South El Camino Real and Hillsdale Boulevard
San Mateo, California

Originally known as "The Heart of the Peninsula", HILLSDALE CENTER was the second post-war shopping complex built in San Francisco's West Bay suburbs. The venue was situated on a 50 acre site, located 21.9 miles south of San Francisco's Union Square, in the satellite city of San Mateo.

The land, once part of the Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, had been acquired by developer David D. Bohannon in 1939. By 1941, an eighty-four unit subdivision, with neighborhoods known as Hillsdale and Park Western, was completed. Five other housing plats would follow.

The first structure built on a prospective shopping center site, a (15,800 square foot) Mayfair Market grocery, was in service by 1946. A 3-level (67,500 square foot) Sears began business March 22, 1951.

By December 1953, a 488,000  square foot, open-air mall was under construction. Designed by Los Angeles-based Welton Becket & Associates, it would be anchored by a 3-level (155,000 square foot) Macy's; the first suburban shopping center branch of the Macy's San Francisco division. This store held its grand opening November 19, 1954.

The mall, also dedicated November 19, 1954, housed fifty-three stores and services. These included Harris & Frank apparel, Baker's Shoes, Moar's Cafeteria and a J.J. Newberry 5 & 10. A kiddie ride amusement area had been set up in the northwest parking lot.

On the far north end of the complex (across 31st Avenue) was the twenty-two-department Farmer's Market This featured an early version of an international food court, along with a grocery, produce section and butcher shop.

A 4-level (206,000 square foot), Bay Area-based Emporium department store opened September 12, 1962. Adjacent to the Farmer's Market, it was the chain's fourth suburban branch. In 1964, Macy's was expanded with a fourth level. This enlarged the store to 220,000 square feet.

Later in the decade, two multilevel parking garages were built. One was connected to the Emporium store, the second was built in the southwest parking area. Sears was remodeled and expanded into a 209,200 square foot operation. The newly-enlarged store held its grand re-opening in August 1966.

The single-screen General Cinema Corporation Hillsdale Cinema showed its first feature December 23, 1966. It was a peripheral structure, located across El Camino Real from the Emporium store. The venue was twinned in November 1971, quaded in the late 1970s, and shuttered in 1998.

Shopping malls in the HILLSDALE trade area included STANFORD CENTER (1956) {9.3 miles southeast, in Palo Alto} and TANFORAN PARK CENTER (1971) {9 miles northwest, in San Bruno}.

The next major addition to HILLSDALE CENTER was something of a keeping-up with the malls measure. In the late 1970s, Ernest W. Hahn, Incorporated was planning its SAN MATEO FASHION ISLAND (1983) {1.6 miles northeast, in San Mateo}. In November 1980, a major expansion of HILLSDALE CENTER was approved by the local government.

This entailed enclosing the existing mall and building an upper level of retail. Moreover, a 3-level (150,000 square foot) Nordstrom and 2-level, (80,000 square foot) Mervyn's would be added. A new Restaurant Court would be installed in the old Farmer's Market structure. Lastly, a third parking garage would be built on the site of the Mayfair Market.

Phase 1 of the renovation was completed in November 1981, with the remainder of the project dedicated during 1982. The shopping hub now housed over one hundred and twenty stores and services.

Sears demoted its HILLSDALE store to a Furniture & Appliance Clearance Center in 1991. In February 1996, The Emporium was shuttered. Sears took this opportunity to open a new full-line store in the vacant building. A grand opening was held November 2, 1996.

Soon after, the old Sears was demolished and replaced with a strip plaza, known as HILLSDALE SOUTH. Included were Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, Romano's Macaroni Grill and a CompUSA-The Good Guys-Tower Records Megastore. These opened for business during 1998.

Mervyn's, the south anchor of the mall proper, was shuttered December 27, 2008. After sitting vacant for over 2 years, the store space was renovated and retenanted. The first of three new tenants, a 1- level (9,000 square foot) Cheesecake Factory, opened September 19, 2011. This was followed by a 1-level (19,000 square foot) H & M, on September 27. A 2-level (52,000 square foot) Forever 21, which relocated from a smaller location in the mall, opened in November.

The HILLSDALE SOUTH strip center was also remodeled, with Trader Joe's and Old Navy (another relocated tenant) taking up the bulk of the old CompUSA Megastore space. These stores began business in the summer of 2011.

In early 2013, a prospective renovation of the north store block was announced. Cost Plus World Market and the existing Food Court would be replaced by a state-of-the-art, 9-screen megaplex. Sears would vacate the mall. Its store would be gutted and rebuilt as a 3-level (174,000 square foot) Target.  Moreover, an open-air Food Court would be installed on the Upper Level of the mall.

In December 2013, it was announced that the north store block renovation was being indefinitely postponed. A revised plan came to light in early 2015. It was decided that installing another large anchor store (such as Target) was not the right direction to follow.

What the mall needed was a trendy, open-air Lifestyle Plaza, surrounded by restaurants, a bowling center and upscale Cineopolis Luxury Cinemas Hillsdale megaplex. A fitness center would be included on a lower level, with the existing Food Court relocated to an upper level. This would cross over 31st Avenue and connect with the mall proper.

Sears shuttered their HILLSDALE store April 10, 2016. Demolition commenced in May of the same year, with construction of the 290,000 square foot Lifestyle Plaza getting underway soon after. With its completion in early 2018, HILLSDALE CENTER will encompass approximately 1,354,800 leasable square feet.


preservenet.cornell.edu/publications/Longstreth Branch Store.doc
Scott P., aka "BigMallRat"
"Shopping Can Be Fun" short subject / Photographed and produced by George H. Kelley / 1957
The San Mateo Daily Journal
http://news.theregistrysf.com (The Registry: Bay Area Real Estate)


The images from the San Mateo Times illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The images are of lower resolution than the originals (copies made would be of inferior quality). The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.