Lakewood, WA is a suburban city situated between Tacoma and the Fort Lewis army base in Western Washington. In 1958 a shopping center called Villa Plaza opened there. It was an outdoor mall anchored by a Liberty House department store, JC Penney, a bowling alley and many other specialty stores (DJC).
Having grown up in South Tacoma, Lakewood was only a few minutes from my house, so my parents and I used to go to VP often. My memories of it were that it was a large lot, ringed with shops like a strip mall. This included an Ernst (moved at least twice), a Safeway (that has literally moved completely around the site), another grocery store (various types), a movie theater off in the corner, and a Bob’s Big Boy. In the center was the outdoor mall, anchored with a Frederick and Nelson, a JC Penney and another big store (Bon?). There was also a Woolworths (complete with lunch counter) and a Hickory Farms store. Even then however a lot of the mall was empty, probably due to the close proximity of the indoor Tacoma Mall.
One of my main memories of this mall was going to a small building in the parking lot every Christmas to meet Santa. I also remember going into the Woolworths and a bookstore that eventually replaced the Woolworths.
In the late 80’s a decision was made to remake this mall into an indoor mall called Lakewood Mall. This was done by tearing down one part of the strip mall and building an indoor mall there. The strip mall portions were also upgraded and enhanced. This mall was anchored by a Target, Gottchalks, Lamonts, Mervyns, Emporium, and Frederick & Nelson. It also included a 12 screen movie theater, food court, and most major chain stores. The mall was very beautiful inside, designed to look like a city street. It also included children’s play areas with large soft toys to climb on-the first time this was seen in this area.
Unfortunately, the mall was never able to attract many tenants and was always half empty. I have heard that one of the reasons for this was high rent. Also again, it was in close proximity to Tacoma Mall, and later a very large mall was opened in Puyallup, just a few miles away. Many sections of the mall always appeared empty. Also, the mall began to have incidents with crimes. In fact, the last straw was in the late 90’s when someone was shot and killed in the restrooms there.
We used to go to Lakewood Mall a lot as it was a pretty innovative design. My best memories of it was after I graduated college and moved home for a time. For a few months I worked at a Crown Books (a chain now gone from this area) outside the mall, but I used to go over to the food court for dinner. I also attended many movies there.
A decision was made to tear down the mall and replace it with a “town center”; something becoming very popular in this area (see “Redmond Town Center” below). This includes the Target, Gottschalks, Barnes & Noble, as well as a GI Joes, Michaels, Old Navy and a Bed, Bath and Beyond. Furthermore, like many suburban communities of the area, Lakewood has never really had a downtown, so a brand-new city hall was constructed on the site as well. The site does very well today.
Links: Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce article: http://www.djc.com/news/re/11142404.html
Photo from the 1960’s (Tacoma Public Library): http://search2.tpl.lib.wa.us/southsound/southsound.asp?now=4-August-2004
More photos (search on “villa plaza”): http://search.tpl.lib.wa.us/images/
Redmond Town Center: http://www.redmondtowncenter.com/
James G Murphy – Lakewood Mall Auction (includes pictures of the mall):http://www.murphyauctions.net/lakewood.html