Saturday, March 08, 2008

Vintage Postcards: Tanforan Shopping Center

Here's the latest addition to my vintage postcards, Tanforan Shopping Center in San Bruno, CA.

I estimate the postcard to be pre-1975, at least based on the grill of the Ford Pinto in the parking lot.

Although the postcards reads "Tanforan Shopping Center," I've always known this mall as "Tanforan Park," complete with signage that showed a horse in motion. An homage to the racetrack that this mall replaced. Of course, after the recent remodel, the mall is now known as "The Shops at Tanforan." Most people just refer to it as "Tanforan Mall."

The back of the postcard reads "Tanforan Shopping Center, San Bruno, Calif. Located at El Camino Real and Sneath Lane." Guess they didn't have much to say.

The exterior is little changed. Sears has a new sign, the giant JCP on the JC Penney is gone, but the "JC Penney" on the front of the department store is still there.

The site of the cinema on the front of the mall is noticeably absent, can any of our mall buff's out there tell us more? Of course, I don't mean the new Century Theatres, but the Tanforan Cinemas IV that originally inhabited the mall.

Another question is the Emporium in the rear of the mall. Although the angle of the camera may be concealing the department store, the Emporium's height should be visible. Was this an addition, too?

Please share your memories here!

See the current aerial.

Visit my review of Tanforan Mall.


Steven Swain said...

The JCP signs are a rare site. I've only seen one in person, on the old Cloverleaf Mall store in Richmond, Va.

Paul said...

IIRC, Sears opened in 1970. The mall opened in 1971 and Penney's opened in early 1972. The Emporium opened in September 1972. I think the reason you don't see The Emporium sign is simply due to the camera angle.

Tanforan opened with a great deal of fanfare and did well for the first decade or so. There was no Sears or Penney's in San Francisco proper, so you had to drive to Tanforan if you wanted to shop at one of those stores. The Emporium had large stores nearby in Stonestown and Hillsdale, and the Tanforan store was smaller and not very attractively merchandised, so I'm not sure if that store was much of a draw.

The closest mall was Serramonte, in Daly City, which featured Macy's and Ward's. Serramonte is a one-level mall where the north-south anchors are a very long walk from each other. Tanforan was 2-level and much easier to walk back and forth from end to end. Tanforan also had a decent food court, which Serramonte did not.

One oddity was that, while most shopping area centers were open weeknights from 9:30 until 9:30, in those days, Sears closed their stores at 9:15. When the mall itself opened, followed by Penney's and even the Emporium, they all kept to the 9:15 closing.

Anonymous said...

Good info Paul but you forgot about the Sears store at Geary & Masonic in SF.

Paul said...

I guess Sears on Geary was still open when Tanforan opened, wasn't it? I know the Army Street store was closed by then. When did Sears close their Geary Blvd store?

Penney's closed their Market Street store in in downtown San Francisco in 1971. They had a small store on Grand Avenue in South San Francisco which closed just prior to Tanforan's opening. Their Westlake store in Daly City, although smaller than Tanforan, stayed open into the 90's, IIRC.

Paul said...

According to the SF Chronicle archives, Sears closed their Geary store in 1990. Thanks for jogging my memory

Mike said...

The mall opened in 1971 and the Emporium opened in 1972. My dad was hired at the Emporium in the furniture dept. right when the store opened. He was there for 14 years, so I basically grew up in that mall. The furniture dept. was on the first floor up until about 1986 then they moved it upstairs. And when they moved it to the 3rd floor he could'nt make as much much money because they also made the dept. smaller. So then he went to Breuners. Anyways yes The Emporium was there. It must be the camera angle why you can't see it. The Theaters you could not see from the outside. They were inside. You basically went to the second level, bought your tickets and went down and escolator and the theaters were actually underground.

It's nice to see the mall the way it is today. It's much improved . They just need some more high end stores like the Gap or Express. And maybe some childrens stores like Gymboree and the Disney store. Once the theaters open on April 18th. This mall will really take off. It's definately one of the most beautiful malls around and it's just been waiting for these theaters to open. They took a little longer that anticipated to be completed.

dre said...

... but the Tanforan Cinemas IV that originally inhabited the mall.

Why, yes, I do remember when that part of the mall's wing smelled of popcorn! There was a traditional sign out front which posted the movies playing (the letters were of the slide-in-the-marquee variety) and was blue, oval shaped. Much so in keeping to the racetrack motif.

The cinemas were one level down, accessible via escalator. There were distinct numbered signed (1, 2, 3, 4) in primary color above each of the theatres. I remember the stores that were at the cinema area of the mall; a Round Table pizza, Gingiss tuxedo rentals, and a Big 5 sporting goods store.

The lower level of the cinemas are probably repurposed as the lower level of Barnes and Nobles, from what I'm guessing on a recent reconnaissance mission of Tanforan. I can probably smell a faint hint of popcorn popping on that former Cinemas IV wing...

Syndicate said...

This is one of the malls I have been to alot, just like Serramonte. I have notice alot of changes to the mall way before the remodeling. In the late 70s early 80s, when I was little, Tanforan had a Kingnorman toys store outside of what use to be Emporium on the left upstairs. Other stores that use to be in the mall was B Dalton Books, Walden Books, Wallgreens, Wilsons, Hickery Farm, Wherehouse, Suncoast, Big 5, Radio Shack, Payless Shoes and some mom and pop stores and stands in the mall. The Hickery Farm closed up near the early mid 80s, I don't know when Kingnorman left or it was brought up by K Bee. After the remodeling some of the stores never returned like Radio Shack, outside of Sears on the right upstairs, Payless Shoes ouside of JC Pennys. McDonalds, Suncoast and Big 5 also never returned after the remodeling. I have not seen Tanforn at night since the remodeling so I don't know is it nice or not, But IF not then they should have made the mall logo light up like Vegas casinos and the Target logo in a color that works.

With a Century 20 theater opened up there in the mall, and the near by Century 7 theater closed up I wonder what will be opening up in it place next to Staple, Could it be a Frys, Walmart or a big chain retail that is new to the West coast for the first time, and is mostly in the mid west and east coast. Any news on that and what will take up CompUsa spot from the shooping center across the mall.

Mike said...

anyone remember "bike world USA"? my dad took me there to get my first bike. a predator - free form ex. they also sold skateboards and remote control cars like the frog and the grasshopper. man i miss those days.

Anonymous said...

I was at the "opening day" of Tanforan Shopping center back in 1971. There was a huge race horse statue on the first floor. The Emporium sold a smaller statue of it for $75.00. I bought it, and still own it. It is NOT the Seabiscuit statue that is there now outside in the parking lot. Does anyone know who the old horse was? And the artist?

Anonymous said...

I have always thought the first statue was of Citation with Eddy Arcaro up. Does anyone know for sure?

Anonymous said...

Wow! Still there, huh? I worked at Video Concepts...when the switch was happening from Beta to VHS and No we didn't have any Blue movies....What a hoot! Umm 83-84 ...I'm guessing....with Jim and (recent retired Navy sub guy)....and my boss gosh...and some slutty chick that cracked me up and some other randoms....we WERE the 80's on blast lol