30 July 2023

San Francisco Centre, San Francisco, CA

 An extant asset

The vertical urban center mall has always been a risky proposition to build, especially in medium sized markets with Norfolk's struggling MacArthur Center and the largely vacant Edmonton City Centre being well known examples.  Although there are a small number of success stories, like Spokane’s River Park Square, most see a few years of prosperity before finally fading away.

One of the main entrances.

Only in major cities did they seem to work.  That is until recently, it seems.  Seattle’s Pacific Place is empty even on workdays, San Diego's Horton Plaza is being redeveloped and the Saint Louis Centre was closed nearly two decades ago.  And yet another that seems to be heading for rough times is the iconic San Francisco Centre.  Nordstrom has announced their departure and Westfield, the mall’s owners, have put the facility on the market.

San Francisco Centre lease plan ca 2011.  See the full PDF version here.

On a recent summertime visit, the mall still looked healthy enough at first glance.  Bloomingdale’s was still doing business as usual, the vast majority of the inline spaces were occupied and even the curved escalators (the first to be built in the western hemisphere) still offered a unique visual experience.  Unfortunately, what’s affecting San Francisco Centre most is the degradation of the surrounding area.

1- The entrance from the Powell Street BART Station.  2- The entrance off of 5th Street.  3 & 4- The food court.  5- Bloomingdale's mall entrance.  6- One of Nordstrom's mall entrances.

This was my first visit to downtown San Francisco in five years, and the area on Market Street has changed immensely.  Even as someone who lives in central Seattle, I found the area to be a bit rough.  Hopefully the community can rebound, but with major tenants such as Nordstrom and the nearby Target departing, it’s difficult to be optimistic.

1 & 2- Looking up from the basement level food court.  3 to 6- The interior of San Francisco Centre.

San Francisco Centre opened in 1988 as the San Francisco Shopping Centre with Nordstrom and Emporium-Capwell serving as anchors.  By the mid-nineties, the mall hit its stride and became one of the nation’s most successful retail properties.  After Emporium's bankruptcy and departure around this time, Macy’s used the space temporarily while their downtown location was being renovated.

More of the mall's interior.

The mall was expanded and renovated in the mid-aughts before reopening as the mixed-use Westfield San Francisco Centre in 2006.  Newly added were a Bloomingdale’s as the second anchor, a nine screen cineplex and even a downtown campus for San Francisco State University.  The nearly twenty-year-old mall was flourishing, culminating in winning the International Council of Shopping Center’s award for the best-of-the-best in design and development.

San Francisco Centre mallmanac ca 2017.  See the full PDF version here.

Not long after, by the early years of the 2010s, crime was starting to become a factor.  This only accelerated with the pandemic and the emptying out of downtown San Francisco’s office workers.  But the past year has probably been the most difficult.

Exterior shots of San Francisco Centre

I spoke with a soon-to-be former employee of one the closing stores and they told me that they loved the location and the people.  But with the recent increase in smash-and-grab crimes as well as mobs of unruly people becoming more common, it was difficult to be optimistic about its future.  Personally, I’ve always loved the mall and always make it a stop on any trip to the Bay Area.

The curved escalators.

The city is starting to plan ahead for what will be standing on the corner of Market and 5th in the coming years.  Some suggestions include a purpose-built soccer stadium, recreation spaces or food halls.   Much like Pacific Place, if the entire facility is not torn down, non-traditional mall tenants may be an option.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

San Francisco Centre official website

Stonestown Galleria, San Francisco, CA

 An extant asset

Stonestown Galleria reminds me a lot of Seattle’s Northgate Mall.  Both were the only suburban style shopping malls within their respective densely populated city’s limits and both have seen plenty of recent changes, altering their footprints almost entirely.  But at least one of them is still standing.

Stonestown Galleria lease plan, ca. 2011. View the full PDF version here.

My one and only visit to Stonestown was on a cloudy and chilly yet normal for San Francisco morning in March of 2017.  Just a quick trip on the Muni M line from the Balboa BART Station brought me to the two-level, mainly straight-line barbell shaped development.  On the south end was a Nordstrom with a non-standard serif font used in their nameplate.  On the other end, announced on a wall standing much higher than the rest of the facility, was Macy’s.

Stonestown's front facing exterior.

Inside, the concourses were well trafficked and all decked out in the splendor of early-aughts décor.  There were your average mall stores such as The Children’s Place, Hot Topic and White House/Black Market with much of the inline spaces occupied.  The upper-level food court offered a variety of options and Nordstrom and Macy’s were still bringing in their patrons.  I would have never guessed that, not long after, so many changes would come.

Nordstrom's exterior and mall entrances.

Stonestown Galleria opened in 1952 as the Stonestown Shopping Center with The Emporium serving as the lone anchor.  Joining them were mid-century retail staples Walgreens and Woolworth as well as a supermarket and movie theater.  It wasn’t until 1977 when a second anchor, Bullock’s, opened at the opposite end of the complex from The Emporium.

Stonestown Galleria pamphlet, ca. 2020. View the full PDF version here.

Stonestown’ s first major renovation came in 1987 when a second tier, a food court, a glass ceiling and new parking was added.  At this point, the “Shopping Center” was dropped in favor of the “Galleria” moniker that it still goes by today.  Not long after, Nordstrom opened on the southern end in the space formerly occupied by Bullock’s.

Interior shots of Stonestown Galleria.

The Emporium became Macy’s in 1996 and the mall seemed to chug along with few changes until the late 2010s.  Macy’s announced plans to close their store just after my visit and was shuttered the following year.  Nordstrom followed suit in 2019, leaving the mall with no traditional anchors but with only a small Target located adjacent to the former Nordstrom.

Macy's exterior and mall entrance.

Stonestown Galleria has taken these shots in stride, with Target expanding and a Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and a Shake Shack joining the list of tenants.  From all indications, the mall remains as vibrant as can be expected.  In the very least it’s still standing and there doesn’t seem to be much discussion about its demise, which these days is about the best one can hope for.

Stonestown Galleria Mallmanac, ca. 2022. View the full PDF version here.