Villa Plaza Shopping Center (Lakewood Mall)
Lakewood, Washington - circa late '50s
Here's some retro retail goodness to help set the tone for the day. This is a vintage view of the Villa Plaza Shopping Center (and swanky entrance sign!), who's tale, like so many other malls today, is a tangled one indeed. Beginning its life as an outdoor strip mall, Villa Plaza was redeveloped into an enclosed mall in 1989 and renamed Lakewood Mall. Then that structure was partially demolished and redeveloped in 2001, to make way for Lakewood Towne Center (an "open-air shopping destination"), as it is today. You can read more about these changes in the resource links at the bottom of this post.
The photo above, as well as the 1957 map and accompanying commentary below, come courtesy of MOA reader, Tyler Kaye, who I heartily thank for taking the time! Here's the first part (part two will follow soon) of his insightful commentary:
"Seeing the photo of the J.C. Penney store in Battle Creek, Michigan, and the discussion of the building style reminds me that a very similar style was used at the Villa Plaza in Lakewood, Washington (a suburb of Tacoma). The place has a really interesting history, so I thought I'd share it.
I've attached a color photo and a grand opening store map of the shopping center, which opened in August 1957. It was built on a 100-acre site that was previously home to the Visitation Villa (hence the name), a Catholic girls' school. A local investment group, Norman Iverson & Associates, purchased the site from the Sisters of Visitation for $500,000 and spent $7 million building the first phase of the shopping center, which took up about half of the property. J.C. Penney and Rhodes Brothers (a local department store) anchored the center along with a Thriftway supermarket, F.W. Woolworth, and W.T. Grant.
The grand opening was a three-day affair... as the Tacoma News Tribune put it: 'There will be style shows. Clowns, pretty girls, free gifts, and balloons. Nationally known entertainers. And sales, sales, sales--everywhere you look.' Country artist Tex Williams (best known for his hit 'Smoke, Smoke, Smoke [That Cigarette]') arrived via helicopter. (So, Santa Claus wasn't the first. Apparently, showing up in a helicopter was a big promotional stunt at the time... or at least it was in Tacoma.)
Villa Plaza map (1957)
I think the map makes the color photo pretty self-explanatory, with the two-story Penney's store in the center of the picture as a point of reference. According to a newspaper article, that larger-than-life Villa Plaza sign was 30 feet tall.
Villa Plaza took a hit when the Tacoma Mall opened five miles to the north in 1965. The mall had easy access to the newly built Interstate 5, while Villa Plaza was hidden away several blocks west of the freeway. Development on the center continued through the '60s, however, with the eastern half of the property (the area behind the first group of stores) becoming the site for a Safeway (yes-- there were two supermarkets in the same center), Pay 'n Save drug store, Ernst Hardware, and a General Cinemas theater. The major tenants stayed reasonably stable through the mid-'80s, with the most noticeable change being the sale of the Tacoma Rhodes stores to the Liberty House chain of Hawaii around 1973, who then sold to Seattle-based Frederick & Nelson in 1978."
Part two, covering the mall's later years, will be up next...
Mall history: 1957 - present (redeveloped)
Current website: here
Current aerial view
Resource links: 1, 2, 3, 4
Previous entries: none