Wednesday, December 06, 2006

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.

Today (Lakewood Towne Center)

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


Blogger BIGMallrat said...

Interesting case study. I can't wait to see photos of the enclosed mall. Looks kinda boring today, and clearly not enough parking for Target, Gottschalks, and a cinema all in one area. I find it ironic the named the street cutting through the parking lot "Main street." They didn't even try to fake a main street look. Oh, but it's a "townE" center. Put that extra E in and it's more, um, more something...

Wed Dec 06, 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Cora said...

A few clusters of shops, separated by what seems to be parking lots. So in order to get from say Safeway to Gottschalk's, you have to walk all over the parking lot. That not very enticing.

In all honesty, they should have stuck with the enclosed mall or with the original design, where most shops were located in the same complex.

Wed Dec 06, 06:51:00 PM  
Anonymous didi said...

Yea, the extra E is just more retarded, Scott, I agree.

But, oh my! I can fall in love with that gorgeous sign.

Wed Dec 06, 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger BIGMallrat said...

Oh, but they could have made it olde-English and called it "Towne Centre" (aka, Alameda Towne Centre). I jokingly refer to that spelling as "Contemporary Canadian."

Thu Dec 07, 12:13:00 AM  
Anonymous pptkch said...

Just to get your bearings with the old Villa Plaza map (hopefully without spoiling Keith's next post)... the location of J.C. Penney is where Safeway is today. You'll also notice that Firestone is still in the same spot after all these years.

Bigmallrat: Target, Gottschalks and the cinema actually have *more* parking than they did just three years ago. Those are the elements of the enclosed mall that were left untouched. That parking area in the center used to be the mall concourse. And, frankly, Gottschalks isn't much of a draw in these parts. They've been closing stores right and left in Washington state. A big portion of the Lakewood Gottschalks is devoted to markdown merchandise. (This was the only Gottschalks in the region for several years before they bought out some post-bankruptcy remnants of the Lamonts chain. The Lakewood location was actually the last new store built by Frederick & Nelson... the old cafe -- no longer serving Frango milkshakes, unfortunately -- was still in operation until the middle of last year.)

Thu Dec 07, 12:50:00 AM  
Anonymous tkaye said...

Haha... pptkch is me -- for some reason, it substituted the word verification for my identity. As long as I'm not a son-of-a-pptkch, I guess I'm OK!

Thu Dec 07, 12:52:00 AM  
Anonymous didi said...


Oh, but you are a son of a pptkch!


Sun Dec 10, 10:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anything on the new map including Safeway, and the block of stores marked "Not Included" were NOT part of the original mall. The block to the right of that was the frontmost parking of the original mall. The parking area to the right of that was the original entrance off of Grav. Lake Dr.

On the top of the map, the Wells Fargo block was the start of the leftmost building on the 57 map. the lakewood marketplace building is listed as built in 1972.

the 1957 map has some serious spacial errors.

It's an interesting place, but not a place you want to shop if you're looking for speed.

Wed May 16, 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When do we get to see some pics of the enclosed mall? I live in the Lakewood area and LOVED the Lakewood Mall. I miss it. I still hate that they demolished the enclosed mall. It was gorgous and still looked brand new when it was demolished. Location wasn't the problem with the mall it was the anchors and stores inside. The biggest name they had was Target. Part of the reason they couldn't attract big name stores is because rent to way to high. The mall cost so much to build so they had to charge so much to pay for that. Then the mall was never more than 3/4 filled so rent continued to stay high. I believe I read somewhere that some units still had dirt ground and were never even used. It's a shame because with a little TLC that mall could of thrived. I'll say it again, I've never see a mall so gourgous. If only they could of attracted some of the stores that are currently at the Towne Center. It was a waste of money to demolish the enclosed mall. It was in great condition. I hate Christmas shopping there now because to we have to walk outside and in WA, it's very rainy / snowy and cold in December.

Mon May 28, 10:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow this is awesome I grew up in Tacoma/Lakewood and remember the Villa Plaza my mom taking me there when I was young & later I worked at PayLess Drug store (where Safeway is now)Safeway used to be on the other side. I was sad when they changed to the Lakewood Mall and then I got to like it and they tore it down. I am not happy w/ the town center but make due with it due to no other choice! I am now living in AR but still go back to see family.

Sun Oct 07, 05:30:00 AM  
Blogger The Last Holdout at Minas Ithil said...

I remember it from back when it was the Lakewood Mall and oh boy do I have memories there. As a kid living on Ft. Lewis I used to BEG my folks to take me there, if only so I could get out and look around. They always had such neat little stores in there. I came back when I was about 17, right before they took it down, and was in shock at how empty it was. It only vaguely resembled the mall I used to run through as a kid. I miss those times.

Mon May 05, 12:34:00 AM  
Anonymous matguy said...

When I was a kid I lived in Puyallup. Before they built the South Hill Mall we were basically in between SeaTac Mall, Tocama Mall, and Lakewood Mall (went to South Center a few times.) Lakewood was always an odd mall to me, but we didn't really go there much so I don't have a lot of kid memories other than knowing it was there. Then later I went to college at Clover Park, which was about a mile away so we'd go there for lunch every once in a while. (I'm going somewhere with this, I swear.) So, when I first got married my wife hated the malls around here because of the crowds; I remembered how Lakewood, since there weren't that many stores didn't have big crowds, so we headed over. It was gone! Other than Target, Gotshalks, the theater and the perimiter stores it was debris and dirt. I drove around the parking lot looking around and promising there used to be a mall here, I promise there was.

Thu Jun 19, 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could someone please post pictures of Lakewood Mall Interior, store listings and additional pictures of Villa Plaza. Would love to hear any additional PayNSave and Ernest/Malmo era memories!!

Mon Nov 15, 04:59:00 AM  
Blogger jiggles said...

I remember the Villa Plaza so very well..I was on the job site as a young child probably a couple times a week as it was being built, sittin in my Dad's truck as he checked on a few things when all the workers had gone home for the day. My Dad was one of the foreman on this jobsite! My mom shopped at JC Penneys alot, and my grandma and I would go to the Woolworths store....that was my favorite store.....Such great memeories I have of the Villa Plaza!!

Tue Aug 09, 01:27:00 AM  
Anonymous amber said...

i had pictures of me and my mom at the food court; i loved the food court especially it was gorgeous, perfect square eatery with bars all around and plants everywhere OMG i cant find the pictures though :( :( :(!/pages/The-Lakewood-Mall-before-Lakewood-Towne-Center/104829929622179?sk=wall i just made this hoping we can all get together sharing our memories of the lakewood mall and hopefully pictures

Fri Aug 26, 04:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember as a kid going to the lakewood mall every friday! My dad would take me to the champions arcade, the toy store they had, etc. At chriatmas time they had a beautiful christmas model train/mountain set up and ide spend hours there just watching the train go round and round lol. I also remember the oriental delights store and the ice skating rink ans the petting zoo they had every christmas..the memories are so fond but distant..r.i.p. Lakewood mall

Sun May 27, 10:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The big difference between all the years is ownership. The original Villa Plaza was one single property and management. When purchased by Basil Vyzis, he built the mall but had it structured into two management groups, Mall I (the mall itself) and Mall II which were the exterior stores. The mall failed because they never could get anchor tenants, not because of rent. Lamonts-filed bankruptcy. Frederick & Nelson-Filed Bankruptcy. Troutmans Emporium-Filed Bankruptcy. Mervyns-Filed Bankruptcy. Target no longer puts stores in Malls. Every major marketing goof was done for the Mall. Instead of having national sales agent, they relied on local. After Basil's death, the company sold the outer portions to one faction and the mall to another, who decided to reduce the mall and rebuild the strip center.

Sat Aug 25, 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Meg Justus said...

I know you posted this a long time ago, but I am building an exhibit at the Lakewood Historical Society museum ( about the commercial development of the city of Lakewood, and I would be extremely interested in any sources you can give me for your information. And permission to use your 1957 map in our exhibit. Please contact me at mmjustus at nwlink dot com. Thank you.

Mon Feb 25, 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger ghostmedic171TV said...

lol everyone has good memories of the enclosed Lakewood mall, huh?

Well me too, I was a kid when it was built - my older brother used to work at the juvinle hall not too far from there- So my mom used to take me there to get a bite to eat or shop until he was ready to be picked up.

I rememeber... well for one, I LOVED eating at Steak Escape. Those sandwhiches hit the spot!
Of course the arcade (that's right, it WAS called Champions, huh??? Thanks for reminding me!).
Mom used to spend most of her time in Fredrick & Nelson.
The blue accent lighting around the sky lights?
The big play zones? One was a tugboat I think. I only remember that because I watched a young boy jump off one of them and break something.

It's sad because like the others who've come by.... there just doesn't seem to be ANY photographs that I can find of the mall online - I mean even Tacoma mall has some photos thanks to the retro fountains it had that someone found interesting enough to photograph. Like many others over say, 25, I loved the Lakewood Mall when it was full of tenants. Once Tacoma remolded and South Hill mall opened - Lakewood was doomed without the big time anchors. I enjoy the new town center, just wish there were some pictures of the Lakewood mall SOMEWHERE?

Sat Jan 21, 02:50:00 PM  

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