SHARPSTOWN CENTER
Southwest Freeway / US 59 and Bellaire Boulevard
Houston, Texas

Like many a mid-20th century shopping mall, Houston's SHARPSTOWN CENTER was a component of a large post-war housing development. The Sharpstown plat featured over three thousand housing units and was one of the nation's largest "Baby Boom" suburbs.

SHARPSTOWN CENTER, the defacto downtown, was built on a seventy acre plot, located 8.9 miles southwest of Houston's urban core. Like the subdivision that preceded it, the mall was developed by Houston's Frank W. Sharp. It was designed by the Sidney H. Morris & Associates firm of Chicago and Claude E. Hooten, Senior of Houston.

The single-level shopping center enveloped approximately 760,000 leasable square feet and was anchored by a 2-level (150,000 square foot) Montgomery Ward, 2-level (170,000 square foot), Houston-based Foley's and 2-level (85,000 square foot), Houston-based Battelstein's.

Among the forty-three original inline stores were Houston Trunk Factory, Walgreen Drug, Wyatt's Cafeteria, Leopold & Price, Florsheim Shoes, Price & Rolle, Lerner Shops, Chandler's Shoes, Margolis Shoes, Adrien's Fashions, Florian's Sharpstown Mini-max supermarket and a (45,000 square foot) S.S. Kresge 5 & 10.

SHARPSTOWN CENTER was dedicated on September 14, 1961. Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy (D) was a guest speaker at the festivities.

In order to improve access to his new shopping hub, Frank Sharp donated a strip of land for a section of a prospective Southwest Freeway / US 59 highway. The new thoroughfare was extended to an exit at Bellaire Boulevard / SHARPSTOWN CENTER on August 1, 1962.

On May 27, 1965, the center's first cinema opened for business. Built as a northeast parking area outparcel, the Jefferson Amusement Company Sharpstown Theatre was originally a single-screen venue. It was twinned in 1975 and eventually encompassed 3 auditoria.

Commercial competitors of SHARPSTOWN CENTER were many. First in line would have been MEYERLAND PLAZA (1957) {1.9 miles southeast, in Houston}, then NORTHWEST MALL (1968) {7 miles northeast, in Houston}.

The ensuing decades brought WESTWOOD MALL (1975-1998) {2.6 miles southwest, in Houston}, WEST OAKS MALL {7.8 miles northwest, in Harris County}, FIRST COLONY MALL (1996) {10.1 miles southwest, in Sugarland} and, lastly, the FOUNTAINS ON THE LAKE open-air plaza (1997) {6 miles southwest, in Stafford}.

To stave off competition, the first expansion of SHARPSTOWN got underway in 1979. The supermarket on the north side of the center was razed, with a 2-level (177,200 square foot) J.C. Penney taking its place. Foley's, which had been enlarged in 1971, was expanded again, into a 308,000 square foot store.

In addition, the mall, itself was refitted with an upper level of retail. The renovation was completed in 1981. The center, now officially known as SHARPSTOWN MALL, encompassed over one million leasable square feet, with one hundred and thirty-six inline stores.

A Food Court on the Upper Level featured a calliope, which had been imported from Europe. New tenants included The Gap and Good Time Charley's.

The mall began to falter during the oil bust of the mid-1980s. A 50 million dollar face lift was done in 1993, which added the in-mall Cineplex Odeon Sharpstown Center 8. Moreover, the name of the shopping venue, now housing 1,344,300 leasable square feet, was changed back to SHARPSTOWN CENTER.

By 2001, the mall was in foreclosure. J.C. Penney had shuttered their store in May 1998. Montgomery Ward shut down in March 2001. The center was left with only Foley's to sustain it.

Houston's Tracy Suttles acquired the complex in November 2002. Burlington Coat Factory was signed to fill the vacant Ward's building. Inline store space was leased to local mom & pop-type tenants. Foley's ceased to exist in September 2006, with the store -and chain- being rebranded by Macy's.

Marketed as "Houston's Premier Urban Mall", the fortunes of the once-mighty shopopolis appeared even more bleak. The shuttering of Macy's, on March 15, 2008, was a major blow. Re-renamed SHARPSTOWN MALL, the center was eventually operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In 2009, the moribund mall was acquired by Philadelphia's RAIT Financial. In December, a 10 million dollar reinvention and redevelopment was announced. This would convert the mall into a Latin-oriented shopping and entertainment venue, known as PLAZAMERICAS. Grupo Zocalo, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Boxer Property Management, was enlisted to oversee the revitalization.

The old Penney's became Clarewood Mercado. The old Walgreen Drug, a Shawnmart. The mall also began to host free live entertainment on weekends, featuring salsa, mariachi, r & b, conjunto and norteno musics.

Sources:

preservenet.cornell.edu/publications/Longstreth Branch Store.doc
www.cinematreasures.org
http://www.topcities.com
http://www.sharpstowndistrict.com
http://www.houstonfreeways.com
Houston Architecture Info Forum / Post by "Sharpfan09"
Malls of America Blogspot / Keith Milford webmaster
Harris County, Texas property tax assessor website
"A Revival In Southwest Houston, Sharpstown Mall Gets A New Name And Life" - Carolyn Gallay / December 22, 2009


FAIR USE OF SHARPSTOWN CENTER IMAGES:

The photographs from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Library Digital Collection and University of Texas at Austin-Briscoe Center for American History illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.