Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stonestown Shopping Center (aka Stonestown Galleria)

San Francisco, California - early '60s

Vintage fifties exterior photos of The Emporium department store (which became Macy's in 1995), among others, at the venerable old Stonestown Shopping Center (aka Stonestown Galleria, or just "Stonestown") in San Francisco, California.

At first glance, these pictures kind of remind me of a drive-in movie theater--especially that first shot. Probably could have shown movies on that Emporium "E" storefront facade if they wanted to! At any rate, very cool and swanky design here, from the Golden Age of retail.

Mall history: 1952 - present
Current website: here
Current aerial view
Reference links: 1, 2
Previous entries: none

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Blogger Cora Buhlert said...

My first though was "drive-in theater" as well, because the Emporium facade seems to be a sort of Potemkin village with nothing behind it. Looks great though.

And I love how on the first photo, the palm tree seems to run right into the E logo.

Sun Apr 22, 07:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this can't be 1952, based on the vehicles. 1962 maybe.

Sun Apr 22, 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Keith said...

Looking at it closer now, you're obviously correct, Anonymous, so I adjusted the date. Thanks!

I'm not really a "car guy" so I don't usually pay much attention to them in my photos here (guess I should start). The date I was given on these was '52, so I didn't even think about it.

Cora: Cool that you got the drive-in thing right off too! When you look at it, it really is a rather odd store design. But in a good way of course. :)

Sun Apr 22, 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Sobieniak said...

Speaking of Drive-In's, Toledo still has one on the east side if anyone cares to check that out if they're around the area...

Mon Apr 23, 07:18:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

I was born in San Francisco and grew up spending many Saturdays shopping at Stonestown shopping with my parents.

I never thought of the Emporium looking like a drive-in. To me, it looked more like a huge billboard.

When Stonestown opened in 1952, it was the first regional shopping center in Northern California. Nobody knew if it was going to succeed or not. Even though the downtown Emporium was located only about 5 miles away on Market Street, San Francisco's unique topography makes for many distinct different shopping districts. One of Stonestown's benefits was (and still is) lots of free parking.

Stonestown is not located on a freeway, but rather on State Highway 1 (19th Avenue), a major north-south thoroughfare, leading to the Golden Gate Bridge. The shopping center runs parallel to the boulevard. In order for Stonestown to succeed, it needed to pull shoppers from the suburbs surrounding San Francisco, as well as the western districts of the city. Since it was correctly assumed that most people would arrive by car, and there is only one left turn available into Stonestown for northbound traffic, the huge Big E needed to be visible from as far away as possible to alert potential shoppers to the need to get over to the left in order to make the correct turn. Compounding the problem was that, just north of Winston Drive, 19th Avenue starts up a mild incline, causing any sign on the front of the Emporium not be visible from the passing traffic. In addition, a church fronting on 19th Avenue also blocks the Emporium building.

The solution was to build a high Emporium sign perpendicular to the 19th Avenue. Up until the 1970’s Stonestown was only open certain nights (Wednesday and Friday at first, adding Monday nights in the 1960’s). Next to the Big E, was a neon ‘OPEN TONIGHT’ sign, which alerted potential shoppers of night openings.

Mon Apr 23, 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger BIGMallrat said...

Wow Paul, that was a great description. It makes sense, too. The Emporium is lower than 19th Avenue quite a bit (I believe one of those pictures was taken from 19th).
I also found it odd that there is an old church in the parking lot. Must have been there before the shopping center was built. Nevertheless, it's cleverly disguised through shrubbery and distraction.
Much of the old Emporium building exists as it did. Clearly a crime that Macy's hasn't maintained the building (other than a coat of paint). Planters go unfilled and light bulbs not replaced. I do believe, however, that the sidewalk surrounding the department store has sparkles in it, though.

Tue Apr 24, 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Michele said...

I grew up in that shopping center -

Got my ears pierced at ten without parents' permission near Judy's; bought my own lunches for school fieldtrips at QFI and eclairs at the bakery; saw too many double features at the Stonestown Theater to remember them all - Bednobs and Broomsticks, Witchmountain, What's up Doc? and Jaws, to name a few; bought mother's day presents at Woolworth (I was a big spender) and my first and only try at stealing was a six cent roll of generic lifesaver-like candies at Walgreens... but I fessed up to my mother. And as a teenager worked at Emporium.

Later, I visited when the outdoor shopping center became an indoor mall - in my opinion, it lost all its character. And just looked like any other mall.

Sun Sep 09, 01:39:00 AM  

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