A dead mall
In all of my years working with the airlines, I never managed to make the trip to San Diego. Part of the reason why, even as a Navy brat growing up in coastal communities, is that I no longer really care all that much for the sun and beaches. I love places more like my own, temperate with all four seasons. But I still wanted to see the city, and there were two major reasons why. As an airliner enthusiast, the dramatic approach into Lindbergh Field….
...And the place that made its debut more than thirty-five years ago and opened as the centerpiece of downtown in another time and age, the super regional urban center, Horton Plaza.
Years ago, when I first saw pictures of the outdoor, urban shopping complex, I was fascinated. The earthy, pastel tones. The geometric shapes used as design elements. The neon accents and dark glass peppered in. Of course, this was the nineties, so that kind of stuff didn't suck yet.
When I finally got the chance to see the downtown monolith in 2019, I knew that it was already in serious decline. The Nordstrom had closed and Macy’s hung on in its seemingly perpetually precarious position. I needed to see it before, like most malls of its type such as Downtown Plaza in Sacramento and the Saint Louis Centre, it was reduced to dust and photographs. I was lucky enough to capture both before they were gone.
I was greeted by the twin spires of Horton Plaza Park on Broadway. And just behind them was what I though was a rather handsome façade. I was disappointed in a way; I wanted obnoxiously nineties. So I walked under the fuchsia, multi level skybridge into the empty main corridor of the mall.
I was definitely not disappointed by the interior, which had to have been envisioned by set designers from Saved By the Bell. It was like a marriage of the classics Labyrinth and Ruthless People. But upon a closer look, the vibrant colors were dull and fading. And there were no people anywhere on this gorgeous Saturday afternoon.
Framed by the glass boxes of San Diego’s downtown skyline, Horton is definitely a relic of the past. Its odd angles and split levels were a joy to explore, even though they were reminiscent of Lego being randomly stacked together by a five year old. But I loved all of it. I wish I could have seen this place in its prime; full of everything from business women sporting the shoulder pads to teenagers in Jncos hanging out in the corners. It would have been beautiful.
Horton Plaza made its debut in 1985 and was immediately embraced for its groundbreaking architectural variety. It quickly became THE destination in a city already blessed with such treasures as the Gaslamp Quarter and the Whaley House. Its main corridor ran diagonally from northeast to southwest, the latter corner opening into the Gaslamp. Though I am not sure who the original anchors were, Nordstrom and Macy’s bookended the facility for much of its lifespan. It contained five inconsistent levels, around 100 stores and just over 750,000 square feet.
Its centerpiece was Jessop’s Clock, which was moved from the front of the eponymous jewelry store located downtown. The complex saw much growth and success through the rest of the eighties and nineties, but the new millennium provided challenges to it and its downtown located shopping mall peers. Nordstrom closed in 2016, leaving their hulking, G Street store as a blank face on the edge of the Gaslamp. It suffered through several suicides from its top levels, a manhunt for Christopher Dorner and a high profile murder in 2017 before finally closing in 2019.
Macy’s closed their doors after the rest of the mall in 2020. It is now being redeveloped into the Campus at Horton, a mixed-use complex featuring retail and commercial spaces. Demolition began in May 2020. Though it’s sad to see another ground-breaking retail facility be once again rendered obsolete, at least I was finally able to receive the Horton experience one time.