MISSION VALLEY CENTER
Camino Del Rio North and Mission Center Road
San Diego, California

In 1957, May Company California purchased a large land parcel in San Diego County and was soon lobbying for an agricultural-to-commercial zoning change so that construction of a regional shopping center could begin.

A matter of note: in the late 1950s, essentially all that was necessary in order to build a major commercial complex was to secure a zoning change. Today, the same endeavor would require environmental impact statements, traffic studies, community forums and a number of other costly -and time-consuming- measures. Moreover, there would be the possibility of community opposition to such a project that would need to be overcome.

Even in 1957, there was a great deal of controversy involved with the May Company shopping center plan. Many citizens did not want to see the pristine Mission Valley inundated with suburbanization. Likewise, the city's downtown merchants were none too pleased with the prospect of a huge, suburban retail center potentially siphoning off their customer base.

After much wheeling and dealing, the City Council granted the zoning change in June 1958. Ground was broken on a 90 acre site, located 3 miles north of the center city, in July of the same year. Construction on the prospective MISSION VALLEY CENTER got underway on December 1.

The open-air mall was designed by the San Diego-based Deems, Lewis, Martin & Associates and Frank Hope & Associates firms. It would be a bi-level structure. The first floor would house a parking garage and pastoral Center Court. The upper floor would be devoted entirely to retail.

This design was conceived because the shopping center site was located on a flood plain of the San Diego River. It was thought that a sufficient amount of rain could flood the area, with the ground floor of a structure being submerged in several feet of water.

When officially dedicated on February 20, 1961, the 25 million dollar shopping center encompassed approximately 865,900 leasable square feet. It was anchored by a 4-level (363,000 square foot) May Company and 2-level (219,000 square foot) Montgomery Ward. Among the seventy-three inline stores and services were See's Candies, Bank of America and a J.J. Newberry 5 & 10.

In late 1961, MISSION VALLEY was joined by its first retail competitor, GROSSMONT CENTER {7.5 miles east, in La Mesa}. FASHION VALLEY CENTER {less than a mile west, in San Diego} was dedicated in 1969. UNIVERSITY TOWNE CENTRE {7.5 miles northwest, also in San Diego} opened its doors in 1977.

The western sector of the MISSION VALLEY CENTER site was developed soon after the mall was completed. An outparcel Ice Arena was built in the parking area west of Ward's in 1963 (it closed in the early 1970s). The Valley Circle Theater, part of the MISSION VALLEY WEST strip center, showed its first feature December 23, 1966.

The first expansion of the mall, built onto the north side of the structure, was completed in the mid-1970s. It housed eleven inline stores and a 3-level (173,200 square foot), Los Angeles-based Bullock's, which opened its doors February 19, 1975. 8 years later, the mall was expanded again. A Northeast Wing and 2-level (77,300 square foot) Saks Fifth Avenue were dedicated in the fall of 1983.

MISSION VALLEY CENTER now encompassed 1,572,800 leasable square feet. It surpassed FASHION VALLEY MALL as the largest shopping center in Greater San Diego. This distinction reverted back to FASHION VALLEY, following a 1996-1997 expansion.

Meanwhile, in February 1994, ownership of MISSION VALLEY CENTER had changed. Real estate assets of St. Louis' CentreMark Properties were sold to a joint venture of Iowa's General Growth Properties, New York's Whitehall Street Real Estate Limited Partnership and Australia's Westfield Holdings. In June 1996, Westfield established 100 percent ownership of the previous CentreMark portfolio.

By the early 1990s, several store spaces in the Northeast Wing of the MISSION VALLEY mall were vacant. Things worsened considerably when the Saks store closed, on July 9, 1994. To reinvigorate the mall, a renovation was done between 1994 and 1996. The state-of-the-art American Multi-Cinema Mission Valley 20 multiplex, built in the front parking area, opened for business December 15, 1995.

The ailing Northeast Wing was reconstructed and renamed The Promenade. New big box-type stores were recruited. Bed, Bath & Beyond (assuming the old Saks store) began business in November 1995. Loehmann's opened their MISSION VALLEY location in August 1996. Nordstrom Rack and Michaels set up shop as well.

Meanwhile, May Company had absorbed all Los Angeles-based J.W. Robinson's department stores. Existing May Company and Robinson's locations being rebranded as Robinsons-May on January 31, 1993. The mall's Bullock's re-opened, as a Macy's Home Store, May 1, 1996.

The mall-wide renovation project was completed in 1997, with the shopping hub now encompassing 1,676,500 leasable square feet and over one hundred and twenty stores and services. 1997 was also the year that the San Diego Trolley light rail system opened its 6.1 mile "Mission Valley West" extension, which serviced the new PARK VALLEY SHOPPING CENTER, located directly north of WESTFIELD MISSION VALLEY.

In November 1998, Westfield renamed the mall WESTFIELD SHOPPINGTOWN MISSION VALLEY. The "shoppingtown" moniker -which had been added to the names of all Westfield-owned malls- was dropped in June 2005. Henceforth, the shopping venue would be known as WESTFIELD MISSION VALLEY.

Montgomery Ward had closed in March 2001. Target established a new store at this location in July 2002. Robinsons-May was "Macy-ated" in September 2006.

In mid-2008, the Westfield Group announced plans for a massive expansion of WESTFIELD MISSION VALLEY. This would have included double-decking the mall's retail level, which would have added 500,000 leasable square feet. Office and hotel space was also proposed, as were two hundred and fifty residential units and five new parking structures.

As soon as these plans were divulged, they were met with substantial community opposition. If any such plans were to be approved by the local government, the process could have taken several years. This stumbling block, and the Great Recession, resulted in expansion plans for WESTFIELD MISSION VALLEY to be abandoned...at least for for the time being.

By January 2016, there were -once again- rumblings about some type of mall remodeling. Westfield began a process to purchase the 55-year-old May Company (Macy's) building. The Historical Resources Board of the City of San Diego sprang into action.

They evaluated the Mission Valley May Company building and concluded that it "retains integrity as it relates to the original design". Furthermore, the structure was deemed "historically significant". It has been said that this action could prevent the Mid-Century Modern store from being torn down as part of a mall renovation.

Westfield finalized the purchase of the building in March 2016 and appealed to the City of San Diego to revoke its designation as an historic structure.

Sources:

http://www.sandiegohistory.org / "The Auto - Rise Of the Shopping Centers"
http://history.sandiego.edu
Mitch Glaser / "Paradox Unbound"
http://www.sandiegometro.com / "Mission Valley's Transformation" / By Libby Brydolf / 1998
http://www.sandiego.gov
http://www.modernsandiego.com
www.cinematreasures.org
http://www.westfield.com
Metropolitan Transit Development Board
The City of San Diego Historical Resources Board report /  "May Company / William Lewis, Junior Building" / January 28, 2016