Forty Seven Years Ago

It was forty seven years ago pastoral Mission Valley was changed forever.  The city at large began to change as well.  Excitement over three new malls–College Grove, Grossmont Center, and Mission Valley–resulted in a decline for downtown department stores and merchants.  El Cajon Boulevard also lost its prestige as a shopping and business corridor as people flocked to the three new shopping centers.

The May Company became the premiere department store in San Diego when it opened with the Mission Valley Shopping Center in 1961.  It was designed by William S. Lewis.

Its most attractive feature was the restaurant. One could luncheon and enjoy a panoramic view.  I remember it being a pretty reliable place to get a burger, sandwich or salad.

But department store restaurants fell out of favor.  This unique space is used for nothing more than storage today.
The serrated roof line of the main building complements the restaurant roof line perfectly.  I remember the main building being a yellowish gold color.  It seems those colors have also fallen out of favor nowadays.

The May Company on Wilshire and Fairfax in Los Angeles prominently displays gold.

Frank Lloyd Wright originally envisioned the Marin County Civic Center with a Gold color roof.   Blue won out, however the roof trim ornament is goldish, as are the portal rails.

The lack luster beige probably came about when May Co and Robinsions merged.  Now it is Macy’s.

One wonders if this element will survive future expansion plans for the mall.  Adding a second deck is proposed.  I won’t be surprised if all existing mid century design aspects are erased and replaced with the “anywhere in America” look.  I’m not sure many people remember this as a restaurant.  It is most likely just viewed as an inadequate storage space.  Would be nice though if the new plans solved their expansion needs and preserved the old cafe and brought it back.

I am Dan Soderberg, award winning documentary film maker and phototgrapher specializing in architecture, historic preservation and nature.
  • E. Keenan

    I remember shopping at Mission Valley Center back in 2001 for a suit or something like that, and seeing the former Montgomery Ward space being torn apart when Target took over the building; watching that simple façade being removed for a “modern” look. And I wondered “Where have I seen that look before? Oh, right, in the boxes of Legos I had as a kid.”

    It’s unfortunate, because I remember the Mission Valley Wards was one of the more opulent ones. Simple and rather utilitarian on the outside, but inside, an undercurrent of stated elegance; unheard of for Montgomery Ward.

    And to the mall itself, I remember my mother taking me shopping for the first time. I believe it was 1962, but she wanted to sit down and rest her feet, so she let me loose in this large center courtyard; it had a fountain, greenery, and led to the parking garage. As I recall, around 1967, that center courtyard was dug up and replaced with concrete dinosaurs and basically turned into a large sandpit before Westfield decided that open space was a bad thing and filled it in to make room for the Ruby’s that is there today.

    It’s a real shame what’s happened to this mall, and I dread what will happen to it once Westfield expands it.

    PS: I have a friend who is in a high position at the Macy’s store, they are tossing around the idea of reopening the former restaurant, but nothing is set in stone yet.

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