (in downtown Bellevue) Issaquah Place or something. It is the only enclosed shopping center between Tacoma and Tukwila and serves most all of the south King County trade area. It opened with four anchors, Seattle based Lamont's and The Bon Marché in addition to Mervyn's and Sears. Through the years, Mervyn's was replaced by Target, Lamont's switched to Gottschalk's before the Century Theaters took their place and Macy's took over The Bon Marché. Sears is the only original anchor remaining. Kohl's and Dick's Sporting Goods were only very recently added.

L- The Commons at Federal Way in 2014. R- The Commons, from almost the same angle where I first saw it. (Source)

The Commons, which adopted its present, more proper name in the early 2000s, anchors what the suburban hamlet describes as their downtown. And the mall seems to be doing well enough. Although there have been many changes over the course of its life, including being the home of the original Cinnabon (which today makes numerous airports smell so much tasier,) it still seems to attract an adequate clientele. Though not flashy or over-the-top, it's still packing them in even after four decades. Which is much more than a lot of newer shopping malls can boast.

The Commons at Federal Way's official website

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