MEMORIAL SHOPPING CITY
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 structures built, a 2-level (218,400 square foot) Sears and Weingarten's supermarket, opened in 1962 and 1964, respectively.

These freestanding stores were constructed on a 111 acre parcel, located 10 miles northwest of downtown Houston, in the Spring Branch-Memorial City section of the city. The newly-opened Interstate 10 / West Freeway (or Katy Freeway) ran along the north side of the site.

In 1965, construction of a fully-enclosed shopping center got underway. This was added to the north side of Sears, incorporating the existing Weingarten's. Encompassing over 516,500 leasable square feet, MEMORIAL SHOPPING CITY was officially dedicated on August 25, 1966.

At this time, five stores and services were already in operation; Sears, Weingarten's, American Savings, Al's Formal Wear and the RKO-Stanley-Warner Memorial Theatre . This venue had showed its first feature on June 23, 1966.

Thirty-six additional stores opened their doors as part of the August 25 mall dedication. These 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 and Piccadilly Cafeteria.

The focal point of the original mall was its "Wonderfall" fountain, at the center of Center Court. This simulated water feature extended 35 feet from floor-to-ceiling. It consisted of strands of nylon, on which drops of glycerin would descend.

The mall's first expansion added an extended North Wing of stores and a 2-level (183,400 square foot) Montgomery Ward. These were completed in 1972. The complex now enveloped over 700,000 leasable square feet.

A second 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 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, the owners of MEMORIAL CITY MALL started a major refurbishment 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 installed on the first and teen disco on the second. In another section of the mall, a mini-raceway and roller rink were built. 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 grand opening was followed by the inauguration of the Loews Memorial City 8 megaplex, an in-mall venue that showed its first features on September 29, 1989.

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

During all of the late '80s interior renovations, MEMORIAL CITY MALL had not been expanded. By the mid-1990s, it was decided that a physical enlargement 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 of the year 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 facility 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 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, on October 22, 2003.

Existing mall space was given a thorough makeover, with storefronts 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 the same year. The vacant Lord & Taylor re-opened, as a J.C. Penney (another defection from TOWN & COUNTRY MALL), on February 5, 2006. Foley's was "Macy-ated" September 9, 2006. The Mervyn's building was simply knocked down.

The mall renovation 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:

The Brookshire (Texas) Times
http://www.memorialcitymall.com
http://www.metronational.com
www.cinematreasures.org
http://www.movie-theatre.org / Mike Rivest
http://www.houstonarchitecture.com/haif/topic/15748-memorial-city-mall
http://nreionline.com
"Memorial City Mall" article on Wikipedia