03 March 2024

Plaza Frontenac, Frontenac, MO

 An extant asset

South and west Saint Louis County seem to be where the commercial action is in the metro area.  It is here where three different upper-mid to upscale enclosed shopping malls exist within short proximity to each other.  Des Peres is home to West County Center.  Richmond Heights boasts the ever popular and enduring Saint Louis Galleria.  But the most interesting of these, also the smallest and most upmarket, is located in the small first ring suburb of Frontenac, the eponymous Plaza Frontenac.

1- The main entrance of Plaza Frontenac.  2- The front exterior looking to the north.  3- The front toward the south.  4- The façade boasts quite a few chimneys.  I wonder if they are actually used.  5- The full front face of Plaza Frontenac excluding Neiman Marcus.  6- The far southern section of the mall abutting Neiman’s.

I had no knowledge of Plaza Frontenac’s existence on any of my previous visits to the Gateway City.  I just happened upon it years later while researching my original post for the Saint Louis Galleria.  From above, it was only a basic and diminutive double tiered complex with an anchor at opposite ends.  Essentially, it was laid out as an older style barbell.  But what made Plaza Frontenac stand out was the nameplates of those two anchors- Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

The Neiman Marcus exterior.

One of only a handful of malls to host both upscale brands, Plaza Frontenac really doesn’t look at all like your average shopping mall, especially one designed and built in the early seventies.  From the exterior, the plaza utilizes colonial architectural elements such as large porticos, a number of multi paneled windows (both faux and real,) stately white columns at the major entrances, and is dressed in classic red brick.

Plaza Frontenac Mallmanac ca 2011.  View the full PDF version here.

It was a crisp and chilly Saturday morning just a half hour or so before most of the stores’ openings when I made my visit.  The hub of a rather quaint commercial district just south of Interstate 64, it’s difficult at first glance to realize that this is not some historic college building or late nineteenth century sanitorium.  At least not until the distinctive logos of Saks and Neiman’s can be seen on either end.

The western facing rear side of Plaza Frontenac.

The interior of the main concourse could not deviate more from the classic edifice of Plaza Frontenac.  Just past the main doors the inviting and contemporary seating areas, polished pine floors and modern skylights allowing an abundance of natural light into the corridor contrast sharply with the vintage look of the façade.  But this juxtaposition absolutely works.

The Saks Fifth Avenue store.

Plaza Frontenac first debuted in 1974, though the fifty year old structure today looks much healthier than a lot of centers that have been around for fewer years.  Built for the wealthy residents of the Mid-County area, the two anchors have been on the tenant list from the very beginning, a true rarity for a second generation suburban shopping mall.  Saks moved from their location in Central West End while Neiman Marcus opened as part of a nationwide expansion.

In and around Plaza Frontenac’s center court.

In the ensuing years, two major competitors were added the Plaza Frontenac’s trade area.  West County Mall originally opened in 1969 but served more of a mid-market clientele through the turn of the century.  When rebuilt as a more upmarket destination in 2002 as the West County Center complete with a Nordstrom, it pulled shoppers away from the west.  Saint Louis Galleria made their debut in the mid-eighties with a Lord and Taylor that has since been rebuilt as another Nordstrom.  However, with their unique brand selection, Plaza Frontenac has held their own despite its much larger neighbors.

1- The center court from the upper level.  2- Tasteful Easter décor in the Neiman Marcus wing.  3- The upper level mezzanine leading toward Neiman’s.  4- The mall entrance for Neiman Marcus.  5- Looking north up the south concourse.  6- The southern corridor’s second tier.

Today, Plaza Frontenac is home to an enviable selection of upscale merchants, rivaling those at peers such as Phipps Plaza in Atlanta and The Mall at Green Hills in Nashville.  Besides the venerable anchors, high end names such as Tiffany and Co., Gucci, Allen Edmonds and Indochina also call the retail destination home.  Pottery Barn also boasts a rather significant presence both on the second level and in a forward facing out lot. 

Plaza Frontenac Mallmanac ca 2023.  View the full PDF version here.

I have to say that I was very impressed with Plaza Frontenac.  I admire that it has always remained pretty much the same as it was on its opening day without any ostentatious additions that in today’s retail environment would just amount to vacant dead space.

1- The northern wing from center court.  2- View looking north toward Saks.  3- The northwestern mall entrance and Saks.  4- The upper tier of the northern concourse.  5- Saks Fifth Avenue’s mall entrance.  6- View looking south from the Saks wing.

These smaller establishments, like Huntsville’s Parkway Place and Honolulu’s Kahala Mall seem to do well as they weren’t overbuilt just to now be left with abandoned anchors and darkened corridors.  These types of places will hopefully continue to navigate the evolving retail landscape just fine.

1 & 2- Unique treatments adorn the rear facing mall entrances.  3- The Canyon Grill.  4 to 6- Plaza Frontenac’s forward façade.

1 comment:

  1. It looks inviting without seeming imposing.