MONTGOMERY MALL
Westlake Drive and Westlake Terrace
Montgomery County (Bethesda), Maryland

Two major shopping malls opened in the environs of Washington, DC during 1968; MONTGOMERY MALL, in Montgomery County (Bethesda), Maryland, and TYSONS CORNER CENTER, in Fairfax County (McLean), Virginia.

MONTGOMERY MALL occupied a 60 acre plot, located 16 miles northwest of the United States Capitol. The site was adjacent to the Interstate 270 spur route, a connector between the Capital Beltway / Interstate 495 loop and Interstate 70 N / 70 S (today signed as Interstate 270). The Interstate 270 spur was in place, and open to traffic, by 1963.

A regional complex, tentatively known as the CABIN JOHN SHOPPING CENTER, had been envisaged by Bethesda surgeon Dr. John H. Solomon. Planning and design was underway by 1963. However, Solomon and his backers were unable to raise sufficient venture capital. In 1965, the project was taken over by a consortium of Saint Louis-based May Centers and Philadelphia's Strouse, Greenberg & Company. Construction commenced soon after.

At an official dedication, held March 6, 1968, MONTGOMERY MALL encompassed 850,000 leasable square feet and was the region's second shopping complex with 2 full levels of retail (the first being Maryland's IVERSON MALL).

MONTGOMERY MALL was designed by Seattle's John Graham, Junior and Springfield, Virginia-based Ward & Hall. Its original anchors were a 2-level (151,700 square foot), Arlington, Virginia-based Hecht's, 2-level (90,000 square foot), Washington-based Garfinckel's and 2-level (150,000 square foot) Sears.

There were fifty-eight inline stores. Charter tenants included Bond Clothes, Lerner Shops, Peoples Drug, Corset World, Nye Jewelers, Waldenbooks and an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10. The Colonial-themed "Georgetown Row" encompassed eight eighteenth century-motif boutiques.

A Washington-based Woodward & Lothrop was to anchor a future expansion of the mall "within 3 to 5 years". Completion of the 2-level (150,000 square foot) store would actually take 8. The MONTGOMERY MALL "Woodies" opened March 25, 1976, built along with 60,000 square feet of inline store space.

The new North Wing added forty stores to the retail roster. A multilevel parking garage, jutting out from the northwest corner of the mall, had also been built. Moreover, the Hecht's store had been enlarged (to 217,000 square feet) with a new, 2-level parking deck connecting to that store's south and west entrances.

Shopping hubs in the vicinity of MONTGOMERY MALL included WHEATON PLAZA (1960) {4.7 miles northeast, in Montgomery County}, WHITE FLINT MALL (1977) {2.1 miles northeast, also in Montgomery County} and LAKE FOREST MALL (1978) {9.2 miles northwest, in Gaithersburg}.

In the mid-1980s, a small addition was built west of the MONTGOMERY MALL Woodward & Lothrop. It included the K-B Theatres Montgomery Mall 3, which showed its first features January 18, 1985. Over the next 29 years, the tri-plex would operate under the K-B, Cineplex Odeon, Loews, AMC and P & G Theatres banners.

Meanwhile, MONTGOMERY MALL had been eclipsed by an expansion of TYSONS CORNER CENTER, done between 1986-1988. As a keeping up measure, an addition to MONTGOMERY MALL was planned. The expansion, to be built in the south parking area, was to include Nordstrom as its anchor.

However, the plan met a great deal of community opposition, with Nordstrom pulling out. Things were eventually smoothed over. Nordstrom was reinstated and construction was underway by 1990. The South Wing was originally designed to cut through the existing mall on one side of Garfinckel's. With the shuttering of Garfinckel's, in June 1990, the plan was altered.

The vacant Garfinckel's was gutted and the mallway of the expansion cut directly through the old store. A multilevel parking garage was built at the southeast corner of the complex, connected via skybridge to Sears and Nordstrom.

Boulevard Cafes, an 18-bay Food Courtwas installed in Level 2 store space. The existing mall was also given a floor-to-ceiling refurbishment, with new skylights, marble flooring and fixtures. New stores were signed, such as Crate & Barrel, Guess? and Abercrombie & Fitch.

The 100 million dollar addition was dedicated on October 18, 1991. Anchored by a 3-level (215,000 square foot) Nordstrom, it added forty tenants to the mall directory, which now listed one hundred and sixty stores and services. The center's GLA had been expanded to 1,250,000 square feet.

Australia-based Westfield (today's Westfield Corporation) purchased MONTGOMERY MALL in 1994. 4 years later, the center was renamed WESTFIELD SHOPPINGTOWN MONTGOMERY. By mid-2005, the official moniker had been shortened to simply WESTFIELD MONTGOMERY.

Woodward & Lothrop had been shuttered on November 10, 1995, with J.C. Penney opening in its space on July 20, 1996. This operation lasted until March 2001. The first level of the building was divided into fourteen inline stores, including Old Navy, American Eagle Outfitters and Shenk & Tittle. The second level opened, as a (75,800 square foot) Hecht's Home Store, in October 2001.

The Federated / May merger of August 2005 resulted in the dissolution of the Hecht's chain. Stores, including the two at WESTFIELD MONTGOMERY, re-opened under the Macy's masthead on August 25, 2006.

A plan to further expand WESTFIELD MONTGOMERY had been put forth by Westfield in 2004. A concave, lifestyle-format component was proposed for the north parking area. This was to extend between the existing Sears and Hecht's stores and partially surround open "common area".

The prospective 350 million dollar, 500,000 square foot, "Fashion Wing" addition would be populated by various upscale boutiques and bistros, with a new parking area -and megaplex cinema- included in the project.

WESTLAKE TERRACE, an existing strip center, and the Sears Auto Center (at the northeast corner of the property) were to be demolished. Apparently, the new construction would have also required demolition of the mall's northwest parking garage.

As had been the case in the late 1980s, the plan for a mall expansion was opposed by local citizens. Westfield decided to drop the provision for a new megaplex cinema, with the square footage of the addition being reduced to 360,000. The altered plan was approved in January 2005.

Alas, The Great Recession slammed the brakes on any reworking of the mall for the time being. Plans for a scaled-down renovation surfaced in early 2012. This included provisions for a Dining Terrace, similar to installations at WESTFIELD CENTURY CITY {in Los Angeles} and WESTFIELD SOUTHCENTER {in Washington State}.

Work got underway on the 90 million dollar refurbishment in 2013. The Boulevard Cafes section was gutted. A state-of-the-art ArcLight Cinemas Bethesda 16-plex was built on top of the northwest parking garage, which overlooked the new Dining Terrace.

Dining Terrace tenants included Cava Mezze Grill, Naples 45 Ristorante e Pizzeria and MET Bethesda. These opened for business between August 2014 and May 2015. The new cinema had showed its first features on October 23, 2014.

Alas, some of the upscale Dining Terrace eateries were short-lived. MET Bethesda served its final meals in September 2016. Naples 45 Ristorante e Pizzeria went dark in January 2017. In May, Sears sold its 49-year-old store and Auto Center to the Westfield Corporation.

A closure notice was filed with the state of Maryland in January 2018, but was immediately retracted. Sears Holdings announced that said closure notice was filed accidentally and that the WESTFIELD MONTGOMERY store would remain in business. Rumor has it that Sears will temporarily close and downsize into a single level. A grand re-opening could take place in 2019.

Sources:

The Washington Post
http://archives.ubalt.edu_Montgomery Mall
www.internetigloo.com
www.montgomeryplanningboard.org
Content from Dan Allen
www.westfield.com
www.cinematreasures.org
www.eyecorp.com
Comment post by Randy
"Westfield Montgomery" article on Wikipedia
www.bethesdamagazine.com