20 March 2022

Los Angeles Mall, Los Angeles, CA

 A dead mall

When I do my trips, I do plenty of vetting beforehand, especially with Google Maps.  That’s how I’m able to find some of the little known treasures on this site, such as New Landing Mall in Kansas city.  I hate to admit this, but Captain D’s is one of my favorite gross, disgusting comfort food places and since they don’t have any in the Pacific Northwest, when I travel I like to check for locations at my destination.  There was one in KC, but I also noticed this drab building across the street from it that looked a bit mall-like.  It turned out to be just like the old, sixties fabulous shopping center that I love discovering.  This was not how I found the Los Angeles Mall.  I came upon this place by pure luck alone, but I’m so glad that luck was on my side that day.

Scenes from the sunken portion of the North Mall Plaza, home to the mostly empty food court.

Although times are changing, there was a well-worn phrase back in the day that nobody goes to downtown LA. Me, I don’t care what city I’m in, the CBD is always a must-go-to destination.  I had arrived earlier in the day at Ontario International Airport which, at least back in 2018, looked like the airport version of a dead mall.  I took the long but "scenic" Metrolink train from the Fontana station to Union Station just to the northeast of the main downtown core to begin my trip.

Los Angeles Mall advertisement, ca. 1981.  See the full PDF version here.

Walking to the southwest on Los Angeles Street just past Highway 101, I faced the iconic Los Angeles City Hall building.  But in its shadow was something I had no idea existed, and had I not been the retail hound that I am, I would have missed it.  The signs labeled it Los Angeles Mall.  It was an empty, sunken plaza in the middle of a bright and busy downtown.  I couldn’t wait to walk down the steps to explore.

1- Looking down into the North Mall Plaza.  2- The food court.  3- The "indoor" mall portion.  4- This portion connects the North Mall Plaza to the South Mall Plaza.

What I found was a treasure trove of mid-twentieth century modern and brutalist architecture harmoniously coexisting in what looks to be an unchanged state since its opening.  It was like I had taken a time machine back to the seventies.  Underneath me was dark tile and brick.  All around me were the sparse ornamentations, clean lines, and ample foliage that are some of the trademarks of the two movements.  I loved it all, but as this was a surprise find, I did not know the significance of the Triforium sculpture and Howard Troller bridge, so I only caught passing glances of each.

More of the covered portion of the mall running beneath East Temple.

Los Angeles Mall opened in 1974 and was intended to be a new “town square” for the young but bustling city.  It has never contained any traditional anchors but was more designed as a place where people could gather for both business or recreation.  It was filled with various art installations, including the aforementioned Triforium sculpture.  The two main plazas are the South Mall Plaza, which lies next to the brutalist City Hall East and the North Mall Plaza, which contains the Triforium sculpture as well as a sunken area abutting the former children’s museum and featuring the center’s food court.

1- A mall directory that really needs updating.  2- Exiting the covered portion at the Sunken Palm Court.  3- The sunken North Mall Plaza.  4- The Sunken Palm Court.

Unfortunately, the mall has never seen much success.  The children’s museum was moved around the turn of the millennium and the complex, while relatively clean, doesn’t see much traffic outside of the area’s homeless population.  There are plans to demolish the facility, though no concrete plans have been put into action.  Having never fulfilled its promises, the land that Los Angeles Mall sits upon presents the area with new possibilities for revitalization.  I hope the city takes advantage of it.  

1- Empty tables at the Sunken Palm Court.  2- A view of the Triforium Sculpture and the Troller bridge in the distance.

Los Angeles Mall on Wikipedia

16 March 2022

Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA

 An extant asset

Sun over Santa Monica

Santa Monica is famous for quite a few reasons.  Known mainly for its pier, I was always more attracted to the Third Street Promenade, that famed string of shops home to the fictional Mario’s Magic Shop and Chuck’s Bike-O-Rama where Pee-Wee’s bicycle was stolen.  At the southern end of that celebrated row is the retail anchor of the area, Santa Monica Place.

The Santa Monica Pier

It was a quick trip to Santa Monica on the Metro E Line from downtown LA, but the crowded, high-end feel of the area was in large contrast to the quieter scene downtown.  Located just two blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, on my visit in 2018 the three-story outdoor shopping mall contained 90 small shops mainly housing premier brands, 475,000 square feet of gross leasable area and was anchored by top-end department stores Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.  The third level food court sits mainly unblocked from the sun and was spacious enough to serve as a reprieve from the throngs of tourists below.  After a busy day, it was nice to relax.

Santa Monica Place lease plan, ca. 2011.  See the full PDF version here.

The first shopping mall designed by architect Frank Gehry, Santa Monica Place originally opened in 1980 housing 120 stores and restaurants on its three tiers. JW Robinson’s and The Broadway were the two anchors but were replaced by Robinsons-May and Macy’s, respectively, in the mid-1990s.  A major remodel was carried out in 2010, with the interior corridors completely redesigned to the present layout. It was then that Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s joined the line-up.  

1- The entrance off of Fourth.  2- The second level.  3- Looking up toward the third floor food court.  4- The Nordstrom mall entrance.

Not all times have been rosy for the mall.  In the mid-2000s, a proposal was put forth which would include a complete demolition of the facility to be replaced with a mix of high-rise offices and residences.  Being out of character for the low-rise nature of the neighborhood, the scheme was never advanced past the planning stages.  More recently, Bloomindale’s, a subsidiary of the ailing Macy’s chain, closed its store in 2021.  But there’s not much to worry about with Santa Monica Place; with the pier close by and Pee-Wee’s bike having been recovered after an exhaustive search, the complex should be just fine.

13 March 2022

The Arcade, Cleveland, OH

 A relic of retail

In my opinion, The Arcade is the true gem of downtown Cleveland.  I was always fascinated by pictures that I'd seen online, but I knew that those pixels were probably failing to do the structure any real justice.  I had to see it with my own eyes.  And I was not disappointed.  The Arcade is spectacular.

1- The entrance off Euclid.  2- Looking North.  3- A closeup of the storefronts.

The entrances to the Arcade, located on Euclid to the south and Superior to the north, somewhat obscure the beauty held within their walls.  They merely look like two of many turn of the twentieth century, run of the mill (though handsomely built) façades forming man made canyons over the thoroughfares. 

The Arcade.

As I took these photos walking down the main gallery, I had to stop often just to reflect on the history of where I was standing.  I wanted to give proper admiration to the craftsmanship of the copper and wooden elements; to take in the brass covered atmosphere of another time.  It was like I had stepped out of a time machine and was more than happy to savor the experience.

Under the atrium.

The Arcade opened in 1890 and is regarded as one of the earliest examples of an indoor retail facility in the country.  Born during Victorian times, in addition to the five-tiered arcade, two nine story buildings were constructed.  It was first renovated in 1939 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The Arcade Leasing Pamphlet ca. 2019.  See the full PDF version here.

Designed as a nod to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy, its construction was financed by some of Cleveland’s wealthiest businessmen.  With a few structural upgrades, The Arcade soldiered on through most of the twentieth century before time started taking its toll.

The Arcade.

Through the latter part of the twentieth century, the Arcade was decaying. It stood neglected and empty for far too long, forgotten in the shadow of newer competition such as the Tower City Center.  The 1980s and 90s were tough times for many large cities’ downtown, and the Arcade was becoming another victim.

The Arcade.

Finally, in 2001, a massive upgrade was taken out on The Arcade.  The Hyatt Company added one of their namesake hotels to the list of tenants, taking tenancy of the upper three levels of the main corridor.  A food court was added to the southeastern end, and the entire complex was completely refurbished.

At the northwest end.

I walked away from The Arcade still in complete wonderment.  It is definitely one of my favorites and joins the likes of Country Club Plaza in Kansas City and Ala Moana Center in Honolulu as special places I have been more than privileged to have seen myself.

The Arcade.