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

Houston's fifth major mall was developed by the Bayou City's MetroNational Corporation. They acquired a 200 acre site, located 11 miles northwest of downtown Houston, in 1959. Over the next 50 years, an edge city -known as Memorial- was created. This "Super Neighborhood" would eventually incorporate retail, residential, office, medical, educational and hospitality components.

The first structures, a 2-level (218,400 square foot) Sears and Weingarten's supermarket, were built on a 111-acre section. These stores were dedicated in 1962 and 1964, respectively. A new stretch of Interstate 10 (a.k.a. the 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 and incorporated 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-seven additional stores opened their doors as part of the August 25th 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 MEMORIAL SHOPPING CITY 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 and contained over eighty stores.

A second expansion was finished in February 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 1977, 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 and contained one hundred and twenty-six stores.

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 were not successful 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 its late '80s interior renovations, MEMORIAL CITY MALL had not been physically expanded. By the mid-1990s, plans for a large-scale renovation and enlargement were being devised. Michigan's Taubman Centers came on board to oversee the 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.

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.

The North Wing of the mall was also modified. 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 began business on October 12, 2003.

Foley's original store (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.

Mall common area was given a thorough makeover. Storefronts were 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 forty stores and services.

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

The Loews 8-plex closed in 2001. It was replaced with the state-of-the-art Cinemark Memorial City Mall 16, which showed its first features on May 25, 2007. As this was playing out, 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.

In fact, the massive mall renovation did not conclude in 2003, but extended to the end of the decade and beyond. The site where Lord & Taylor / Mervyn's once stood became part of a west-facade Streetscape. An adjacent Skybridge now connected the mall with the Hermann Memorial City Medical Center (across Gessner Road).

New sit-down restaurants were built. California Pizza Kitchen made its debut on November 11, 2003, followed by Cheesecake Factory, which commenced operation on February 7, 2011. Maggiano's Little Italy welcomed its first diners on August 29, 2016. These bistros surrounded a new public green space, known as The Square. This facility was officially dedicated on November 11, 2016.

Sources:

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