MEMORIAL CITY MALL
Gessner Road and Katy Freeway / Interstate 10
Houston, Texas

Houston's fifth major mall was developed by the Bayou City's Metro National Corporation. The first structure built, a 2-level (218,400 square foot) Sears, opened in early 1964. This freestanding store was constructed on a 111 acre parcel, located 10 miles northwest of downtown Houston. The newly-opened Interstate 10 / West Freeway (or Katy Freeway) ran along the north side of the site.

Construction of a fully-enclosed shopping center got underway in 1965. It was added to the north side of Sears. Encompassing over 516,500 leasable square feet, MEMORIAL CITY MALL was dedicated in 1966.

Charter tenants included Walgreen Drug, Hardy Shoes, Florsheim Shoes, Orange Julius, Golden Needle Fabrics, The Woman's Store, Record Town, Margo's La Mode, Thom McAn Shoes, an S.H. Kress 5 & 10, Luby's and Piccadilly Cafeterias and a Weingarten's supermarket.

The in-mall Stanley-Warner Memorial Theater showed its first feature on June 23, 1966. Adjacent to it, at the northeast corner of the mall site, was a large go-kart track.

A 2-level (183,400 square foot) Montgomery Ward was added, as a second anchor, in 1972. The mall now enveloped over 700,000 leasable square feet. Another expansion was completed in 1974. An East Wing, anchored by a 1-level (263,000 square foot), Houston-based Foley's, was built. It included a Houston-based Battelstein's junior department store, J. Riggings, Albert's Hosiery, Casual Corner, Hickory Farms of Ohio and a York's Steakhouse.

In the late 1970s, a 2-level (120,300 square foot) Lord & Taylor was added to the west side of the shopping venue. MEMORIAL CITY MALL now enveloped 1.3 million leasable square feet.

Major retail hubs in the vicinity included SHARPSTOWN CENTER (1961) {5 miles southeast, in Houston}, NORTHWEST MALL (1968) {4.9 miles northeast, in Houston} and WEST OAKS MALL (1984) {6.8 miles southwest, in Harris County}.

The primary retail rival of MEMORIAL CITY MALL was TOWN & COUNTRY MALL {.9 miles west, in Houston}, a 1983 redress of  the circa-1969 TOWN & COUNTRY CENTER. The new TOWN & COUNTRY MALL included upscale retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Marshall Field's. It soon began to usurp MEMORIAL CITY MALL.

This situation was exacerbated when Lord & Taylor shuttered their MEMORIAL CITY MALL store in February 1989. Around the same time, San Antonio-based Frost Brothersa (a 1980 rebranding of Battelstein's) closed their MEMORIAL CITY location. Lord & Taylor's vacant store re-opened, as a Mervyn's, August 15, 1989. It has been said that Houston fashionistas were taken aback by this store replacement and no longer viewed MEMORIAL CITY as a "style-conscious" mall.

In an attempt to regain market share, MEMORIAL CITY MALL began a major interior refitting in early 1989. The 6 million dollar project was centered around Fame City, a family entertainment extravaganza which was installed in three areas of the mall's interior space.

The Memorial Theater, shuttered in 1985, was sectioned into 2 levels; with a video arcade on the first and teen disco on the second. In another section of the mall, a mini-raceway and roller rink were installed. A third area was refitted with a mini-golf driving range. Moreover, a Food Court was created out of a shuttered York's Steakhouse.

These attractions were dedicated June 17, 1989. This was followed by the inauguration of the Loews Memorial City 8 megaplex, located northwest of Sears. It showed its first features September 29, 1989.

Unfortunately, the Fame City attractions turned out to be a bust and were quickly dismantled. By the early-1990s, TOWN & COUNTY MALL had faltered. Construction of the western leg of the Sam Houston Tollway had nearly blocked off access to the complex. Shoppers avoided the mall in droves, patronizing MEMORIAL CITY MALL instead.

During all of the late '80s interior renovations, the MEMORIAL CITY property had not been physically expanded. By the mid-1990s, it was decided that an enlargement of the mall was in order. Michigan's Taubman Centers came on board to oversee the reconstruction project in November 1996.

The deal fell through in December 1999, with Chicago's General Growth Properties taking the helm in May 2000. A pact was signed with luxury retailer Nordstrom to build a store at MEMORIAL CITY. This deal collapsed in 2001. Likewise, a plan for a Neiman Marcus to relocate from TOWN & COUNTRY MALL to MEMORIAL CITY never came to fruition.

In spite of all of these setbacks, ground had been broken in late 2000 for a major reconfiguration of the shopping hub. Costing upwards of 300 million dollars, the renovation would replace two anchors, add another, reconfigure much of the existing mall and construct three parking garages.

The first of the new anchor stores, a 2-level (294,600 square foot) Foley's, opened in November 2001. Lord & Taylor returned to MEMORIAL CITY MALL (after a 13-year hiatus) with a new, 2-level (140,600 square foot) store. It was dedicated March 1, 2002.

Changes were also taking place on the north end of the mall. Montgomery Ward had been shuttered in March 2001. Mars Music opened in the building, but closed in late 2002. The structure was torn down and replaced by a 1-level (142,000 square foot) Target, which welcomed its first patrons on October 12, 2003.

On the east end of the mall, the original Foley's, now vacant, was bulldozed. An extended East Wing of was built, which was anchored by a 2-level (249,200 square foot) Dillard's. The Little Rock retailer closed their TOWN & COUNTRY store and re-opened, at the new location in MEMORIAL CITY MALL, October 22, 2003.

Existing mall space was given a thorough makeover, with storefronts being redone with faux 2-story facades, assuming the look of an indoor lifestyle center. The Food Court was also expanded to 14 bays and a Venetian Carousel installed as its focal point. Lastly, the indoor Ice Skate USA rink opened November 21, 2003.

As a facet of the expansion, new stores were signed, such as Z Gallerie, J. Jill, Coach, Sephora and Build-A-Bear Workshop. With all remodeling completed, MEMORIAL CITY MALL encompassed 1.7 million leasable square feet and housed over one hundred and fifty stores and services.

The shuttering of Mervyn's, in 2005, created a sizable vacancy, as did the closing of Lord & Taylor, in 2005. The vacant Lord & Taylor re-opened as a J.C. Penney (another defection from TOWN & COUNTRY MALL) February 5, 2006. Foley's was "Macy-ated" September 9, 2006. The Mervyn's building was simply knocked down.

In actuality, the renovation of the mall did not conclude in 2003, but extended to the end of the decade and beyond. The former Mervyn's spot was remade into a Streetscape area, with a skybridge connection to the Hermann Memorial City Medical Center (across Gessner Road). The Loews 8-plex closed in 2001. It was replaced, with the state-of-the-art Cinemark Memorial City Mall 16, on May 25, 2007.

On top of all this, an adjacent 200 acre area went through a large-scale redevelopment, with new office towers, a "Class A" Westin Hotel, residential units and lifestyle-type retail facilities being built.

Sources:

"Memorial City Mall" article on Wikipedia
http://www.memorialcitymall.com
http://www.metronational.com
http://www.houstonarchitecture.com/haif/topic/15748-memorial-city-mall
http://nreionline.com