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Looking Back at San Francisco's Shopping Malls of Yore

Welcome to Hidden Histories, where we highlight a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history—even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open, or you can leave a comment after the jump.

We've survived Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, but all the shopping mayhem is nothing new to this city. We've looked back at San Francisco's oldest department stores in the past, so this year we're focusing on the defining holiday shopping experience—the shopping mall.

Union Square
OK, OK, so we're kicking things off with a place that's not strictly a shopping mall, but, bear with us, Union Square has without a doubt been the city's historic shopping mecca. The square's prominence dates back to the city's earliest days, when it was mapped out (without the current name) as early as 1847. In the 1850s, the square sported a large sand hill that was eventually leveled and soon surrounded by fashionable residences and churches.

The square got its name during the Civil War, as it played host to several pro-Union rallies, but by 1880 it was was formally designed as a park. Soon businesses started popping up in the alleys and small streets adjacent to the square, and horse cars and cable cars began running nearby. The park was redesigned in 1898 to accommodate the Dewey Memorial Monument, at the same time that the major retail shopping area had recentered around the square. Though most of the hotels, stores, restaurants, and theaters were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, the rebuilt area continued to be the city's shopping center.

Crystal Palace
Now home to the Trinity Plaza development project, the lot at Market and Eighth Street was home to the massive shopping bazaar known as the Crystal Palace Market. Opened in 1922, the Crystal Palace was the Target of its day, selling everything from produce to sporting goods, from shoe repair to locksmith services—all beneath its glass-latticed dome. At the time, most people did their shopping at small independent shops, so a huge central market was a groundbreaking idea (hard to imagine in today's big-box world). The location at Eighth and Market was far from the traditional shopping district downtown, hence the thousands of parking spots. The store was popular for decades, until the post-World War II era, when many families moved out to the suburbs. The market struggled and eventually closed in 1959.

The Emporium opened at Market and Fifth Streets in 1896; it was originally constructed to hold one tenant but eventually got rented to several individual merchants. Soon it was home to the already successful Golden Rule Bazaar. All but the front of the building was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and it was reconstructed two years later. Designed by Albert Pissis (of Hibernia Bank and Flood Building fame), the Emporium was a destination for Northern California shoppers. The store closed permanently in 1996 to be redeveloped as part of the adjacent San Francisco Shopping Center (a.k.a. Westfield), but a historic preservation battle royale ensued. The original construction plans called for preserving the building's facade and historic glass dome, but they failed to retain the front 65 feet of the original structure (the entrances and lobby, mostly) as required. A lawsuit followed, leading to a $2.5 million settlement that is used for preservation grants.

The west side's only mall opened in 1952, in a structure designed by Angus McSweeney. Originally conceived as a combination apartment complex/shopping center, it contained the Emporium department store as the flagship tenant, a grocery store, apartment buildings, and medical offices. The Stoneson Brothers acted as the development company, promoting the originally open-air mall with celebrity ribbon cuttings, parades, fairs, and a palm tree promenade. The mall was majorly redesigned in 1987 by John Fields, who added a second level of stores, enclosing the open-air mall with a central atrium of glass and adding marble floors.

Japan Center
When San Francisco's Japantown was redeveloped under urban renewal in the 1960s, a prominent feature of the plan was the Japanese Cultural and Trade Center. The center was designed to solicit investment from Japan and to create a retail destination that would appeal to San Francisco's tourists, and was designed by Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki. Completed in 1968, it originally included major Japanese tenants like Hitachi, Nissan, and Mitsubishi, along with the upscale Miyako Hotel and Kinokuniya Bookstore (a subsidiary of Japan's largest bookstore chain). But by the mid-1970s the large Japanese corporations moved out and a new generation of small-scale independent retail shops moved in.

Crocker Galleria
Though it opened in more contemporary times—1982 to be exact—the Crocker Galleria's story is bound up with the former Crocker Bank building, a.k.a. One Montgomery. Crocker Galleria itself was designed by SOM and inspired by Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (considered the world's oldest shopping mall). It was named for the Crocker Bank building (now Wells Fargo), which was designed by Willis Polk in 1908. The original facade at One Montgomery started to crumble, so Timothy Pflueger's brother Milton redesigned the facade for the upper floors.

By the late 1970s, Crocker proposed a new world headquarters tower and galleria, but the city only agreed to the 38-story tower's height in exchange for demolition of the upper floors of the building at One Montgomery. The Wells Fargo "temple" is now topped by a roof garden, and the Crocker Galleria and Office Tower are next door. Though the Galleria was struggling for tenants after its luxury stores relocated, it's been trying to rebrand itself as a destination for local businesses.

· San Francisco's Department Stores of Yore [Curbed SF]
· Crocker Galleria buzzing with new tenants [SF Business Times]
· National Trust Guide to SF [Peter Booth Wiley via Google Books]
· Japantown Better Neighborhood Plan Historic Context [SF Planning]
· A History of Union Square [Found SF]
· Crystal Palace Public Market was the Big Box Store of its Day [Curbed SF]
· Stonestown [Western Neighborhoods Project]

Union Square Park

Union Square Park, San Francisco, CA 94108 415 781 7880

Westfield Shopping Centre

865 Market Street , San Francisco, CA 94103