TOPANGA PLAZA
Topanga Canyon and Victory Boulevards
Los Angeles, California

Master mall architect Victor Gruen was involved in the design of the first enclosed shopping mall to open in Southern California. TOPANGA PLAZA, developed by Saint Louis-based May Centers, was built in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, on a 58 acre tract, 25 miles northwest of the center city. The land parcel had been part of the Harry Warner Ranch.

Ground was broken for the TOPANGA PLAZA project in February 1963. The original mall would envelop 727,100 leasable square feet, on two levels, and house eighty-three retailers. The first stores in business were the 3-level (251,800 square foot), Los Angeles-based May Company California and 2-level (116,600 square foot) Montgomery Ward. These held their grand openings on February 10, 1964.

A Food Fair supermarket served its first patrons in April 1964. This was followed by the official dedication of a third anchor, a 4-level (160,200 square foot), Los Angeles-based The Broadway. It opened its doors August 24, 1964.

Charter tenants included Joseph Magnin, Mullen & Bluett ladies' wear, Silverwood's men's & boy's wear, Lane Bryant, Kay Jewelers, Florsheim Shoes, Hardy Shoes, Frederick's of Hollywood, Hudson's Jewelers and Sutton Brothers Home Decorating.

Grand openings at TOPANGA tended to be star-studded affairs, attended by Hollywood personalities such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lorne Green, Buster Keaton, Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows and Bea Benedaret ("Kate" on "Petticoat Junction").

The Topanga Plaza Ice Arena formally opened -to much media fanfare- in March 1964. It was located on the mall's first level, at the southeast corner. There was also the distinctive Rain Fountain in the South Court. The North Court featured the Terrace Restaurant, which overlooked the area from atop the May Company store.

A cinematic venue, the Stanley Warner Topanga Theatre, was built across the street from The Broadway, on the southeast corner of Topanga Canyon and Victory Boulevards. It opened October 26, 1965, was twinned in 1972 and tri-plexed in 1992. The building, which had housed a furniture store for some years, was razed in September 2007.
 
Major shopping options in the "TOPANGA MALL" trade area included FALLBROOK SQUARE (1963) {1 mile west, in Los Angeles} and NORTHRIDGE FASHION CENTER (1971) {4 miles northeast, also in Los Angeles}.

TOPANGA PLAZA was used in location shooting for Columbia Pictures' "Divorce American Style", in 1967. In the film, Debbie Reynolds and Emmaline Henry stroll the North Court, ascend an escalator to the second level, traipse through Florsheim Shoes and then head into Joseph Magnin. Mallophile's may want to check out these couple minutes of footage. They present a mid-'60s time capsule of what a shopping mall was like...topped off by some kooky-sounding "shopping mall muzak" filtering through the court and corridors.

TOPANGA PLAZA had been conceived as a predominantly middle market shopping center, with many stores and services geared toward a middle class clientele. In 1973, PROMENADE AT WOODLAND HILLS opened, which was two blocks south. This new mall was positioned as an upscale counterpart to the older shopping center.

A New York City-based Ohrbach's opened, in space previously leased by Joseph Magnin, in August 1980. This store closed in December 1986. The first expansion of "TOPANGA MALL" got underway in 1983. This consisted of the addition of a 2-level (154,000 square foot) Nordstrom, which opened in April 1984.

A facelift renovation was also given to the mall's interior, with a 15-bay Food Court being installed in the old Ice Arena space. The shopping center now encompassed 881,100 leasable square feet and one hundred and six stores and services. Further renovations were done to the mall proper between January and November of 1992. The 45 million dollar project included a seismic retrofit of steel and concrete framework.

The TOPANGA PLAZA May Company was rebranded as a Robinsons-May January 31, 1993. Australia-based Westfield Holdings (now the Westfield Group) acquired a 42 percent share of the shopping hub in November 1993.

On the morning of January 17, 1994, a massive earthquake hit the San Fernando Valley. The inline store section of TOPANGA PLAZA had been seismically reinforced just 2 years earlier and incurred only modest damage. It re-opened January 28, 1994. The four anchor stores had been severely shaken. Nordstrom resumed business in February, followed by The Broadway in May and Montgomery Ward in September. Robinsons-May remained closed until November 1994.

The mall's The Broadway location was shuttered in early 1996. It re-opened as a Sears November 2 of the same year. In November 1998, the shopping hub was bequeathed a new name...WESTFIELD SHOPPINGTOWN TOPANGA. In November 1999, Westfield established 100 percent ownership of the mall.

A new century brought more changes. Montgomery Ward closed in March 2001. A fourth mall renovation, on the drawing board since 1997, got underway in February 2005. The vacant Montgomery Ward was torn down and a multilevel addition built. Encompassing 753,500 leasable square feet, it nearly doubled the size of the existing structure.

This project included the construction of a new, 3-level (200,000 square foot) Nordstrom, 2-level (100,000 square foot) Target, and over one hundred stores and restaurants. Three parking garages were also added. As an adjunct to these changes, the Robinsons-May store was rebranded as a Macy's September 9, 2006.

A new, totally refurbished, WESTFIELD TOPANGA (sans the "SHOPPINGTOWN" since June 2005) was dedicated October 6, 2006. With this renovation, the mall encompassed 1,514,600 leasable square feet and housed two hundred and seventy stores.

However, the 500 million dollar renovation project was far from being finished. A second phase of construction replaced the circa-1984 Nordstrom with a 2-level (120,000 square foot) Neiman Marcus. The store was dedicated September 5, 2008. WESTFIELD TOPANGA now encompassed 1,634,600 leasable square feet and trumped NORTHRIDGE FASHION CENTER as the largest shopping mall in the San Fernando Valley.

In late 2007, Westfield announced plans to connect WESTFIELD TOPANGA and WESTFIELD PROMENADE (nee' PROMENADE AT WOODLAND HILLS) with a 750 million dollar VILLAGE AT WESTFIELD TOPANGA "urban village" complex that would be built on the 30 acre section lying between the two malls.

The open-air, mixed-use development would have featured 438,500 square feet of retail, 75,000 square feet of restaurants a "boutique hotel" and incorporate 215,000 square feet of existing office space. Moreover, an aerial monorail system, linking the three shopping centers, was mentioned.

The Great Recession of the early 21st century caused drastic changes to be made in the project plan. The residential component and monorail were dropped entirely and the size of the prospective complex reduced. It was now to encompass 447,700 square feet of retail and restaurants and 285,000 square feet of office space.

A Washington State-based Costco was signed in mid-2010. Their store was to comprise 1 level and 154,000 square feet. Costco planned on a late 2012 grand opening, but there was a fly in the ointment, so to say. The Woodland Hills Homeowners Association filed a suit to block the prospective Costco in April 2012.

The suit was dismissed in July 2013, but this delayed the beginning of construction on the VILLAGE AT WESTFIELD TOPANGA project until October of the same year. Costco became the first operational tenant in the complex on September 11, 2015.

Sears, a TOPANGA tenant since 1996, shut its doors May 3, 2015. The building will be demolished and replaced by a "vibrant entertainment district", complete with a state-of-the-art movie megaplex and several toney sit-down restaurants.

Sources:

"Westfield Topanga" article on Wikipedia
Los Angeles County, California tax assessor site
Malls of America Blogspot / Keith Milford, webmaster
"Futura Girl" / Lotta Living website hostess
www.westfield.com (Westfield Group)
The Los Angeles Times
http://www.mta.net/ / press / metro orange line http://buildinglosangeles.blogspot.com                                                                                           

FAIR USE OF TOPANGA PLAZA IMAGE:

The photograph from The UCLA Library Digital Archive illustrates a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The image is of lower resolution than the original (copies made would be of inferior quality). The image is not replaceable with a free-use or public-domain image. The use of the image does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the image in any way. The image is being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and its use is not believed to detract from the original image in any way.

2 comments:

dea41396 said...

The Sears/Broadway Building is 4 Levels (3 and Basement)

The Curator said...

Cool.

The article is ammended.

Cheers,