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April 21, 2010 > History: Shopping at Southland

History: Shopping at Southland

Following World War II, Hayward experienced a massive population boom. The population doubled in Hayward between 1940 and 1950 and quadrupled between 1950 and 1960. Tremendous growth led to the development in 1949 of a new shopping district on Foothill Boulevard known as "The Strip." B Street continued to offer a wide selection of stores, but up on Foothill, new, larger stores opened including J.C. Penny and Woolworths. More stores appeared along the Strip throughout the 1950s until the shopping district extended from Capwell's at City Center Drive to C Street.

By many accounts, shopping on the Strip was a great experience with many different stores to choose from within a few steps of one another. This, of course, was long before thousands of cars sped up and down Foothill Boulevard trying to cut a few minutes from their commute. While the growth of Hayward led to the construction and initial success of the Strip, the city's continued expansion also led to its demise.

In 1958, Sears built a brand new 286,000 square foot store in south Hayward on land originally owned by the Winton family. Within a couple years, additional stores were added to a complex not far from Sears facing Hesperian Boulevard. Into this complex went two supermarkets, a Thrifty Drug store, a bank, and a couple gas stations - creating the Palma Ceia Shopping Center. This shopping district was more convenient for residents in south Hayward than driving to downtown.

In 1963, developers Alfred Taubman and Arthur Rubloff saw an opportunity in the area. They made plans to construct the largest enclosed mall in California. Mr. Taubman explained his reasons for the development: "Because we have great confidence in its location in the heart of the fastest growth area in Northern California. There is no doubt, too, that the people of this area are among the most industrious in the nation."

Plans included changing the name of Palma Ceia Shopping Center to Southland, a name "that would describe our marketing area, which is the whole of Southern Alameda County," said Mr. Taubman. Southland Mall was to cost $20 million to build and add more than 700,000 square feet of shopping area, anchored on one end by the existing Sears store. J.C. Penney announced that they would be the other large department store to anchor the mall with plans to build a 165,000 square foot two-story store.

The mall was to be the first of its kind in California - a fully enclosed, air-conditioned mall. The stores were positioned to face one another along a central mall with open storefronts so shoppers could easily stroll between one store and the other without fighting to open doors. How could the stores on The Strip compete with this new, modern idea?

In fact, many stores on the Strip opened new locations in Southland. In addition to J.C. Penney's, Woolworths, Smith's Clothiers, and Lerner Shops, who all had stores on the Strip, opened stores in Southland in 1964. The following year, additional Strip stores moved to Southland including Milen's and Kay's jewelry stores, Goldman's, Granat Brothers, and Grodins. The mall also offered restaurants and a cocktail lounge.

The developers wanted the mall to be a "thing of beauty." To achieve this, they included planters filled with lush plants, sculptures, an aviary (complete with a multitude of birds), a large fountain with the statute of a boy and a dolphin on the back of a turtle in the center; a babbling brook led away from the fountain with covered bridges forming the entrances into several stores.

In 1966, the mall was extended for the construction of a Roos Atkins store and another major addition occurred in 1972 with the construction of the Liberty House store (now Macy's). In this last phase, an ice rink was also built. Continuing the idea of creating a mall of beauty, managers of the mall commissioned artist Bruce Beasley to design and install one of his famous clear acrylic sculptures in a place of honor in front of Liberty House. Southland would eventually include over a million square feet of shopping and entertainment space.

A huge range of activities were offered in addition to shopping. Civic promotions such as a fire prevention parade, car shows, art exhibits, and flower shows were displayed in the center of the mall. There were also meeting spaces for community events. The mall housed many restaurants, the ice skating rink, and an arcade. Both Sears and J.C. Penney's had auto service centers a few steps away from the mall's front doors. Also just outside was a movie theater, supermarket and gas stations. Literally, Southland offered one-stop shopping in a convenient location.

As the Strip was devastated by the construction of Southland, so Southland's business was hurt by the continual development of communities surrounding Hayward. Southland was the primary shopping center for a very large portion of Alameda County for more than fourteen years. However, renovations at Bayfair Mall and the construction of malls in Pleasanton and Newark meant fewer people needed to come to Hayward to shop. Renovations over the years to attract shoppers have changed the look and feel of Southland from what many may remember.

Like those who have good memories of shopping at the stores on the Strip, I will hold my memories of the old Southland Mall in the 1970s with fondness. We did not live in Hayward but my mother liked to shop there because it had the most stores to choose from and it was easier to wrestle my brother and I out of the car only once during a shopping trip rather than making multiple stops. I loved eating lunch at Woolworth's with my grandmother. I think my first goldfish also came from that Woolworth's.

A bookstore near J.C. Penney had a great parquet floor that creaked but I loved the sound and the hushed voices used in the store. Occasionally, my mother would let us watch ice skaters at the skating rink from strange, round windows. Looking back it is easy to see how Southland's convenience, great stores, and unique features really came to symbolize Hayward's growth.

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