Logo horizontal ruler


The Rebirth of a Mall

By Jorge Casuso

April 20 – A key corner of the city came full circle and an era ended with a bang last week, when the old Santa Monica Place sign came crashing down amidst the smoke of an explosion.

Thursday’s ceremony -- featuring a marching band, fireworks and confetti -- marked the end of a major retail venture and launched an ambitious remodel of the Frank Gehry-designed shopping mall that opened with much fanfare in 1980.

Macerich VP Randy Brant (left) and Mayor Pro tem Richard Bloom cheer the explosion. (Photo courtesy of the Bayside District Corporation)

When it opened nearly three decades ago, the three-floor air-conditioned cornucopia of shops would siphon traffic from Third Street, turning the century-old strip into a nightly ghost town lined with bargain chains and second hand shops.

But after the Third Street Promenade was launched a decade later, the mall slowly declined, leading Macerich Company officials to embark on a major remodel that will tear off the roof and connect the struggling venue to the wildly successful outdoor mall.

“This is a very auspicious moment in Santa Monica history,” said Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom.

“There is much to look forward to as the project gets underway,” said Randy Brant, Macerich’s vice president in charge of development.

Third Street Entrance (Images of mall remodel courtesy of Santa Monica Place)

Slated to open in the fall of 2009, the new mall will feature an open-air courtyard, upscale shops and a food court on the top floor with sweeping ocean views.

During the remodel, only Macy’s will stay open, along with the mall’s two public parking structures, which will get a makeover that includes adding stores on the ground floor facing Broadway and parking attendants, under a plan approved by the City Council in March.

The plan also adds 100 spaces for bicycles and solar panels on the roofs of the structures, which total nearly 2,000 spaces and are owned by the City’s Redevelopment Agency and currently operated by Macerich.

But the major remodel will take place inside the monolithic 550,000-square-foot structure, connecting it to the existing urban fabric and increasing available open space and pedestrian walkways under a plan City officials enthusiastically embraced.


The centerpiece of the new design is a round open-air plaza with wide passageways that connect the mall to the Promenade to the north and the Civic Center to the south.

A key component will be moving the food court, which was at the Promenade entrance, from the ground level to a third-floor sundeck, where tables under the shade of umbrellas will provide ocean views between the stores.

The remodeled mall will retain the two anchor department store buildings -- one of which has yet to be leased -- and maintain the existing building height of 56 feet, while reducing leasable square footage by 10,234 square feet.

Macerich officials expect the remodeled mall to draw shoppers from the upscale Westside and “serve an enviable set of socially-conscious, smart and worldly consumers,” according to a statement released by the company last December.

Dining Deck

The remodel was proposed after the City Council shot down a plan presented by Macerich in January 2005 to tear down the outdated structure and replace it with a podium of stores that held a park, an office building, an apartment complex and three condo towers.

Original proposal

Starting from scratch and taking their project straight to the people, Macerich officials embarked on a scaled back redevelopment shaped by the lessons learned from residents who weighed in on the aborted plan.

While mall officials are banking on the thriving Promenade to revitalize Santa Monica Place, the mall's birth 28 years ago was in turn an effort to revitalize the deteriorating central business district by building an indoor shopping center at the southern end of the pedestrian-only street.

Santa Monica Place when it was built in 1980 (Historical photos courtesy of the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum)

Even before it was built, an environmental impact report (EIR) on the proposed project warned that the new mall and existing strip "would be in substantial competition if they are not made to be an integrated complement of one another.”

Opening ceremony

Despite the objections of community activists, there would be no stopping the proposed development, and the Frank Gehry-designed building, which spanned two full city blocks, was inaugurated in 1980.

Santa Monica Place injected much-needed energy back into the traditional commercial district of the City, but only at the expense of the outdoor shopping precinct. Nearly 30 years later, the tables had turned.

Now Macerich, a Santa Monica-based real estate investment trust that bought the mall in 1999, is heeding the 1974 EIR and turning the indoor mall into an "integrated complement" of the Promenade.

For a history of Third Street read the two part special Lookout report "Pedestrian Paradise," November 7, 2003 and "Paradise Lost and Regained," December 11 2003.





Lookout Logo footer image
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.
Footer Email icon