Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mall Memories - San Mateo Fashion Island

Rummaging through my mall directory collection, I found this vintage directory for San Mateo Fashion Island. Lasting barely a decade, this mall opened in the early Eighties with Bullock's, Liberty House, JC Penney, and Montgomery Ward as anchor tenants. It also featured a movie theatre and food court surrounding an elegant ice skating rink. The mall opened to great fanfare and was popular for a short time. However, both Bullock's and Liberty House nearly simultaneously shuttered their Northern California stores. They were locked into leases at Fashion Island, so both stores had their only Northern California location here. Each barely dropped a dime into advertising. Bullock's closed first and Liberty House nearly a year later.

This directory was printed between that time, about 1983-4, and features the hottest in Eighties fashions (including red nylons).

Eventually, the mall's vacancy rate skyrocketed. The Bullock's was built with a unique Teflon tent roof, which made it costly to heat and cool. No store wanted to take on such a liability. A sports store eventually moved in, but it failed shortly thereafter. The empty Liberty House once housed a Whole Earth Access store, which closed after the concept failed. Eventually, the mall was sold and renamed "The Island." It was to be rebranded as an entertainment destination since the theatre and ice rink both remained popular. Eventually, Montgomery Ward's fell into hard times and closed. Penney's, too, decided to close. The mall was torn down and replaced by a power center, Bridgepointe.
How I do remember the brown tile floors. I also remember the layout being confusing because you were constantly questioning which direction to walk. If you made the wrong turn, you ended up outside, the food court, or somewhere else. In addition to the failures of the anchor stores and the strength of San Mateo's other mall, Hillsdale Shopping Center, I think Fashion Island's layout was the nail in its coffin.


Anonymous said...

That's a great story. I remember seeing pictures of that Bullocks but I thought it was in Southern California. Thanks for clearing that up :-)

Georob said...

I'm trying to remember the timeline, but Hillsdale getting Nordstrom(the Bay Area's first) was,in my opinion; the beginning of a very long end for Fashion Island.

Both Walnut Creek's and Stonestown's Nordstroms are former Bullocks, and had Fashion Island's followed suit, I'm guessing the story would have been quite different. I recall Macys being quite concerned about Nordstrom in the 80's, making it very likely that they would have opted take over the Liberty House building as a strategic move.

As for Hillsdale? Well obviously Fashion Island got them motivated enough to renovate and expand. But had they not gotten Nordstrom, I'm guessing Macys would have maintained stores at both malls for at least a few years. However, we know that Macys opted not to expand into Hillsdale's Emporium when Federated bought it in '96(Sears is there now)

Additionally, the Macys at Hillsdale is HUGE(four floors, if I recall), so any decision to move the whole thing to Fashion Island would have required expanding the old Liberty House store. Then again, they could have taken over the old Wards when it went down in 2000, had a second store, and finally left Hillsdale

Again, my timelines are fuzzy. Did the Hillsdale Nordstrom pre-date Bullocks demise? (Macys didn't own Bullocks yet, correct?) Was it the circus tent roof that caused Nordstrom to go to Hillsdale? Who knows?

I do know this. Fashion Island was the first "Dead Mall" I ever saw.

BIGMallrat said...

If my timeline is correct, San Mateo Fashion Island opened in 1981.
Nordstrom came to Hillsdale in 1982
Bullock's closed in 1983.
Liberty House closed in 1984.
Had San Mateo Fashion Island been able to lure Nordstrom, no doubt that Hillsdale mall would have been given the wrecking ball. It's older and has a poor location. Instead, Hillsdale managed to convince Nordstrom to open there, along with a major renovation, which significantly changed things for Hillsdale. They now had the "wow" factor. I can still remember the commercial on the radio: "Hillsdale, it's inviting, Hillsdale, it's exciting. More than any other shopping center, it's happening at Hillsdale now."
Seems like we saw the construction of a number of malls in the early Eighties based on the availability of department stores (Santa Rosa Plaza, San Mateo Fashion Island, Stoneridge Mall, and NewPark Mall). San Mateo didn't have Liberty House, Bullock's, Penney's, or Montgomery Ward in 1981. Here it is nearly 30 years later and there STILL isn't a Penney's in San Mateo.
Funny thing about the Teflon tent roof. Nordstrom moved into an old Bullock's location at Oakridge Mall in San Jose. It, too, had a Teflon tent roof (much smaller than San Mateo). Nordstrom actually closed that store. Now it's a Sears and the tent roof is long gone.
I used to work in Fashion Island Mall in 1988. We were the last store down a corridor that lead to the closed Liberty House and Bullock's. They eventually sealed off the mall there so you couldn't raise havoc, I suppose. Even when Whole Earth Access was open, it didn't draw many people. By that time, the bad Feng Shui had already driven everyone off.

BIGMallrat said...

Get this... I found a letter dated March 1986 from San Mateo Fashion Island in response to my inquiry about Bullock's and Liberty House. Both stores were still open at that time. In fact, my personal records from October 12, 1986 still show both stores open. So, either Bullock's closed in late 1986 or early 1987 and Liberty House closed in 1987.
The mall also was 830,320 sq. ft. with 137 stores, if full. In March 1986, the mall was 84% occupied.

BIGMallrat said...

I found a newspaper article. Liberty House closed in April 1987 and Bullock's late 1986. I updated Wikipedia.

Georob said...

Of all the malls that opened in the Bay Area at that time, Fashion Island was the only one that didn't have either Macys, Emporium, or Sears. Additionally, Stoneridge, NewPark, and the others were built in growing areas that were pretty underserved.

On the other hand, San Mateo County was pretty much built up with malls like Hillsdale and Tanforan already in place. And unless they intended to pull East Bay shoppers across the bridge, much of Fashion Island's market radius was under water.

Sure, you can play "what if?" with names like Nordstrom, Emporium, and Sears. The irony is had they waited a few more years, Hillsdale might have not renovated, the dot-com boom would have come along, and Fashion Island then could have been converted to a "lifestyle" format if it problems arose. But that option didn't exist in the late eighties.

Bad location, bad anchors, bad timing. And wasn't this around the time that all those "bad old S&Ls" were into big developments all over the country? Perhaps this was why we saw so many new malls in the Bay Area.

FYI, Penneys did have a small store in Downtown San Mateo prior to Fashion Island. Of course, now they have nothing between Tanforan and Cupertino. And with Vallco's status unclear, that gap could widen further.

dean said...

I remember visiting this mall when it first opened - it was a madhouse of activity. Later I stopped by Whole Earth Access and decided to take a walk around the mall. It was my first dead mall experience and it pretty much freaked me out. I couldn't believe that all the stores were shuttered in plain sight. You could look straight into their empty interiors. I guess by that time it didn't matter much anymore. Walden Books was about the only place left open in the mall itself.

Suprisingly, I have always considered Hillsdale mall to have a horrible location. It's traffic hell and difficult to park at. One would think a place along a freeway would have a better go of it. Even if there is difficult access, there is still the visual presence which is key for retailers. I think that losing two of their anchor tenants is a big part of what drove Fashion Island out of business though your comments on the design flaws of the mall are intriguing.

hushpuppy said...

Don't forget that both Macy's and The Emporium ran pages and pages of advertising in the local papers in the 1980's. Both stores had a HUGE Bay Area presence, and many loyal customers. Neither Bullock's nor Liberty House ever managed to develop a loyal following in Northern California. I seriously doubt that Hillsdale ever would've been bulldozed had Nordstrom opted to open in Fashion Island. Despite not being directly on a freeway, Hillsdale is on a major thoroughfare, smack in the middle of a solidly middle class/upper middle class neighborhood with excellent public transportation.

Fashion Island, on the other hand, was located in an isolated area, on the way to the Hayward Bridge. Traffic backed up every afternoon leading to the bridge, making mall access difficult. As previously mentioned, the mall's serpentine layout was a nightmare. The mall was supposed to open in the late 70's and was delayed by a number of issues, including the difficulty of building a huge mall on reclaimed land. By the time it opened in 1982, both Bullock's and Liberty House had pretty much given up on Northern California and would've likely pulled out had they been able to. The irony is that, after those two chains closed all their other Northern California stores, the two Fashion Island stores were operated by the parent chains (Bullock's from Los Angeles and Liberty House from Honolulu) and featured far better merchandise than when they were operated locally.

Lastly, the circus roof was a direct result of the energy woes of the late 1970's/early 1980's. The smaller Teflon roof at Bullock's Oakridge was a big hit, so they designed Fashion Island with a tent covering the whole store. (Remember, this was the era of dark, moody department store lighting. I worked in men's sportswear at Liberty House downtown, and customers were forever taking merchandise over to the entrance to see what it looked like in the real light).

As previously mentioned, not only did the roof not save energy (the air conditioning bills must've been horrendous), shoppers were put off by the unbearable daytime glare and single-floor K-Mart layout.

Unfortunately, Bullock's and Liberty House had the 'prime' locations, as far as being seen from the highway. Once those two stores closed, anyone driving by didn't see much of a reason to pull off the road and go shopping.

Bobby said...

No way was that the whole mall in 1984. Where were all the clothing stores at?

BIGMallrat said...

It's not, there is a quarter page missing from the scan. I thought no one would care, but now I know I'm wrong! I'm going to re-post another full directory later.

rubbersoul65 said...

I wasn't around when the mall first opened, but I visited Fashion Island in the late 1980's and early 1990's for birthday parties. I remember the giant "Enroll Now" sign over the ice skating rink. Does anyone remember "The Tilt"?, I'm sure you do, it was too big to miss. Anyway, I had a lot of great memories at Fashion Island. I remember the ice skating rink, the sports card store (can't remember its name), the orange julius, the sbarro's pizza, and the tables that were placed right next to the rink. I remember everything slowly shutting down as I grew older and thinking how depressing it was. Eventually, as I remember it, there were only a few food court shops open, and it was like a ghost town. There was a point when they simply boarded up most of the mall, towards the end, and you could only get to the food court/ice skating rink area. I saw 'Hunt For Red October' at the movie theatre in September of 1995 and that was the last time I visited the mall. I remember that the mall was totally closed at this point, but that for whatever reason the movie theatre remained open. There were probably 5 people total in the theatre. Fashion Island might've been an utter failure, but I truly liked the way the rink was set up around the food court. It made for some fun times. Oh, the memories.

Ben said...

I live near the Fashion Island Mall. Went there when they first opened in 1981, worked there from 1989-1991, and was there for the last days before they closed down.

I took some pics on 7/18/08 of the last standing part of the Fashion Island. Here are some pics.



















Anonymous said...

Here is the only pic I could find of Fashion Island when it was still in business.


P.S. I have a recept from last month from the Target located on the old Fasion Island Mall location and it says "Fashion Island Target" instead of "Bridgepointe Target" kind of strange

matt said...

I used to hang out there after classes at CSM. I was a film maker and had I knew that the mall was going to be torn down would have loved to documented just for historical purposes of the mall.

supadupa12474 said...


randomly came across your site. grew up in foster city, so thanks for the walk down memory lane...

eve said...

Hey all!
Love reading the stories of Fashion Island.... I am hoping someone can help m.e out here. There was a concert in 1990 that my cousin and I attended, and can not for the life of me remember tha name of the group. They were a Boy Band and pretty much a one hit wonder.... I want to say it was between Jan and March. I remember getting an autographed promo pic of the band but in the years it was lost. If anyone has an idea what I'm talking about, please feel free to email me!

Anonymous said...

San Mateo DID have a Montgomery Ward prior to 1981. I believe it was located somewhere around El Camino and Hwy. 92 and opened around 1975-76. I remember buying a fan there during a heat wave. The Bullock's at Fashion Island was a small store and no comparison to the nicer stores at Stonestown and Stanford. I recall going there only once and it was uncomfortably warm due to the teflon roof.

Rob Ricci said...

Since this doesn't show the date when a post was made, I'm inckuding the date in mine: 11/24/2012

Anonymous said "San Mateo DID have a Montgomery Ward prior to 1981. I believe it was located somewhere around El Camino and Hwy. 92 and opened around 1975-76."

Montgomery Wards was in the building where K-Mart is now on the corner of Delaware and Concar just north of 92.

BigMallRat, please post the full directory soon.

I loved Fashion Island. In the 80'2, I was in my twenties. If I wasn't home, I was at Fashion Island. I was a computer geek and would love to get on the computer and play games in Radio Shack, play the video games at Tilt ((I remember the lighting in Tilt being low enough to see the games while providing enough light so you could see where you were headed to).

The last few years of Fashion Island's life were sad for me. It got harder and harder for me to go there as the stores closed. It was too depressing.

I didn't (and still don't like Hilldale Mall. The people there are snobs. A couple of years ago, I was in the food court using my laptop plugged in. A security guard comes over and tells me to unplug my laptop, explaining the the mall doesn't want to be liable if a spike occurs, whic I think is a bunch of manure.

I had 2 bad memories there in Fashion Island.

1. I was in Radio Shack looking at a catalog and the clerk without saying a word took the catalog and put it on another counter l;ike telling me to look there. The way he handled it was VERY rude. I don't remember exactly when this happened but I believe it was towards the end of the mall's life.

2. A girl I met wanted to go see WarGames. I had already seen it, but I didn't mind seeing it again. So I took her. I tried to see if she liked me doing the old yawn and "accidentaly" puttimg my arm around her shoulders. The look she gave me told me we weren't going to be going on Love Connection anywime soon. AFter the movie we headed to Tilt and played some games. WHile we were there she was flirting with another guy, so I simply disappeared and never saw or talked to her again. I'm not real proud of what I did, but I wouldn't hesitate doing that again if that happened again.

Other the those 2 memories, the times I hasd at Fashion Island were good and I will treasure those memories as long as I can.

As a side note, I do want to say that every time I hear "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic", my mind drifts off to memories of Fashion Island

Rob Ricci said...

I just saw I made a small mistake in my last post 80'2 sshoukld have read 80's.

BigMallRat ot sure if you can, but if you can, can you edit my other post and delete this one? If you casn't, I understand.

Steve Smith said...

I loved Fashion Island Mall in Foster City!! I left the San Mateo area in 1992 for the east coast and have not been back since! I was saddened to hear that it went under but not surprised. My first, second, and third jobs were at that mall!! It all started at the movie theater. From there, it was the music store. And finally the ice rink as the DJ. My fondest memories came when I was working at the ice rink and we would team up with employees from the theater for a late night game of lazer tag against mall security! We would play throughout the entire mall after hours. It was a blast!!! Kissed my first girl there!! Man, it's a shame, but all good things come to an end. - Steve Smith (GO KNIGHTS!!!)

Anonymous said...

I loved Fashion Island. I lived in Fremont, but we would drive to Fashion Island once I got my drivers license because the ice rink was much better than the one at Southland Mall and the arcade was fun. I loved how the ice rink was part of the mall, open to it (before they put in the glass partition). I remember landing at SFO and seeing the Bullock's roof from the left side of the plane; it was especially awesome landing at night.

I think that roof served to attract people to the mall. But aside from the amenities, there really was nothing special about the mall; it had low ceilings and not many skylights, like the other malls built around that same time had. The single-story design made it feel claustrophobic.

Still, I have great memories at the mall. I completely forgot about the Whole Earth store that was there for a bit.

I remember the commercials and jingle from when the mall first opened... "look to us, look to us, Fashion Island, San Mateo, look to us." For some reason, I never forgot that song.

Some posts above were saying that it was in Foster City, so I checked Google Maps... it actually was inside the San Mateo city limits. The boundry with Foster City is the current Home Depot store... HD is in Foster City, but its parking lot is in San Mateo. I also looked on Google Earth, and if you select the 1993 satellite photo, you can see the original mall as it stood.

I also found this on youtube... it's pretty cool. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTulMipuOio

MiRaleigh said...

I lived in the Bay Area for a very short time but working in Burlingame 1988-1991 I had stumbled upon Fashion Island while looking for lunch spots. The first Red Robin I'd ever seen was there...but I made a habit of going to that mall for one place and one place only: Grain D'Or. They made this French bread pizza thing that was large, round, crusty, cheesy, warm, delicious and about 3 bucks. I would go there at least once a week to get it - it was amazing. I'm not surprised the mall folded shortly after I moved back East. It was already pretty dead by '88...there was the Whole Earth Catalog store that I would browse once in a while...and I might venture over to the rink to watch people skate...but there was never anybody in that place. Usually I parked right near the Red Robin entrance - walked to Grain D'Or and then back to my car. Nothing else in there was of any interest.