North Blackstone and East Shields Avenues
Fresno, California

Fresno's C. Arthur Bergfield developed one of the San Joaquin ["wah-keen'] Valley's first major, suburban shopping centers under the auspices of the Manchester Land Company. The single-level, open-air complex was situated on 40 acres, lying 2.6 miles north of downtown Fresno. The site had previously been utilized as the Markarian Fig Garden.

MANCHESTER CENTER, designed by Walter Wagner, originally enveloped approximately 258,900 leasable square feet. A Mayfair Market and Bank of America branch were the first operational tenants. Other stores opened during an official dedication held August 17, 1957. These included Mode O' Day Frock Shop, Long's Drugs, Weil Brothers, Baldwin Jewelers, GallenKamp Shoes, Trend O' Fashion, Cover Girl, Strauss', Freeman Shoes, Howard Yardage and a Singer Sewing Center.

The 15 million dollar complex was anchored by a 2-level (131,000 square foot) Sears, which was located north of -and across the street from- the four main store block structures. This store was expanded, to 186,000 square feet, in the late 1960s.

In 1959, Sears had been joined by a second anchor; a 2-level (111,500 square foot), Tacoma-based Rhodes Brothers. Following a merger with the Western Department Stores conglomerate, in 1960, this store's official name was shortened to Rhodes. Honolulu-based AMFAC, who operated Hawaii's Liberty House chain, acquired Rhodes stores in November 1969. They marketed locations as Liberty House / Rhodes between 1970 and late 1974. Then, they took on the Liberty House brand.

A large-scale expansion of the open-air mall got underway in 1978. A 45,000 square foot annex structure in the northeast corner of the site was demolished. Mallways were fully-enclosed and climate-controlled and a second level built on top the the first. An 8-bay Food Court became a feature of the new Upper Level.

Moreover, a third anchor was added; a 2-level (139,500 square foot), Fresno-based Gottschalks. The remodeling project was completed in 1980, with the center being known, henceforth, as MANCHESTER MALL.

A second expansion of the shopping center was undertaken in August 1988. The mall proper was extended northward, taking out Dayton Avenue and connecting the existing Sears into the complex. Costing 7.5 million dollars, the project enlarged the center by 120,000 square feet. MANCHESTER MALL now housed 640,000 leasable square feet.

Shopping alternatives in the "Mid Valley" included the Victor Gruen-designed FRESNO MALL (1964) {a downtown redevelopment}, FASHION FAIR MALL (1970) {1.6 miles northeast, in Fresno}, SIERRA VISTA MALL (1988) {5 miles northeast, in Clovis} and -eventually- RIVER PARK (1997) {4 miles north, also in Fresno}.

All of the commercial competition took its toll on MANCHESTER MALL. The Liberty House location was shuttered, with Home Express taking up shop on the first level and a Gottschalks Clearance Center opening on the second. Eventually, both levels of the store structure were vacant.

A 30 million dollar renovation and expansion was proposed in February 1994. This was to include a 188,400 square foot Third Level for the mall, United Artists 20-screen megaplex and a parking garage. These never came to pass.

By 1996, the shopping hub -known once again as MANCHESTER CENTER-was in default. It was auctioned off in 1997. A new owner embarked upon a transition to a mixed-use office and retail format. The vacant Rhodes / Liberty House was leased as a CalTrans call center.

However, by the year 2000, the complex was 60 percent vacant. Things improved a bit on July 16, when the Manchester Stadium 16 megaplex opened for business. Still, there were too many vacant tenant spaces. The Los Angeles-based Namco Capital Group acquired the struggling property in June 2006. Long's Drugs, a 1957 charter tenant, was shuttered in late 2007. On June 28, 2009, Gottschalks bit the dust.

In May 2015, Beverly Hills-based Omninet Properties -owners of the mall- released details of a major renovation and repositioning. Under this plan, the interior and exterior of the complex would be thoroughly rebuilt. An outdoor Event Plaza, indoor Dining Court and gourmet grocery were included in the prospectus.

Sources: / "Mid-Century Modernism Historic Context" / City of Fresno Planning & Development Department / September 2008
Frenso County, California tax assessor website