Following the tenets of New Urbanism, the WILLINGBORO TOWN CENTER project dissected a former shopping mall site with a grid of streets, green spaces, structures and public facilities. Buildings from the 1959-1998 mall are surrounded in blue. A small amphitheater, at the epicenter, is rarely used and an adjacent fountain was not connected to a water line, due to cost-cutting measures.
Original photo from www.googleearth.com


LEVITTOWN PLAZA
Burlington Pike / US 130 and Levittown Parkway
Burlington County (Willingboro Township), New Jersey

For the final Stateside Levittown project, William Levitt acquired 4,900 acres in the New Jersey hinterlands northeast of Philadelphia. In fact, the entirety of Burlington County's Willingboro Township was purchased in 1955, with some 15,000 Levitt & Sons homes plotted. 12,000 would be built.

The previous Levittown planned communities in New York (1947-1951) and Pennsylvania (1952-1957) were spread over several municipalities. Levittown New Jersey would be the only one of three "Lower 48" Levittowns that was an incorporated entity.

Construction commenced on the Levittown New Jersey project in early 1958, with the first residents moving in in October. A referendum held on November 3, 1959 officially changed the name of Willingboro Township to Levittown Township. However, a second referendum, held on November 5, 1963, reinstated the original name...much to William Levitt's chagrin.

As with the second Levittown in Pennsylvania, a major regional shopping complex would be built to serve as Levittown New Jersey's defacto downtown. Fifty-six acres, situated 14.7 miles northeast of Philadelphia's Center City, were sectioned off. Building was underway by late 1958, with the initial section of stores at LEVITTOWN PLAZA open for business by November 1959.

Phase One of the open-air shopping hub encompassed approximately 125,900 leasable square feet. Included were a 1-level (43,300 square foot) F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10, 1-level (35,000 square foot) Food Fair supermarket, Penn Fruit supermarket and subterranean Levittown Plaza Lanes bowling alley.

A freestanding theatrical venue was built in the southwest parking area. The General Cinema Corporation Fox Theatre showed its first feature March 23, 1961. It was twinned in the 1970s and shuttered in 1985.

A second mall phase, consisting of a 2-level (90,000 square foot) Sears, was completed in 1964. This store was followed by a 1-level (175,000 square foot), Pottstown, Pennsylvania-based Pomeroy's, which began business August 12, 1965.

Final phases of the retail facility, now officially known as WILLINGBORO PLAZA, brought four additional store blocks and approximately 224,000 leasable square feet. These structures were completed in 1965 and 1966.

By 1967, the PLAZA encompassed approximately 614,000 leasable square feet and contained sixty stores and services. Among these were Walgreen Drug, Cutler Camera, Baker's Shoes, Loft's Candies and the Willingboro Public Library.

MOORESTOWN MALL (1963) {8.2 miles southwest, in Burlington County} was the first commercial competitor of WILLINGBORO PLAZA. Closer in was VILLAGE MALL (1974) {.3 mile southwest, also in Burlington County}.

By the late 1970s, WILLINGBORO PLAZA was beginning to decline. The completion of a section of Interstate 295 through Burlington County directed commerce away from the mall. The  dedication of BURLINGTON CENTER MALL (1982) {3.3 miles southeast, also in Burlington County} accelerated the older shopping center's downward spiral.

The WILLINGBORO PLAZA Sears was snatched by BURLINGTON CENTER MALL. The store closed August 4, 1982, with the building sitting vacant for over 20 years. Food Fair had been rebranded as a Pantry Pride by 1970. The store would be out of business by 1986.

Pomeroy's was shuttered January 25, 1987. The store re-opened as Ports of the World, a discount division of York, Pennsylvania's Boscov's, on April 13, 1987. Boscov's rebranded the store under their own nameplate in November 1992. However, the deteriorating condition of the mall caused them to close the store for good in March 1996.

Meanwhile, Chester County, Pennsylvania's Acme chain added a 1-level (65,500 square foot) combo Food & Drug SuperStore to WILLINGBORO PLAZA. This freestanding location opened for business in December 1993. However, its presence failed to reinvigorate the moribund mall. 

By this time, an exodus of stores and proliferation of crime were taking their toll on WILLINGBORO PLAZA. It was in foreclosure by 1983 and sold numerous times. There were at least four owners between 1985 and 1996. Each had grandiose plans to revamp the mall...all failed to do so. In mid-1996, with no options left, the mall was completely shuttered.

The property had been condemned by December 1997, when Newark-based ReNEWal Realty assumed ownership. They envisaged a redevelopment that would transform the brownfield property into WILLINGBORO TOWN CENTER, a New Urbanism-style, mixed-use complex.

A photo-op demolition took place November 6, 1998, when the jaws of a backhoe took a couple of bites out of an abandoned Sears Auto Center; this accompanied by a 7-piece jazz band. The formal razing of the mall got underway, at the old Fox Theatre, on December 10, 1998.

In the end, the vacant Woolworth's, Sears, Pomeroy's and one inline store block were left standing. A sizable amount of time was spent doing an environmental clean up at the site. Several underground storage tanks were removed and asbestos abatement was completed on the remaining structures.

The Pomeroy's building would be renovated and expanded into the (320,000 square foot) Medco Health Solutions mail-order pharmaceutical plant. The old Woolworth's would also be renovated and enlarged. It re-opened, as the new Willingboro Public Library, in May 2001. Burlington County College set up a satellite campus in another store block.

Entirely new structures were also built. The first building dedicated entirely to retail, WILLINGBORO TOWN CENTER SOUTH, was completed in April 2003. The 218-unit Willingboro Square Apartments debuted in 2005.

Mount Laurel, New Jersey-based Delco Development came on board in September 2005 to complete the WILLINGBORO TOWN CENTER project. The old Sears building was given a 4 million dollar overhaul. It began its new life as the Parkway Plaza office building in February 2008. Lastly, a second set of retail structures, known as WILLINGBORO TOWN CENTER NORTH, opened in late 2008.

Sources:

http://levittownbeyond.com
http://www.nj.com "Willingboro: A Half Century of Suburbia"
"Shop Pomeroy's First" / Michael Lisicky
The New York Times
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Burlington County Times
www.philly.com
www.cinematreasures.org
http://renewalrealty.com
http://delcodevelopment.com
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