CORTEZ PLAZA
Tamiami Trail / US 41 and Cortez Road
Manatee County, Florida

The first shopping mall in the Tampa Bay Area was built on a 23 acre tract, located 33.6 miles southwest of center city Tampa and 2.1 miles south of downtown Bradenton. The 3 million dollar shopping complex was developed by Yonkers, New York-based Eastern Shopping Centers and Bradenton's Walter S. Hardin Realty.

CORTEZ PLAZA was designed by Bradenton's Edward Dean Wyke, with assistance from New York City's Lathrop Douglass. The single-level structure, which encompassed 185,000 leasable square feet, was built from the ground up in only 7 months. Its open-air mallway was covered by a series of concrete hyperbolic parabaloids, similar to those used in the fully-enclosed APACHE PLAZA (1961), in Minnesota.

The official dedication of CORTEZ PLAZA was held February 12, 1959. Dignitaries on hand to assist in cutting the ceremonial ribbon included Van Ness Wood and Edward Homer (of Eastern Shopping Centers), Walter S. Hardin (of Hardin Realty) and State Senator Edward Price, Junior (R).

Ten stores began business as part of the grand opening.  A 1-level (40,000 square foot), Orlando-based Belk-Lindsey featured WTRL radio's "Studio-On-The-Mall" as part of its front display window. The 1-level (21,000 square foot) S.S. Kresge 5 & 10 was the chain's first Florida location. Moreover, an ultra-modern Grand Union supermarket was the first Tampa area store opened by the Patterson, New Jersey-based chain.

By the end of 1959, the tenant list of thirty-two stores and services included Walgreen Drug, Lerner Shops, Fremacs For Men and the Jolly Roger Restaurant. The freestanding Cortez Lanes bowling alley was dedicated July 26, 1959. The Grand Union grocery was converted to a Publix in November of the same year.

A second outparcel of the mall, an (11,800 square foot) Adventurer's Cafeteria, served its first meals February 9, 1960. It was eventually rebranded as a William Tally House Coffee Shop. The third freestanding structure added to CORTEZ PLAZA was the CORTEZ SOUTH strip center. Encompassing 33,200 square feet, it was completed in 1966.

The fourth addition, known as CORTEZ EAST, encompassed 182,300 leasable square feet and housed a 1-level (116,000 square foot) Woolco. This store began business September 23, 1968. Woolco was joined by the Jerry Lewis Twin Cinema, which showed its first features December 25, 1971.

The basic structure of CORTEZ PLAZA, and its outparcels, now housed approximately 400,000 leasable square feet. However, the retail hub was overshadowed by the opening of DESOTO SQUARE, in August 1973. Built across Cortez Road / 44th Avenue West, the fully-enclosed complex encompassed 700,000 leasable square feet and over eighty stores and services.

As a keeping up measure, a renovation was done to CORTEZ PLAZA in 1979-1980, restyling the mall with a "marketplace atmosphere", complete with new restaurants, various craft and flower peddlers, magicians and entertainment. The original Mid-Century Modern architecture was replaced with Spanish-style stucco arches and a lighted belfry.

Stores and services in operation at the newly-renovated CORTEZ PLAZA included Publix, Walgreen Drug, Ace Hardware, Ye Olde Tobacconist, Great Earth Vitamin Stores, The Camp & Hike Shop, Pier 1 Imports, Helyn Brown ladies' wear, Cortez Bakery, June's Hallmark Shop and House of Originals Gift Shop.

Belk-Lindsey had closed its CORTEZ PLAZA store June 15, 1979 and moved to DESOTO SQUARE. Miami-based J. Byron assumed the vacant space at CORTEZ PLAZA late in the year. By the mid-1980s, the 1980 reinvention had become rather stale, It was obvious, CORTEZ PLAZA could not effectively compete with DESOTO SQUARE.

A wrecking ball renovation commenced in 1987. All of the circa-1959 mall was demolished, leaving the newer CORTEZ SOUTH and CORTEZ EAST strip centers intact. These were worked into a 289,100 square foot power center, retaining the name CORTEZ PLAZA.

The renewed shopping venue opened in 1988, anchored by a 1-level (84,900 square foot), Massachusetts-based Zayre discount mart. There were also a Publix supermarket, Walgreen Drug and Circuit City SuperStore. The Zayre was short-lived. It morphed into a Connecticut-based Ames soon after opening and was shuttered in September 1990. Montgomery Ward opened in the store space in early 1991. This store was shuttered in March 2001 and re-opened, as a Burlington Coat Factory, on October 1, 2001.

By December 2003, CORTEZ PLAZA had changed hands three times. The current owner, Beachwood, Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty, purchased the property in February 2007. The present-day PLAZA includes the aforementioned Burlington Coat Factory, as well as hhgregg, LA Fitness and PetSmart. In the old CORTEZ EAST Woolco space are Bed Bath & Beyond, Michaels, Ross Dress for Less, Party City and Five Below.

Sources:

Malls Of America Blogspot / Keith Milford webmaster
"Belk" article on Wikipedia
http://www.nreionline.com
http://www.inlandse.com
www.simon.com (Desoto Square Mall)
www.cinematreasures.org


FAIR USE OF CORTEZ PLAZA IMAGES:

The graphics from The Sarasota Herald Tribune illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The images are of lower resolution than the originals (copies made would be of inferior quality). 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.

BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOS:

From the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection / Repository: United States Library Of Congress Prints and Photograph Division, Washington, D.C. / Taken by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., November 1959 / Lathrop Douglass- Client / Photographs are in the public domain: no known restrictions on publication / www.loc.gov/rr/print/catalog.html