LAKEWOOD CENTER
Lakewood and Del Amo Boulevards
Lakewood, California

Lakewood, California was a west coast counterpart of the gigantic, post-war Levittown developments of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. At Lakewood, the transition from lima bean fields to a major, big city suburb was made in less than 5 years. Built on 3,500 acres, this moderne metropolis was developed by S. Mark Taper, Ben Weingart and Louis Boyar.

The first residents moved in July 8, 1950. By 1953, over seventeen thousand tract houses had been built. Lakewood became the largest area in the nation to incorporate as a city, on April 16, 1954. At this time, it was the 16th-largest municipality in the Golden State.

As with many of America's post-war planned communities, a suburban-type shopping center would serve as the downtown district. LAKEWOOD CENTER was situated on a 259 acre tract, located 21 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The open-air complex was designed by Albert C. Martin, I. Herman Kanner and the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill firm. A joint venture of Joseph K. Eichenbaum, S. Mark Taper, Ben Weingart, Louis Boyar and the Prudential Insurance Company of America developed the project.

Ground was broken October 14, 1950. An initial Northwest Mall segment was to extend between a 4-level (347,000 square foot) May Company California on the south and 2-level (86,000 square foot) Butler Brothers variety store on the north.

In October 1951, Butler Brothers became the mall's first operational store. It was followed by a 1-level (45,500 square foot) Hiram's supermarket; reputedly the nation's largest grocery store. May Company opened for business February 18, 1952.

On October 3, an official grand opening was held for the entire shopping hub, which housed eighteen stores. These included Sav-On Drug, F.W. Woolworth, Leed's Qualicraft Shoes and See's Candies. The festivities, typical of the opening of an ultra-modern merchandising mecca in the mid-20th century, included a circus and banquet-style dinner.

Stores in the Northeast Mall were in business by mid-1954. In September of that year, ground was broken for a third store block, the Southwest Mall, which was dedicated in the summer of 1955. By 1958, the Southeast Mall, was finished. LAKEWOOD CENTER now encompassed 750,000 leasable square feet and housed seventy-one stores and services.

There were parking accommodations for over 10,000 cars. During the mall's early years, the parking area was monitored by an observation booth atop the May Company building. A system of colored lights at the ends of parking area rows indicated empty spaces.

The eastern section of the shopping center site was developed during the 1950s and '60s. The FACULTY SHOPS, an open-air mini-mall, was in business by late 1954. Its thirty-six stores and services included Orange Julius, Taylor's Quality Meats, Ranger's Chow Mein to Take Out and the first City Hall for Lakewood.

Large department stores were built which were part of the shopping center, but not connected with the mall proper. A 4-level (250,000 square foot), Los Angeles-based Bullock's opened April 26, 1965, with a 2-level (80,000 square foot), Long Beach-based Buffums' beginning business on August 2 of the same year. In the mall proper, J.C. Penney dedicated a 2-level (173,000 square foot) store, at the mall's south end, on January 25, 1967.

The mall's first cinematic venue, originally known as the Pacific Theatres Lakewood Center Theatre, showed its first feature January 17, 1968. The movie house was an outparcel, located in the northeast quadrant of the mall site. It was expanded and re-opened, as a 3-plex, on May 22, 1974. An additional auditorium opened October 24, 1974, with the venue being renamed the Lakewood Center 4.

In September 1971, LOS CERRITOS CENTER {2.6 miles northeast, in Cerritos} had been dedicated. This new fully-enclosed complex competed directly with LAKEWOOD CENTER, which was still open-air.

Montgomery Ward opened a 2-level (155,000 square foot) LAKEWOOD CENTER store March 3, 1975. This was built on the site of the old Butler Brothers location, on the north end of the mall. In the same year, the New York City-based Macerich Company bought LAKEWOOD CENTER.

Macerich started a 10 million dollar refurbishment in May 1977. This consisted of enclosing the north and south concourses and filling in several mall entryways with new retail space. The project, completed in 1978, added twenty-two stores to the tenant list and repositioned LAKEWOOD CENTER as one of the premier shopping venues in Greater Los Angeles.

This "buy and rebuild" concept was a new field of endeavor for Macerich, now based in Santa Monica, California. Up to this time, the company had been concerned with developing small strip shopping centers and managing B-grade malls. With the success of the LAKEWOOD redevelopment, Macerich gained the retail industry nickname of "Mall Doctor".

The refurbishment and expansion of LAKEWOOD CENTER continued. In December 1982, construction was completed on a new mall corridor, added east of May Company. This new East Wing extended to a 2-level (80,000 square foot) Mervyn's.

A 3-screen multiplex, the Pacific Theatres Lakewood Center Theatres South, was built adjoining the Buffums' department store. This venue showed its first features June 12, 1981. Buffums' closed its doors in 1991. Its space was renovated into 6 auditoria. A new 9-screen complex, known collectively as the Lakewood Center South, premiered on December 11, 1992.

The existing Lakewood Center 4 was gutted and expanded into a state-of-the-art, 16-screen venue. It re-opened, as the Lakewood Center Stadium 16, on March 19, 1999. The Lakewood Center South was shuttered in June 2008 and rebuilt into a fitness club.

Meanwhile, a turn of the century renovation had reconfigured the mall's East Wing. During the 36 million dollar project, a new 1-level (80,000 square foot) Mervyn's was built, which was dedicated in August of the year 2000. The original Mervyn's was gutted and sectioned into an extended mall corridor, with stores on either side. Its second level became the Terrace Cafes Food Court.

A 2-level (210,000 square foot) Macy's was constructed at the east end of the extended East Wing. It opened for business November 1, 2000, as the chain's first newly-built store in Southern California. The new mall wing was officially dedicated in April 2001.

Meanwhile, Montgomery Ward had closed in March 2001. The store, and its Auto Center, were demolished and replaced by a 2-level (160,000 square foot) Target. This store commenced operation October 12, 2003.

May Company, which had operated under the Robinsons-May nameplate since January 31, 1993, was rebranded as a Macy's in July 2006. The original Macy's, at the end of the East Wing, was vacated. The building, which was only 8 years old, was demolished and rebuilt as a 1-level (159,000 square foot) Costco. This store was dedicated February 26, 2009. It did not connect into the adjacent mallway.

Following the demise of the Mervyn's chain, in 2009, the LAKEWOOD CENTER location became a large-format Forever 21. This store made its debut on February 26, 2009.

LAKEWOOD CENTER is owned and operated by a joint venture of the Macerich Company and Toronto-based Cadillac Fairview. The enclosed mall encompasses approximately 1,500,000 leasable square feet and has two hundred and six retail spaces. There are sixty-four outparcel stores, with a gross leasable area of 725,000 square feet.

Sources:

"Evolution of the Shopping Center" / Steven E. Schoenherr / history.sandiego.edu
preservenet.cornell.edu/publications/Longstreth Branch Store.doc
http://www.laalmanac.com
http://www.lakewoodcity.org
Malls America Of Blogspot / "Lakewood Center" Post
http://www.shoplakewoodcenter.com
http://www.shoploscerritoscenter.com
http://www.city-data.com/  Los Angeles Forum / "Dennismpat" and "Kathy/Kawi33"
http://www.groceteria.com Message Board / History: Non-Grocery Retail". "Jeff" and "J-Man" www.cinematreasures.org
Largest Malls In The USA" list on Wikipedia
"Bullock's" article on Wikipedia
"Buffum's" article on Wikipedia


FAIR USE OF LAKEWOOD CENTER IMAGES:

The images from the City of Lakewood illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images do 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.