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 shopping hub, when the initial twelve inline stores were dedicated, was held March 1, 1960.

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 celebration 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 open-air mall hosted 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 facelift in 1987. A more comprehensive mall overhaul was done in 1995-1996. First, the Caldor, vacant by this time, was demolished, leaving the basement level intact. Two store blocks in the vicinity were knocked down and a new enclosed section built. This incorporated the Ward's / Alexander's / Caldor basement and two remaining store blocks.

The 9-bay Boardwalk Cafes Food Court and Sony Monmouth Mall 15 megaplex were installed in the area, along with new Braddock's, Old Navy and Zany Brainy locations. The recycled basement (the "Concourse Level" of the original mall) became a (44,200 square foot) Nobody Beats the Wiz electronics store.

On the northwest corner of the mall, beside Bamberger's / Macy's, three store blocks had also been bulldozed. These were replaced by a new mall 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 anchor rebranding scenario continued. Stern's store 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 November 19, 2004. This store moved out of MONMOUTH MALL in February 2008. Boscov's shuttered their location the following October.

A small expansion of the mall began in April 2008, when 63,800 square feet of outparcel selling space was added to the northeast parking area. Included were Bobby's Burger Palace and Chipotle Mexican Grill, occupying one structure, and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry, which was in a separate building.

These businesses 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 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 facelift given to the complex 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.

The 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