Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Vintage Postcards: Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo

Here's another little gem that shows Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo. No telling the year, but there is a "60" on the back of the card and the parking lot shows a car from the mid-to-late Fifties (confirmation, anyone? Make and model?).

Although my History of San Mateo County class touched a bit on the Hillsdale development, as a whole, I know little about this shopping center. Except for when it was enclosed in 1982 and Nordstrom joined the mall. I also spent a great deal of time here in the late Eighties, when nothing of any important interest took place.

The back of the card reads "Hillsdale, California. Heart of the San Francisco Peninsula. Located on the famous 'El Camino Real,' just 20 miles from San Francisco. This beautiful shopping center offers the newest and most modern shops and stores."

The front of the card shows the Macy's, which is now partially hidden due to a multi-story parking garage. You can also make out a J.J. Newberry on the left. I love the large Hillsdale sign in the foreground, with what looks like to be a giant penis. In actuality, it's the outline of the San Francisco Peninsula. Must have been before some of the landfills :)
Please share your memories about Hillsdale here.


Read my guide to Hillsdale Mall

Visit the current Website.

See the aerial view.


Anonymous said...

I was born in San Mateo in 1952, and we lived very near Hillsdale. However, my family moved to the East Bay in 1956, so I obviously have no memories of the place. But I do remember my mother talking about walking there to shop (she didn't drive back then.)

hushpuppy said...

1960 sounds about right for this photo. The Emporium opened in 1962 and, shortly thereafter, Macy's added a third floor, which is not visible in this photo. This photo must've been taken on a Sunday or a holiday given the fact that the parking lot is virtually empty.

I worked at Hillsdale in 1975 and it still looked pretty much like this. I had many lunches at the JJ Newberry lunch counter. It was an outdoor mall, with Macy's in the middle, and the outdoor mall stretching north and south from there. Sears (who had opened in the 1940's was on the south side, but you had to cross Hillsdale Blvd to get there. The Emporium was on the north side, but you had to cross 31st Avenue. In the 50’s and 60’s, Hillsdale had branches of many of San Francisco's finer stores (Livingston Bros, H. Liebes, Roos/Atkins, Grodins, Chandler's Shoes) as well as locally owned stores. It was the second so-called 'regional' shopping center built in the San Francisco Bay Area when it opened in 1954 (the first being Stonestown in San Francisco in 1952). Both centers features underground delivery tunnels so Madame wouldn't have to contend with double-parked trucks and burly, sweaty delivery men (although, given what we now know about suburban housewives, maybe Madame wouldn't have minded running into a burly truck driver or two)

As mentioned, in 1982, Hillsdale snagged Northern California's first Nordstrom and, at that time, enclosed the mall, including a bridge over 31st Avenue to reach The Emporium, and a new Mervyn's at the south end, fronting Hillsdale Blvd. Sears, which had been enlarged over the years, was never connected to the mall.

My history is a bit fuzzy, but I think Sears closed in the early 1990's, only to re-emerge in the Emporium building, once that store closed in 1996.

Subsequent remodels and updates have kept Hillsdale competitive. Unlike Stanford Shopping Center, 20 miles to the south, Hillsdale has always been solidly middle-class. Unfortunately, with the exception of Macy's, none of the original 1954 structures remain in any sort of recognizable form.

PS: Macy's phone number was FIreside 1-3333. If you call that number now (area code 650), after 52 years you still get Macy's.

Georob said...

It may have been purchased and postmarked in 1960, but I say it's more like 56 or 57. The car in the parking lot looks like a 55 or 56 model. However, the landscaping still looks quite bare for a mall that would be 6 years old if it was 1960.

Was Hillsdale once considered and marketed as a separate community from San Mateo? I've seen old maps that treated it as such. Was it always in San Mateo city limits or later annexed?

BTW, until the 1970's I think all Macys in the Bay Area had the 3333 ending on their phone numbers.

BIGMallrat said...

I don't recall Sears ever closing "for good" only to reopen in the old Emporium building. I thought they made the move after buying the building from Federated. But, I could be wrong.
My memories of my History of San Mateo County class was that Hillsdale was marketed much like other large-scale developments of the time. For example, Westlake Village. Westlake, like Hillsdale, was ultimately annexed by the neighboring town (Daly City in the case of Westlake). If I'm right, Broadmoor Village was NOT annexed by Daly City and still remains unincorporated. Much like San Lorenzo in the East Bay and so on.

justin karimzad said...

The top floor of the Macy's in Hillsdale opened in 1964.

marktippin said...

I moved to San Mateo from Tallahassee FL in 1979. I spent quite a bit of time at the mall between '79 and '86. I remember the open-air mall and the conversion to an enclosed (and much larger) shopping center.

I recently found a great movie on the internet archive that is all about the Hillsdale Mall. The movie is called, "Shopping Can Be Fun: A New Concept in Merchansiding" and was filmed around 1957 - the time of this postcard.


I'd love to see more snapshots from the pre-enclosed era. I remember the Cost-Plus used to have a glass atrium over it's curved underground staircase, and there was a huge "Rainbow Records" across from what is now Good Guys.

Enjoy the flick!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know te name of the toystore in te Hillsdale Mall (now long gone) that had a slide that went from the top floor to the bottom floor? On one level was clothing, the other was toys ...

Sallyh said...

I thought the mall partially enclosed a lot earlier than 1982.

For years I've searched for info on the wonderful old animatronic Christmas displays they would set up in down the middle of the mall... moving reindeer, waving dolls, sleeping santas, etc. They were in little building that kind of looked like glass gazebos.

They did away with them when the mall was modernized. Anyone know where they went? Who they were sold to?

Anonymous said...

The store with the slide was Melarts.

Anonymous said...

We moved to Hillsdale area in the late 1950's- I think the photo was a couple years old when the postcard came out.

When we first shopped at Hillsdale Mall:
1) The parking lots all were ground level.
2) The stores on the East end between Macys & Farmers market were not built yet. There was a walkway, but the construction site was boarded off, with small holes to watch the construction.
3) The old Sears store was not remodeled till the 60's, so looked older than the rest of the mall. The auto center was part of the main building.
4) The "farmers market" building was smaller. The grocery had seperate greengrocers, dry goods store, bakery & meat dept. The restaurant area doubled in size when the Emporium was built. On Sundays all the restaurants offered Sunday dinner for $1.
Does anyone know what was on the mall property BEFORE Hillsdale?

Janeen said...

Does anyone remember the name of the record store at Hillsdale mall in the early 60's that had booths where you could try out a record before buying it?

Sallywrite said...

Was that Banana Records?

Anonymous said...

As a kid in the 70's, I recall that wishing they had at the lower leven entry to Macy's (pretty sure it was Macy's). Using a little of that abandoned coinage, we were able to buy some "goodies". Fun times.

Donald Petersen said...

I can take you way back on this one. When I was in elementary school starting in 1960, and even before that, my parents used to take me when they went shopping there. Before the Emporium building was constructed, there was another building there called the "Farmers Market" that was more like a packing shed, that was just a big Cafeteria place with a whole bunch of booths selling different types of foods. North of that, there was a Kiddie Carnival set up with rides, including a Corral where kids were allowed to drive Garden Tracors with Briggs and Stratton Engines on them. When I was in Elementary School, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, we were taken down there to the underground part of that center, which is HUGE. That's where all the store inventory was kept and there was a delivery tunnel entrance in the parking lot on the west side (behind Macy's and the other wing of stores that ran parallel to Macy s on that side) that did dual service as the entrance to the designated Fallout Shelters for that area. The real interesting part of that tour though, was finding about all those rounded stone statues of bears, and seals, and rabbits and other animals that seemed to change every once in a while that were in the fountains, and in the Big planter boxes in the walkways between the buildings. Those statues were all done by Bennie Bufano, and when they weren't on display, they were stored in a big fenced in area in one of those tunnels, alongside the 50 gallon drums full of Graham Crackers, Honey, Water, and sand for sanitation purposes as part of the Civil defense program.Bohannon (the developer) collected Bufanos' work and was one of his patrons. As far a the prior question re: the record store where you could go into the Booths and sample the records before buying,that was Peninsula Music,and they actually sold instruments in the other end of the store as well.That place moved south down to the corner once, from one side of the Thom McAnn Shoe store to the other, and then they moved out of the center entirely to a place on El Camino closer to Belmont. I bought a Fender Bandmaster Amp from them in '78 at that new location.

Gayle said...

Help!!! I grew up in San Francisco and South San Francisco and was and frequently visited the Hillsdale Mall with my mother and my grandmother. I remember my grandmother would purchase beef from Sears. Was it actually Sears that sold it or a separate company. If so, what was the company called? Btw this was in the 70's.

Anonymous said...

I remember a store that I think was in Hillsdale - it would have been the early-mid 80s - and it was hanging things such as hammocks, hanging chairs, shelving, etc. Am I remembering this correctly? Anyone know the name? Thanks!

Sallywrite said...


Unknown said...

And had hatching chicklings under bright lights...remember.