Monday, July 10, 2006

Tacoma Mall

Tacoma, Washington - late '60s or early '70s

Happy Monday everyone! And how's this shot to start the vintage mall week off here? Nice, huh? Man, Tacoma Mall was a pretty cool mall in its early years. Every vintage shot I see of it I love! What style!

This photo obviously has a lot going for it. I dig the creamy color scheme, the majestic columns, the lighting, the two kids in the foreground (the smaller tyke having fun with a balloon), and also that great looking tiered fountain layout! Wow. Actually, this shot sort of puts me in mind of that incredible Palm Beach Mall photo I posted a while back, too. Same vibe.

Really interesting to see those awesome gothic columns that actually start at the main entrance (as seen in my previous Tacoma entry), extending on into the mall itself like this. Nice integrated design theme! As MOA reader, Tyler Kaye (who also submitted this great photo, that I once again thank him immensely for!), notes in the comments of the above-mentioned Tacoma entry, the mall's distinctive main entrance (still there today) was being referred to at the time by local media, as the "Columnarium". I think that has a nice ring to it. (See those comments for more on the entrance and these columns.)

Mall history: 1964 - present
Architect: John Graham
Current website: here
Current aerial view
Previous entries: 1


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those columns really do make the place look grand. And look! Florsheim Shoes in the background.

Mon Jul 10, 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Cora said...

The columns give this mall a truly unique look. And that multilevel column is lovely as well. A triumph of modernist architecture.

Mon Jul 10, 04:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The anchor store in the background is The Bon Marché, by the way. Their distinctive sign -- a gold script "BM" with a crown on top -- is just out of camera range. Sadly, that sign came down last year when Macy's took over. Macy's still has a cool stained glass gate that they pull across the store when it is closed.

A mall information desk now sits about where that fountain was.

Mon Jul 10, 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

Sad to hear that cool fountain's gone. Darn.

Mon Jul 10, 06:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The entrance is still there, but look what the developers did to it!

The food court entrance looks better now. It has a little Space Needle vibe in it.

Mon Jul 10, 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger Livemalls said...

The mall furniture is a little clunky, but I like the scene overall.

Mon Jul 10, 08:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They look so bored, they were probably forced to go to the Florsheim Shoe Store with Dad so he could by some white Pat Boone shoes. Don't you feel sorry for them?

Mon Jul 10, 08:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The photos that anonymous posted are good for comparison, except that the lighting on the photo of the entrance is not very good. I think that photo tends to make the changes look worse than they actually are since it's so dark. I think they "wrapped" the columns as a compromise since they couldn't get rid of them. Inside, the columns now have a sort of "faux brick" on them on two sides going about three-quarters of the way up. Honestly, I think they did a fairly good job at modernizing things while not totally destroying the character of the design. I think it's a shame they have painted over all the brick, however -- it's very sterile looking now.

As for the food court, it didn't exist before the 2000 remodel. When the early malls were designed, it was believed that dispersing restaurants throughout the mall would force people to walk the concourse and look at more storefronts. The food court space was originally a Thriftway (later a Lucky) supermarket and a PayLess Drug Store. In the mid-'80s, it was converted into mall shops after Lucky left. The food court really isn't true to the original design of the rest of the mall, however, and seems a bit out of place.

Tue Jul 11, 01:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brace yourself, anonymous. Here's a photo of the entrance while they were in the process of "updating" it:

I thought this one was pretty interesting, as it gives you an idea of how massive that sign is:

Here's the food court:
The corridor really is that dark and dank -- though to get to the food court, you have to walk all the way to the end of that concourse and turn right.

Tue Jul 11, 02:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if there are anymore retro malls left, I mean malls that haven't been renovated?

Tue Jul 11, 08:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Stamford Town Center Mall is a retro mall with a late 1970s and early 1980s design. I live three towns over in Westport and frequent the mall. I have lived in this area since the 60s and it has NEVER been updated since it opened in the early 1980s. They are in the process of tearing down the Filene's department store and replacing it with a lifestyle section. This project is an absolute joke. However, if you are interested in walking into the late 70s/early 80s once again, I suggest visiting this mall.

Tue Jul 11, 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golf Mill Mall in Niles IL looks pretty much the same as it did when it was enclosed sometime in the late 70s. You get that vibe except most stores that we4re around at that time are probably long gone now. But you can just about make out what they may have been.

Tue Jul 11, 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Keith said...

Wow. Thanks for the great signage links, guys. It truly is sad what they turned that great entrance into. I mean, what they do nowadays is make everything look soooo dumbed-down and "playful". Like Tonka toys or something. All smooth and cutesy (like cars these days). I don't care for it. Give me LINES! Give me sharp ANGLES! Give me some real EDGES!!!

As for the Stamford Town Center Mall, can't vouch for its modern day vintageness, but I like this shot of La Bovene, the opera cow, that entertains the mall's shoppers (definitely an old-school type of idea)!

Tue Jul 11, 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger Cora said...

The original entrance with its modernist columns looks much nicer than the remodelled version. The sign is too big and dwarves everything else and those repainted and wrapped columns make the place look cheap, like a playground or something.

And whoever thought replacing that lovely fountain with an information desk was a good idea?

Tue Jul 11, 05:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since that photo was taken in 2000, the "wraps" around the columns have been repainted to a much more subdued shade of green -- or perhaps the paint has weathered, I don't know.

Oh yeah... there used to be a spiral staircase that led to the lower level of The Bon just to the left of the store's mall entrance that you see in this photo. The lower level used to be a sort of "bargain basement" and there was a restaurant and lounge called the Cascade Room, which closed in the mid '80s.

Tue Jul 11, 08:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This must be a very early shot. The fountain that occupied that spot later was a beautiful, and very 60s, metal sculptural founta in, signed "P. Billingsley" (he also made another fountain for one end of this mall, and one for Southcenter Mall)

The spiral staircase into the floor cutout beside The Bon had another fountain, set into a green-and-blue-tiled basin among the lush jungle-like plants around the staircase. It towered over visitors on the main level, and was formed of craggy cut-out sheets that were made to appear rust-eroded. The Cascade Room also had a fountain, a little beauty by George Tsutakawa.

Southcenter was built on a very similar plan to Tacoma, either a year earlier or later (can't remember, one was 67, one 68) and it, too, had a Thriftway (supermarket) and Payless Drug that were later demolished to add a food court.

If you visit Tacoma mall, look carefully - the walls around the food court have many photos of the mall from the 60s and 70s. If you visit Southcenter, stop by the management office, outside next to the police station by LensCrafters, and ask to see their folder of old mall documents, which includes photos and a store directory from the first year or so. They may let you make photocopies.

Tue Jul 18, 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on the fountains, Jonas. Was there ever a fountain near Penney's?

The first phase of the Tacoma Mall opened in three stages between 1964 and 1966. The Bon Marche opened in August 1964 before everything else; the mall concourse and Penney's opened in October 1965 and Nordstrom-Best came in 1966. Southcenter opened in 1968, and had a Pay 'n Save instead of a PayLess. (At this time, the PayLess stores in Tacoma were a separate chain limited to Downtown Tacoma, Bremerton and the Tacoma Mall, adding stores in Spanaway and Lakewood later. They were bought out by the PayLess chain out of Oregon in the late '80s.)

I don't recall seeing any vintage photos in the Tacoma Mall food court. Maybe they were up right after the remodel and have been taken down? Just like Southcenter, I have heard that the Tacoma Mall office has lots of historical documents that they will let you see upon request -- I think they might even have an architect's model.

Tue Jul 18, 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They (the old photos) used to be up. They were in the lobby of the restrooms that are immediately off the food court between the restaurants.

There were four fountains in Tacoma Mall. The tall, craggy one in the Bon's stairwell, the Billingsley that replaced this early stepped waterfall (you could see one from the other and vice versa) one down the right-hand hallway past the food court turnoff (another Billingsley) and the little Tsutakawa in the Cascade Room courtyard, which was along the lines of a smaller version of the Tsutakawa immediately off Seattle's Seneca St. freeway exit. The Billingsley up front was more active, it looked a bit like six big C-clamps of varying sizes - water shot from the upper point onto a disc on top of the lower point, and these formed transparent umbrellas of water. The other Billingsley was quieter and had sheetlike water flow on four sides out of a structure with four ribs (think of Disneyland's 60s "house of the future" with the spouts at the inner corners, and a smaller identical structure inside, best way I can describe it)

The stairwell of The Bon and the Cascade Room courtyard both also had fiberglass rocks with a hole in the side that concealed a spotlight. Go digging around in the bushes in Cascade Room's courtyard and you'll find a few. Southcenter's Bon had this stairwell too, but with a straight staircase and no fountain, and had a restaurant in the same spot (the Legend Room) that had a fountain visible in the garden outside its windows, of what kind I don't know.

Southcenter had only two fountains. One, a Billingsley up front (mall management knows it replaced another that was stolen before the mall opened, and one person tells me that one was a Tsutakawa, but it isn't listed in his list of fountains - then again, neither is the (signed) Cascade Room fountain) The other, an oval pool in front of Frederick & Nelson that had an oval spray ring with white lights, under a big crystal chandelier. I'm told there were once others but I've found no evidence yet...

Thu Jul 20, 04:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Cascade Room courtyard, it's sad to see what it looks like now. Seems as if it's sort of an area for the Macy's employees to take a smoke break... with a bunch of plastic patio furniture set up. The trees in front are overgrown -- which I guess is understandable because they don't want you to notice the place anymore. Moss is growing all over the place and it just looks really dingy. At least it's still there, though. Makes me wonder what (if any) parts of the restaurant are still extant in now-hidden areas of the store.

Thu Aug 17, 02:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, no remnants of the Cascade Room are left that I know of. The space has been completely remodeled into offices. But check out the cool bronze wall lights in the courtyards - these once had colored glass beads in all the holes. Last I visited, they had fallen all over the ground (they had been there a while, no one cared) so I took them home. You can also, if you poke around in the bushes both inside and outside the fence, find fiberglass rocks with a spotlight hidden inside.

Southcenter's restaurant faced a garden with no courtyard, and was called the Legend Room. This space is now the lingerie department! Northgate's Bon Marche had a restaurant with a garden too, with some cool lighting fixtures, that space was a toy store, last I checked. Anyone know the name of that restaurant, or whether the gardens for it or the Northgate one had fountains? And did any other mall Bon Marche stores have similar restaurants?

Wed Aug 23, 06:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a color photo of the fountian right next to The Bon Marche? You know, leading to the Cascade room? I found these, but of course, they aren't in color.

Sat Jan 26, 05:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh! Here is another view of the fountian . .

Sat Jan 26, 05:59:00 PM  
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Blogger Anna said...

Do you know of any photos of the tall craggy fountain? I remember it really well, but I can't find any photos online. I grew up in Tacoma.

Thank you!

Tue Apr 04, 08:46:00 AM  

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