VILLA ITALIA MALL
West Alameda Avenue and South Wadsworth Boulevard
Jefferson County, Colorado

Developer Gerri Von Frellick's third Denver shopping mall was built on a 103 acre portion of Belmar, the 750 acre estate of heiress May Bonfils-Stanton, who passed away in 1962. The site was located 7.6 miles southwest of Colorado's Capitol, in, what was then, unincorporated Jefferson County.

VILLA ITALIA MALL was conceived by Charles Stanton, the husband of May Bonfils-Stanton, and architect Gene Shrewsury. Milan, Italy's GALLERIA VITTORIO EMANUELE II (1870-1880) served as an inspiration for the Italianate design of the fully-enclosed complex. It was predominantly a one story structure, with four sections having 2 stories. These areas were leased as office spaces in the original shopping venue.

The mall's interior was decorated with fountains, stone planters, Roman statues and Terra Cotta tile. It also featured columns which had been salvaged from Colorado's old U.S. Mint Customs House. The main corridor had four graduating level changes -going from east to west- with the east end being the lowest.

When officially dedicated on March 3, 1966, the 800,000 square foot complex was touted as the largest enclosed shopping center between Chicago and Los Angeles. However, it was trumped only 2 years later by the next shopping center developed by Von Frellick, CINDERELLA CITY MALL, which had 500,000 more leasable square feet.

VILLA ITALIA was anchored by a 1-level (124,200 square foot) Montgomery Ward, 2-level (160,000 square foot), Denver-based Joslins and 2-level (127,500 square foot) J.C. Penney. Among the sixty-eight inline stores were Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, Orange Julius, Lewis Fine Candies, Pet City, Thom McAn Shoes, Fashion Bar, Stuarts Ready-To-Wear For Ladies, Wyatt's Cafeteria and an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10. The single-screen Villa Italia Cinema had opened, as a northwest parking area outparcel, in 1965.

The mall was expanded in 1984-1985. During this renovation, the Northwest Wing was partially demolished and a 3-level (130,000 square foot), Phoenix-based Broadway Southwest built. A second level Terrace Food Court was also included in the project, which was accessed by a glass-enclosed elevator. Other sections of the mall were double-decked and devoted to retail stores. With this addition, the center encompassed 1.4 million leasable square feet.

The first anchor store alteration occurred in 1987 when Broadway Southwest was rebranded by Denver-based May D & F. The location was rebranded again on May 2, 1993, when the store was fitted with a Houston-based Foley's nameplate.

By this time, VILLA ITALIA was feeling the pinch from newer and more trendy malls in the area, such as SOUTHWEST PLAZA (1982) {6.4 miles southwest, in Jefferson County} and a new, fully-enclosed CHERRY CREEK CENTER (1990) {6.4 miles northeast, also in Denver}. It wasn't long before the older shopping venue began to decline.

The owners VILLA ITALIA MALL, the Salt Lake City-based Equitable Life Assurance Society of America, considered overhauling the ailing center between 1995 and 1997, but eventually decided against performing any renovations.

Meanwhile, city officials of Lakewood (which had incorporated in 1969), were becoming more and more apprehensive about the dead mall that was now the commercial core of their city. They decided to take action. A referendum was held in 1997, which authorized "urban renewal" to redevelop VILLA ITALIA into a more conventional downtown district, something the post-war suburb never had.

In 1998, Lakewood entered into a joint venture with Denver-based Continuum Development. Continuum purchased the land beneath the mall (from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation) in September 1999 and acquired the buildings and ground leases (from Equitable) in early 2001. The site was rezoned, from that of an enclosed shopping center to a mixed-use development, and the redevelopment plan put in motion.

By this time, three of the anchor stores were preparing to close. Joslins, rebranded by Dillard's in 1998, was shuttered October 31, 2000. Montgomery Ward shut down in March 2001, with J.C. Penney's VILLA ITALIA demise taking place in April. However, Foley's, under the auspices of Saint Louis-based May Department Stores, became a fly in the ointment to the redevelopment scenario.

Foley's, and other merchants still operating in VILLA ITALIA, went to court to fight the demolition of the mall and nullification of their existing leases. However, the Lakewood / Continuum consortium prevailed. The mall officially closed July 15, 2001. Demolition began January 14, 2002. Meanwhile, in November 2002, a new mall on the block held its grand opening. COLORADO MILLS {4.2 miles northwest, also in Lakewood} encompassed 1,100,000 leasable square feet and over ninety stores and services.

Construction of a new, mixed-use project got underway in April 2003. The Broadway Southwest / Foley's building, the only remnant of VILLA ITALIA left standing, closed and was renovated into a Galyan's Trading Company, which would eventually be rebranded by Dick's Sporting Goods. This became a part of BELMAR COLORADO, a testament to the New Urbanism movement which had emerged in the early 1980s.

The open-air BELMAR COLORADO was to eventually encompass twenty-three city block sections. Its 220 million dollar first phase, comprising five of these blocks, included 639,000 square feet of retail, 158,000 square feet of office space and one hundred and five residential units, in addition to a 16-screen, multiplex. This portion of the project was dedicated in May 2004.

Construction of the second phase of BELMAR COLORADO commenced in November 2004. This included 95,000 additional square feet of retail, as well as 45,000 square feet of office space. A (55,000 square foot) Whole Foods Market was dedicated December 7, 2005. Phase Three of the project included a 1-level (131,500 square foot) Target, which was dedicated March 6, 2011. Target was followed by Best Buy, on March 25, 2011, and Nordstrom Rack, on April 28 of the same year.

The fully-realized BELMAR encompasses a total of 3.3 million square feet of retail, office and residential area, including one hundred and seventy-five stores, 9 acres of green space and over two million square feet of parking.

Sources:

www.denvergov.org
Jefferson County, Colorado tax assessor website
www.belmarcolorado.com
www.westernbusiness.comes
www.cinematreasures.org