Monday, December 11, 2006

Valley Fair Shopping Center

San Jose, California - '60s or '70s?

Postcard view of "The Mall at Valley Fair." Here's the caption from the back:
"The Mall at Valley Fair, San Jose, California. This regional shopping center is one of the outstanding shopping centers serving the greater suburban area. Over 60 specialty stores and a large department store are located here."
But before I go any further, read this Wikipedia snippet:
Valley Fair Mall is unique in that it replaced two separate 1950's era shopping centers. The original Valley Fair Shopping Center, opened in 1956, was confined to the eastern side of the property in San Jose. It was developed and anchored by Macy's and included roughly 40 other stores in an outdoor plaza. At the western side was another outdoor shopping center, Stevens Creek Plaza in Santa Clara. It was anchored by The Emporium and I. Magnin...

In 1986, both centers were acquired and merged into one two-level enclosed mall by The Hahn Company, creating one of the most successful shopping centers in the country, called simply "Valley Fair".
And in 1998 it was renamed "Westfield Shoppingtown Valley Fair", then eventually they dropped the "Shoppingtown" altogether and simplified it to just "Westfield Valley Fair" in 2005.

So yeah, but anyway, back to our photo. Judging by the postcard caption (which does say San Jose) and the Wikipedia information above, I'm guessing (since the card itself isn't specific enough) that this is actually a photo of the original Valley Fair Shopping Center, before it became the Valley Fair Mall in 1986. If it is, then dating it, since it doesn't have a date on it, would probably put it around the '60s or '70s, I'd guess. But I could be off in my sleuthing here, I don't know.

At any rate it's a groovy view, and Macy's Valley Fair was certainly a very groovy shopping center in its day! From the rooftop "fair", with its carnival rides (which included a merry-go-round carousel, mini train, and a 40-foot Ferris Wheel!), to its brightly colored mosaic tiled "tower" (actually an exhaust system) that many fondly remember to this day (you can see some of it on the left side of the photo above), this was one cool place to shop and hang out! Read lots more about it at the resource links below.

Mall history: 1956 - 1986
Developer: R. H. May & Co. Inc.
Current website: here (redeveloped)
Current aerial view
Info from Wikipedia
Resource links: 1, 2, 3
Previous entries: none


Blogger Kangoon said...

Another Great Picture with lots of color! Did this shopping center have an open air "street' in the middle? If it did then it had a similar design to the Milford Post Mall in Connecticut as it was originaly configured. Now it is just an unholy jumble.

Mon Dec 11, 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger BIGMallrat said...

Valley Fair was originally Macy's and a few surrounding buildings of inline shops. Typical for the region at the time, Macy's built a number of similar centers. The Emporium, located across the street from Valley Fair, built their own version, called Stevens Creek Plaza. The Emporium was also active in constructing these centers, right up until 1982 with Almaden Plaza (also in San Jose).
This postcard doesn't do the center justice. It shows the base of a richly-colored tile smokestack in the middle of the center. Essentially a unique marker, it was recognizable to thousands of people.
In the mid-eightes, both centers were fading and shoppers drawn to other regional malls, such as Vallco Fashion Park in Cupertino. The malls were both bought and demolished. A large enclosed two-level mall was built in their places. The original department stores remained and were connected by the new mall. Since the original shopping centers were built at an angle from one another, Macy's Women's (on the East side) currently sits askew from Macy's Men's (on the West side, previously The Emporium). Nordstrom joined the new mall and even built a new store next door to its old store for a recent mall expansion. That expansion nearly doubled the size of the mall and brought in a number of upscale retailers rarely found outside of San Francisco.
Westfield is currently planning an additional expansion and two new anchor stores. Mall Management has refused to comment on the retailers interested in joining the mall.
All told, this is one of the State's most successful malls, in terms of sales per square foot. It's proof that malls can not only survive today, but also thrive and remain a huge regional draw. Even with the Disney-esque Santana Row lifestyle center across the street.

Mon Dec 11, 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

Thanks for the great details, Scott! I knew you'd fill us all in properly. :)

Kev: Hmm... I like the sound of that for some reason--Milford Post Mall. Has a ring to it. ;)

Mon Dec 11, 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Cora said...

The colourful tiles give this mall a very cheerful aura. And the mini amusement park on the roof sounds very cool. Though the ferris wheel seen in the animation doesn't look "giant" to me. If the scale of the animation is correct, this ferris wheel looks like the small ferris wheel on the Christmas market rather than the big one at the annual autumn fair.

Still, I'm sure that the kids loved it.

Mon Dec 11, 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger hushpuppy said...

IMHO, Federated missed a great opportunity in not converting the former Emporium into a Bloomingdale's. Having the two Macy's so far apart makes for a rather unpleasant trek. Having two unique department stores instead of a bifurcated Macy's would've made for a terrific shopping center. Personally, I find Valley Fair to be another charm-free, monolithic megamall. I miss the old outdoor centers; we used to do Valley Fair first, then Stevens Creek so we could finish up by having dinner at Stickney's Restaurant.

I know several women in the San Jose area who avoid VF whenever possible due to the impossible parking situation. Getting in and out can be a nightmare, especially at Christmas.
But there is no denying its success.

Tue Dec 12, 01:13:00 AM  
Blogger BIGMallrat said...

The parking problem gives new meaning to "parking jihad." I avoid that mall until After January 1st!

Tue Dec 12, 03:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parking isn't the only impossible thing.

The mall is huge, in a double-loop layout, two stories, with inadequate maps, and of course no visible store numbers (imagine city navigation in the days before grid streets, street numbers, and signage). There's not one but two Macy's, at opposite ends of the mall, so that some store's "We're right next to Macy's" has to be countered with "which one" (I've had that conversation, by cell phone, from within the mall). Corridors are clausterphobic. Parking is insane not so much for lack as for confusion: it's impossible to work out which garage you started from. The location near the junctions of 880 / 17 / 280 makes getting back on the proper freeway a nightmare for non-locals (neighborhood signage is entirely inadequate). And cart-vendors (cell phones, Dianetics (Xenu!), etc.) are aggressive and rude.

I avoid the place like the absolute plague it is. One store I know of that's there and not elsewhere or I'd be entirely rid of it.

Fri Jan 26, 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great post!

Judging by the condition of the tower in the postcard picture, it would have had to be taken within the first five years of the shopping center’s opening (1956 – 1961). By the late sixties, the mosaic tiles had become faded by years of exhaust soot pouring from the top.

As a child, around 3, my aunt and mom would take me to Valley Fair, as they loved to shop at Macy’s. We would usually end up on the roof deck, but the rides were only opened on a seasonal bases, so we usually sat in the Sky Terrace Café.

Someone mentioned the Ferris Wheel as a mini. It was actually around the size you would see at most carnivals.

I’ve spent years trying to locate pictures of the rooftop carnival. I met Mr. DelCarlo (DelCarlo Photography) years ago, who was often contracted by Macy’s to take pictures of the center during the first years. Just before they planned to remove the rides in late 1957, he flew his Cessna over the property and snapped one last photo for them.

Also met a lady who participated in their pre-teen fashion shows. Setting up a small stage next to the elevator building, young girls would show off the latest clothing, probably sold in the store. She had home movies of the event, along with her enjoying the rides, which were opened free to participants.

The biggest mystery, however, seems to be their East Bay sister, Bay Fair Center. Built around the same time, that Macy’s also had an open roof deck, accessible by elevator. Was there also a carnival as well at Bay Fair?

Wed Mar 07, 09:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smoke or soot POURING from the top? Are you nuts? It never had any soot coming out of the top of that stack and the tiles were always bright. They were never as bright as this postcard though due to the chromacolor film used. This level had the KarmelKorn popcorn shop, the record store where you could actually go into a booth and listen to a 45 disc, and so many other great memories

Tue Jun 02, 11:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the only thing i remember about Valley Fair is the V,F sign the smoke stack the Train layout in Macy's and Santa on the side overhang by the 1 story parking garage we went every year me nad my dad when they were putting it up it was so cool wish i had pictures of that

Thu Dec 10, 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to have found this Blog. I and my mother, and then school girlfriends would shop VF for everything. I truly miss it. Can anyone name all the shops? Where was the colorful smokestack as I don't recall where it stood?

Fri Oct 10, 04:30:00 AM  
Blogger Teresa Andrada said...

The shops I can recall from 1971. Payless, Mayfair mkt., Smiths (for men), Woolworth's, (fabric store), Foxmoor casual, Karmel Korn, a jewelry store, Macy's,
Leeds, Thom Mccann, Lerner's, baby soe store, Grodins, Stuarts, book store, Hallmark, McWhorters, Mode O Day,

Fri Oct 10, 04:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked at the Woolthworth's when I was going to James Lick High School. I was paid $1.25 a hour, that was in 1966 to 1967. I had fun, there were alot of high school kids working there. That photo really takes me back.

Tue Feb 10, 12:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the record store too. I bought all my 45's there..listening to records was truly a lot of fun. That postcard took me back too. Thank you.

Wed Aug 17, 01:21:00 AM  

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