Friday, October 30, 2009

Capwell's El Cerrito Plaza Grand Opening 1958

July 9, 1958 marked the grand opening of both Capwell's department store and adjoining El Cerrito Plaza. This advertisement from the Oakland Tribune invites the public to come shop the largest store in Contra Costa County.

The 2-level store cost $6,000,000 and was 232,000 square feet of spacious aisles and modernistic fixtures ("5,000 Flock to See New Capwell Store", 1958). The exterior of the store was equally modern with its blue and brown tile. At the time, Capwell's El Cerrito was the fourth store in the chain, with other locations in Oakland (downtown), Walnut Creek (Broadway Plaza), and Hayward (downtown).

Capwell's El Cerrito lasted until 1996 when the chain was acquired by Macy's and ultimately closed. El Cerrito Plaza fell in to disrepair until it was de-malled and revitalized in 2002.


5,000 Flock to See New Capwell Store. (1958, June 10, 1958). Oakland Tribune, p. E-15.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Westfield Downtown Plaza - Sacramento

Nothing breeds retail controversy more than Sacramento's Westfield Downtown Plaza.

This large superregional center, smack in downtown Sacramento, was once a shining beacon. However, times have changed and this mall has not. Sacramento and Westfield has been fighting for years to get this center redeveloped. Everyone has an idea of what they want, but no one can agree.

Once this mall hosted a number of flagship stores for the region. The area's largest Macy's is here, complete with its own Men's and Furniture location. Yet, stores have begun to shut down. Even Banana Republic left. Much of the eastern side of the mall is devoid of any stores. However, the western side is still bustling.

The architecture of this mall seems to be a hindrance. Sightlines are obscured by large columns. With the contrast between bright sunlight and dark overhangs, its nearly impossible to see the stores from a distance.

With Sacramento's scalding long summers, I could easily support enclosing this mall. In fact, a portion of this mall is enclosed. A long corridor south of the Rotunda court is enclosed. However, it may not have been touched since the 80s. Oddly enough, it has a second floor which used to contain stores, but it is no longer accessible. An enclosed corridor north of the Rotunda court, pictured above, now is a credit union and no longer holds retail stores. Note the fancy woodwork on the ceiling.

Baffling enough, I don't know if this mall strives to be a festival center, much like Pier 39 in San Francisco, or a regional fashion center. Looking around, not many people live Downtown.

I'm not sure what to think of Downtown Plaza. Once it finds its identify and redevelops, I think this mall can be a star of retail players.


See the current aerial view.

Westgate Mall - Holding Its Own

Westgate Mall in San Jose is a small mall that seems to defy the odds. Malls this size around the country are either failing or struggling. However, Westgate Mall seems to be thriving.

Unusual for malls these days, but common yesteryear, is the connection this mall has to the community. You can still get your hair done at Annette's Silhouettes, get your teeth cleaned at Westgate Dental, then head to Razzberry Lips for a makeover party for the girls. Local independent stores, once a thing of the past in a mall, perhaps a trend for the future?

As a regional draw, Nordstrom Rack, Burlington Coat Factory, Ross Dress for Less, and Barnes and Noble Bookstore. A little something for everyone.

Saving the best for last... this mall is rarely crowded. One can walk around without being molested by Dead Sea Salt hawkers or hoards of people. Westgate Mall is easy to get into and you might want to stay a while.


Visit my review of Westgate Mall.

See the current aerial view.

Bayfair Mall - New Food Court

One word to describe Bayfair Mall's new food court... Finally!

Having survived the high-crime days of Bayfair Mall that made me hesitate to enter any niche without a secondary escape route, it was a pleasant surprise to find the new food court opened and ready for business.

The food court has been reconfigured and looks like it may only hold 4 to 6 eateries, but it's a huge improvement. The owners also removed one of the enclosing stores at the entrance to the food court, which opened up the food court to the mall, thus eliminating that claustrophobic feeling that once persisted.

In addition, the clunky elevator has been replaced by a set of escalators to the newly reopened second floor. You may remember when the old owners built a wall, sealing off that long second-floor corridor between the center court and the south parking lot. The wall has come down and now it's an easy walk to the cinema across the parking lot. I'd bet the old owners of this mall are kicking themselves for not attaching the cinema to the mall.

Remodeling at Bayfair has been ongoing for 5 years now. Still, the center is about 50-60% complete. Now that the food court is done, what next?


Visit my review of Bayfair Mall.