MONMOUTH CENTER
State Routes 35 and 36
Monmouth County (Borough of Eatontown), New Jersey

The Garden State's fourth shopping mall was built on 64 acres, located 28 miles south of Manhattan's Times Square. Developed by R. H. Macy & Company, Fiest & Fiest and the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, MONMOUTH CENTER was designed by the Kahn & Jacobs and Abbot & Merkt firms. Ground was broken for the project on May 12, 1958.

Encompassing 693,000 leasable square feet, MONMOUTH CENTER consisted of a main retail floor and service basement; this subterranean level being accessed by two tunnels. The first operational store was a a 3-level (230,000 square foot), Newark-based Bamberger's, which was dedicated February 29, 1960.

The official grand opening of the open-air shopping hub was held March 1, 1960, when twelve inline stores made their debut. The event was officiated by CBS TV's Mike Wallace. In attendance were F. Bliss Prince, Mayor of the Borough of Eatontown, and David L. Yunich, President of Bamberger's. The festivities concluded with the release of thousands of orange, blue and white balloons.

The center's second anchor, a 2-level (116,000 square foot) Montgomery Ward, began business May 17, 1960. The completed mall housed over fifty stores and services. These included Lerner Shops, Franklin-Simon, Miles Shoes, A.S. Beck Shoes, Chandler's Shoes, Sladkus Shoes, Herman's World of Sporting Goods, Bond Clothes, Parklane Hosiery, Lane Bryant, The Flaming Pit Restaurant, Luca's Pizza, an S.S. Kresge 5 & 10 and (26,000 square foot) Food Fair supermarket. There was also a 400 seat community auditorium.

The first of many anchor alterations at MONMOUTH CENTER transpired on November 2, 1972, when a shuttered Montgomery Ward re-opened as a New York City-based Alexander's. A massive 25 million dollar expansion got underway in June 1973. The mall site was enlarged to 103 acres. The main concourse, fronting on Bamberger's, was enclosed and a large, 2-level addition built toward the southwest. This was to add 851,400 leasable square feet to the existing structure.

Three new anchors were constructed; a 2-level (159,200 square foot), Newark-based Hahne's ["haynz"] opened its doors in March 4, 1974. J.C. Penney's 3-level (202,600 square foot) store was dedicated September 8, 1976. Lastly, a 3-level (264,600 square foot), New York City-based Abraham & Straus was completed in 1978.

New tenants came on board as part of the renovation. These included Kay-Bee Toys, Sam Goody Music, C.B. Perkins Tobacco, Deb Shops, Spectrum India, Shear Honesty Haircut Designers Unisex Salon and La Crepe Restaurant. The remodeled center was rededicated, with one hundred and thirty-three stores, August 18, 1975. A new name was also bequeathed; MONMOUTH MALL.

The interior of the sprawling center included fountains, foliage, recessed seating areas and "especially commissioned contemporary sculptures". One such work was "Tree of Life" by Bogden Grom. In the months following the August 1975 re-dedication, new stores continued to open. By 1978, there were over one hundred and fifty.

MONMOUTH MALL was soon presented with its first regional-class rival. SEAVIEW SQUARE MALL {3.5 miles south, in Monmouth County} was completed in 1977. This was followed by FREEHOLD RACEWAY MALL {12.9 miles southwest, also in Monmouth County} in 1990.

Meanwhile, at MONMOUTH MALL, a game of merchandising music chairs was in motion. Alexander's became a Norwalk, Connecticut-based Caldor in the fall of 1982. Macy's rebranded Bamberger's on October 5, 1986.

Hahne's store was the next anchor to be rebranded. It was shuttered in May 1989 and re-opened, as a New York City-based Lord & Taylor, on July 24, 1990. Abraham & Straus was converted to a Paramus-based Stern's on April 30, 1995.

The shopping center had been given an interior face lift in 1987. A more comprehensive mall overhaul was done between 1994 and 1996. First, a vacant Caldor store was demolished, leaving its basement intact. Two store blocks in the vicinity were knocked down and a new enclosed section built. This incorporated the Caldor basement and two remaining store blocks.

The 9-bay Boardwalk Cafes Food Court was created, along with the Sony Theatres Monmouth Mall megaplex. The cinema opened for business December 21, 1994. New Braddock's, Old Navy and Zany Brainy locations were also dedicated. The recycled basement (the "Concourse Level" of the original mall) became a (44,200 square foot) Nobody Beats the Wiz electronics store.

Three store blocks had also been bulldozed on the northwest corner of the mall. These were replaced by a new entrance and inline stores such as Jos. A. Bank and Mozzarella's Pizza. When completed in 1996, the remodeled MONMOUTH MALL encompassed 1.5 million leasable square feet and over one hundred and fifty stores and services.

In October 2002, the complex was acquired by a joint venture of the New Jersey-based Vornado Realty Trust and New York City-based Kushner Companies and Ashkenazy Investment Company.

Meanwhile, the rebranding of anchor stores continued. Stern's closed and re-opened, as a Reading, Pennsylvania-based Boscov's, in October 2001. The Wiz (nee' Nobody Beats the Wiz) pulled their proverbial plug in the fall of 2002. The Wiz space became a Burlington Coat Factory on November 19, 2004. This store moved out of MONMOUTH MALL in February 2008. Boscov's shuttered their location in October.

A small mall expansion got underway in April 2008. Over 63,000 square feet of selling space was added in the northeast parking area. Freestanding structures housed new Bobby's Burger Palace, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry stores.

These opened between December 2008 and May 2009. In addition, a (30,400 square foot) Barnes & Noble was built at the mall's northwest entrance, taking space previously occupied by Mozzarella's Pizza. The new book store held its grand opening November 4, 2009.

On the mall's Concourse Level, the old Burlington Coat Factory space was retenanted by Kid City and Planet Fitness. Boscov's announced a re-opening of their MONMOUTH MALL location, which took place in October 2011. The dedication of these new -and former- stores was accompanied by an interior face lift, that was done between mid-2010 and late 2011.

In August 2015, Kushner Companies established 100 percent ownership of MONMOUTH MALL. In February 2016, they announced plans for a 500 million dollar reconfiguration of the shopping hub. The existing enclosed mall was to be worked into a retail, dining and residential complex, with stretches of (privately-owned) public green space.

MONMOUTH TOWN CENTER would house four anchors; the existing Macy's, Lord & Taylor and Boscov's, with J.C. Penney being replaced by a newly-built store. The existing AMC Monmouth Mall 15 megaplex would be retained, with two new junior anchors constructed. This plan was met with so much community opposition that Kushner Companies abandoned it in April 2016.

Sources:

http://patch.com/new-jersey/longbranch/bp--help-solve-the-mystery-of-the-missing-monmouth-ma5461ff93c4
The (Shrewsbury, New Jersey) Daily Register
http://www.labelscar.com
preservenet.cornell.edu/publications/Longstreth Branch Store.doc
http://www.preservenet.com
http://www.vno.com / Vornado Realty Trust
http://www.monmouthmallonline.com
www.kushnercompanies