Montclair Plaza turns 40...

Montclair Plaza hits the big 4-0 today. Amazing, huh? The valley's very first indoor mall, now middle-aged. No wonder it's looking kind of tired.

But more on that later. First, let's reminisce about how the mall was born.

Originally the site off the 10 Freeway was slated for high-rise apartments, offices and a nine-hole golf course. Next thing anyone knew, the land was sold to Ernest W. Hahn, a contractor and developer, who announced plans for a shopping mall.

In the late 1960s, the valley had many shopping options but no indoor malls, which were rare on the West Coast. People went to shopping centers such as Ontario Plaza, Sears in Pomona and Pomona's downtown pedestrian mall.

Montclair had little more than a Kmart. But that began changing on Oct. 19, 1967, when officials gathered for the Plaza's ground-breaking. Or, as the Daily Report headline dubbed it, "ground-blasting."

"The ceremony was highlighted by an explosion that sent yards of dirt flying, signifying the ground-breaking of what will be the largest air-conditioned mall in the west," the Report proclaimed.

Yes, you could say Montclair Plaza started with a bang. And on Aug. 3, 1968, the mall opened for a charity ball and VIP preview attended by 11,500 people. Who knew there were 11,500 very important people?

We could also date the
Plaza's 40th anniversary to Tuesday because the mall threw open its doors to the public on Aug. 5. More than 3,000 people were outside waiting.

At its start the $50 million mall had 69 stores on one level, including three powerhouse department stores: J.C. Penney, Broadway and May Co. The mall's impact was felt almost immediately. Sleepy Montclair's share of taxable retail sales rocketed while the former retail meccas, Ontario and Pomona, slipped.By 1976, according to a Progress Bulletin story that year, Pomona's downtown had little more than storefront churches, antique stores and welfare offices. Ontario's and Upland's downtowns were in decline.

So while the Plaza secured Montclair's future, its influence wasn't benign.

The mall has seen a host of changes over the years. In 1985, Nordstrom and Sears arrived and so did a second level. The number of stores more than doubled to 183. The freeway sign's logo was replaced by neon script. Broadway became Macy's, May Co. became Robinsons-May and then both stores merged.But the mall has proved surprisingly durable, for years routinely placing among the Top 10 malls in California for retail sales.

When Ontario Mills, an outlet mall, opened in 1996, Montclair Plaza management, according to the Business Press, braced themselves for a 20 percent loss of sales. It was more like 1 percent. The mall also survived the arrival of Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga and the loss of Robinsons-May. Now the first phase of a makeover is under way. The old Macy's space, a visual reminder of the mall's original look, will be demolished. The mall's interior is in the midst of renovations.

Work is well under way along second-story walkways and in the food court. Several new stores seem to be coming and both Suncoast and Orange Julius are gone. I loved the old style drink but alas they are almost all gone now. Half the food court is blocked off for construction and the other half is enthusiastically handing out teriyaki chicken on toothpicks.

New stores such as the Tokyo Grill and Pacific Grill are typical of the new Montclare Mall, and something called chicken on a toothpick reminds me of south east asia and reflects the large influx of asians into our area.

The Plaza interier is due for a facelift as well. The walls, the carpet, the ceiling, they're all extremely beige which reflect the sytle of the 60's. It's hard to tell what the interior will look like based on the promotional drawings but supposedly it will be less industrial and more upscale. And a long way from 1968. The Mall plans on lasting well into the 21 censtury

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