Friday, March 16, 2012

Westshore Plaza: Tampa, FL

Florida's retail graveyard is littered with its early malls. Typical built in the 60's and usually only on one level, the cheap, easy to build on land made it difficult for the early malls to compete when so many newer, larger ones sprung up so close by. Tampa's Westshore Plaza was also built in the 60's, 1967 to be exact, and also has a huge, elegant mall nearby. Reason says it should be dead. In fact, the mall is not only not dead but is still thriving as an upscale mall on its own. As Tampa's very first mall, it is a true survivor although millions in expansions have made it much larger than the simple mall it was when it opened. It is also a beautiful mall, capturing the Florida experience in a retail center that is now 45 years old.

While only one one level, Westshore Plaza was a smashing success from the start. The mall, however, started out more humble as a simple two-anchor mall with 38 tenants anchored on the north end by Maas Brothers and the south end by JCPenney. However, Maas Brothers was also Tampa's leading department store and JCPenney also an obvious popular choice, so the mall had no trouble drawing a crowd. Pinellas County across Tampa Bay had already joined the mall race then as well with DeSoto Square leading the pack, but competition was far enough away not to affect the center. Still, the mall would face significant competition as the years went on, and the owners never took that threat lightly.

The first photo shows the mall along the oldest part of the mall with high windows and high ceilings, which have been decorated to feel like a Spanish courtyard. This is one of the best ideas I have ever seen to take a dated feature common in late 60's malls to make them look contemporary. The photo above and the two below are of the center court, which forms a small tower. It is an awesome feature that is one of the most interesting center court ideas I have seen although the "center" of this mall is not actually part of the mall corridor. All photos here are by id780.

Center court features a faux skylight supported by a pole made to look like a palm tree. Surrounding are arched windows that pay ode to the Spanish colonial roots of the state. Photo by id780.

In the first photo, you see an arched entry in the distance, which is the same center court pictured in the above two photos. Photo by id780.

This view from the parking deck shows the center court from above as well as the positioning of the high windows and overhead skylights. The open wall to the left is JCPenney and the store in the background is Macy's, originally Maas Brothers. Photo by id780.

More detail along the older part of the mall including a couple storefronts. Photo by id780.

The simple two-anchor I-shaped mall changed fairly quickly after the mall opened. By June 1972, plans were announced to expand the mall. The expansion would add, according to the Evening Independent, 20-25 tenants, a three level parking garage (now the north parking deck) and at the east end a Robinson's of Florida department store. Robinson's was a chain based out of California, but was expanding to Florida with a separate division. Stores were primarily in the Tampa Bay market at the time. The entire expansion opened in 1974, and it would certainly not be the last. Obviously, with a mall that started out as small as this one did, action was necessary to keep it from having the fate of Floriland Mall further northeast.

One of the mall entrances along the old part of the mall. Note the original stoneworking on the left that is part of JCPenney. Photo by id780

While I might praise this mall's overhead design, the floor features leave a lot to be desired. No planters, mostly plain flooring and this pitiful excuse for a fountain. I would love to know what kinds of fountains were in the mall originally. I think that with this mall being Spanish-themed, some Spanish looking fountains would suffice as well. Photo by id780

Saks Fifth Avenue's mall entrance. This is quite subdued compared to the Saks Fifth Avenue's mall entrance in Atlanta. Outside, the store is basically identical to the Saks Fifth Avenue at The Summit at Mountain Brook in Birmingham. Photo by id780.

It was a good thing that Westshore expanded when it did, because only a couple years later its first major competition arrived on the scene: Tampa Bay Center. Tampa Bay Center was an elegant Rouse Company mall featuring far more natural lighting, two levels, a more contemporary design and both a Sears and Burdine's as anchors. Fortunately, this new mall would prove more as a complement to Westshore than direct threat. Montgomery Ward would later join the mall proving that for at least the time being the competition was a bit more friendly. This would not always be the case, but Westshore was not the one that needed to be worried.

Detail of one of the later-installed overhead skylights. Photo by id780

A couple views of the food court. It definitely looks like a dark, depressing afterthought. I think food courts should be inviting to be competitive with the cheaper options on the street. Atmosphere definitely helps, so maybe they should have included the food court on the second level as well. Photos by id780

It is not really known if any remodeling was done on Westshore between 1974 and the late 1990's, but it is assumed that there was probably a late 1980's remodel. All that is known in that time span was the shaking up of anchor tenants. The first came in 1987 when Robinson's of Florida sold all of their stores to Maison Blanche of New Orleans, LA. A short time later in 1991, Maison Blanche turned around and sold the stores again, this time to Dillard's. The sale created Dillard's second major expansion into the Florida market following the purchase of Ivey's of Charlotte, NC a year before. That very same year, the dust was also settling from a very volatile period for Allied Stores, which were merged and drained of resources from the Campeau takeover. Maas Brothers, once the largest regional store in the market, was combined into Burdine's. This meant that Tampa Bay Center and Westshore Plaza suddenly both had Burdine's locations in very close proximity. Amazingly, the two stores would co-exist until 1999 when Burdine's closed at Tampa Bay Center. However, that Burdine's was closed not to consolidate with Westshore but to move to the new Citrus Park Town Center that had just opened.

How do you handle adding a 14 screen theater to a mall on a very small footprint? Stack it on top. The fact that a mall that once had only 38 inline stores has morphed to over 1,000,000 square feet on a very small footprint is impressive. Photo by id780.

JCPenney is visible in the distance. While the rest of the mall has been altered to the point where it bears no resemblance to the original mall, JCPenney has been here ever since 1967 with the only change being a switch from the "Penney's" to JCPenney logo. Photo by id780.

Obviously JCPenney's mall entrance facade has been updated, too. Photo by id780.

In 1998, Westshore Plaza moved from the realm of mid-market mall to upscale mall when they scored the exclusive Saks Fifth Avenue department store. Tacked onto the west side of the mall on what appeared to be a mall entrance wing previously, this established Westshore Plaza as a truly upscale mall far from its origins as a small, basic mid-market mall. This was a wise move, because it was around this same time that it was announced that Westshore Plaza would have its hardest test yet. A mega mall was planned less than five miles away known as International Plaza and Bay Street. This mall would feature upscale stores and a hotel including three anchors with room for more. With a threat like this, it seemed that older, smaller Westshore Plaza would struggle. This was not the case for the invincible Westshore boasting its perfect location right next to I-275.

Here is the beginning of the 1974 wing that originally ended in Robinson's (now Sears) where the mall transitions from a former mall entryway in the old part to the newer part. This is close to Macy's. Photo by id780.

Along the 1974 wing in the transitional area. Photo by id780.

Once free of the constraints of the original mall structure, the Robinson's/Sears wing opens up a bit, but lacks the high ceilings of the original mall, only overhead skylights. Photo by id780

While this photo does not show much detail, the Sears mall entrance is visible enough to show it has been modified quite a bit since this was Robinson's. Photo by id780.

Westshore did not take the news of the new mall without a fight. They aggressively expanded taking the L-shaped mall and reworking it into a square completing the expansion in November 2000. The new wing tied the JCPenney wing of the mall to the Dillard's wing adding a food court and a new 14 screen, stadium seating AMC theater on a second level above the new wing. Westshore Plaza did, however, lose one anchor to International Plaza. Dillard's, which had anchored the mall for a decade, still left for the new mall. The mall, however, had no trouble filling that spot as Sears was looking to leave failing Tampa Bay Center, quickly snapped up the empty anchor. This change has resulted in four total anchors filling the building that originally housed Robinson's. Also, you can add as a side note that Burdine's, which was originally Maas Brothers, became Macy's in 2005. Are you confused?

This mall directory deserves significant explaining. The corridor between JCPenney and Macy's is the original 1967 mall with Maas Brothers and later Burdine's filling the current Macy's space. Saks Fifth Avenue was tacked onto the west side of the original mall in 1998. The east-west corridor from Macy's to Sears opened in 1974 with Sears previously occupied, respectively, by Robinson's of Florida, Maison Blanche and Dillard's. The southeast corner was added in 2000, including the food court. This portion of the mall has no natural light, because the theaters was built over the top of that portion. The North Parkade was also added in 1974 with the other two parking decks added in the 2000's. Photo by id780.

Not having a direct photo of this mall entrance is more disappointing since this was one of the original two anchors: Maas Brothers. Macy's has been here since 2005 although the store operated as Burdine's-Macy's from 2003-2005 (with no external sign changes). Photo by id780.

At least we got a peek into what was once Maas Brothers. A photo of Maas Brothers exterior was also posted on Wikipedia from 1991. Google Street View also has a modern view. Unfortunately, I do not have an updated image of this of my own since these were not my photos. Photo by id780.

A couple more shots of the newer part of the mall extending from near Sears to near JCPenney. Photos by id780.

Westshore Plaza is very similar to another mall covered in this blog, Oglethorpe Mall in Savannah, in several ways. First, the mall very aggressively expanded to fend off competition resulting in it morphing from a standard suburban mall into a premier mall. Second, both malls had Maas Brothers at anchors at different points in their history. In addition, both have not only survived but transformed simple 60's malls into beautiful, thriving malls. Both have also done numerous expansions and still continue to do so despite being on small footprints that make such expansion difficult. Westshore now has three parking decks and even then found the room to squeeze in five nice restaurants including Seasons 82. The mall also received yet another remodel in 2002.

The photographer took substantial photos of storefronts, but this one stood out because for some reason they included the city name on it. Is this the only New Balance store in Tampa?

Old Navy, which sometimes functions as a full junior anchor, holds a place in the mall. It is located near the food court. Photo by id780.

One of the original mall entryways near JCPenney. Why did 60's malls have these LONG corridors coming in like this? Also, note what's on the right, which is also in the next photo.

While they did a swanky job covering this up, this is very spooky. Clearly a store used to have outside access to this mall entry corridor, but has been permanently closed. I wish I knew exactly what was on the other side.

Another way that Westshore Mall is impressive (and similar to Oglethorpe) is how the mall has a very distinctive appearance and theme appropriate to the area. It is not known which renovation did this, but the mall was upgraded from a conventional 60's mall look to a very elaborate Spanish Colonial look with wrought iron, elegant light fixtures, shutters on the high windows (and additional windows with panes) and detailed ceiling treatments with a tasteful mix of aqua blue, tan and brown. While each addition is not exactly the same in design (the high ceilings are only found in the original mall), the improvements made to the oldest part of the mall were exceptional. Best of all is the center court, which features a tower similar to what you would find in a Spanish courtyard. It is truly one of the prettiest remodels I have seen, and one of the reasons I wanted to feature this mall over many others in the area. It is, after all, the way an upscale mall should look: distinctive and elegant. While I am certain this theme could have been made even more elaborate had this mall been open-air, I believe that the way this mall looks is one big reason that this mall has survived competition from many malls that are within a short driving distance.

The anchor likely to carry five names sits in the background behind the restaurant addition to Westshore Plaza. This view is from the South Parkade parking deck. Photo by id780.

AMC 14 Cinemas is visible with the mall hidden underneath from this vantage point. Photo by id780.

JCPenney has a curious (and rather ugly) design that has open-faced walls along a portion of the store. Apparently the building was originally designed to house three levels, but the third level did not cover the entire footprint. Considering the danger of collapse from hurricanes, apparently this wall was opened up (or maybe it was always this way?)

JCPenney built some extraordinarily strange, but distinctive stores in the 60's, but this is one of the least attractive I've ever seen. I wonder if it looked any better originally when the Penney's logo graced the front? Note the fake stone facade at the base. Photo by id780.

Saks Fifth Avenue boasts a simple, plain design that looks stately but boring. I do think, though, that this anchor being here is very important, because it is a major factor in how International Plaza did not destroy this mall in 2001. Photo by id780.

It will be interesting to see how things progress in the future with Westshore Plaza. It is clear that its popularity and expensive, frequent modifications have made it the oldest and probably the most successful mall in all of Tampa. International Plaza obviously feels the heat as they have never filled their empty anchor pads, which were undoubtedly intended for any anchors they could steal from Westshore. It will be curious to see if the inevitable failure of Sears results in Dillard's wanting to return to the store they originally snapped up 20 years ago. At International Plaza, it is the odd man out sitting between Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. Meanwhile, the party has never stopped at Westshore Plaza. Let us hope that party continues into their 50th anniversary!


  1. Technically, The Saks Fifth Avenue store anchoring The Summit is in Birmingham city limits, not Mountain Brook.

    The Saks store design is a very staid interpretation of the New York building. It has also been used in the designs of the Las Vegas, B'ham and Raleigh locations.

  2. Wow! The exterior reminds me of the Summit in Birmingham. I love the interior of the first picture. It looks like downtown of a historical/old city!

  3. Any reason the Saks store spears closed here?

    Very nice post!

  4. The odd 60s mall entrance at the end of a corridor and closed exterior store entrance looks a LOT like the mall I grew up with in Warner Robins, GA. In the Houston Mall, that exterior entrance was access to the Chik-fil-A. The blank wall forming the other side of the corridor was an exterior wall to one of the anchors. Houston Mall was a lot like the original layout of Westshore - a 3-anchor space with a high ceiling and windows. I think it never had a third anchor. I can only ever remember two. It's really interesting to see how that layout grew in Westshore's case.

    Now I'm thinking I need to stop in and see what's become of the Houston Mall next time I'm in WR. It's been nearly dead for decades, but I wonder what it's like now.

  5. I covered Houston Mall on here actually! It's surviving as a repurposed mall with pretty much every retail store gone. It's very dated and run down, though, and hasn't changed much at all. I was amazed to see it when I flashback.

  6. Back in the early 80's I remember going to that mall. They had some really cool fountains that I used to enjoy, unlike what they have today. I remember one with lots of water features that was by the enterance to woolworths which is now the mall/enterance way to Saks Fith.

  7. That covered up storefront on the outside of the mall was at one time a Christian Science Reading Room. It may have been some other things too, but that's the one I remember. I think one reason Westshore does so good (other than loyalty from longtime Tampa residents) is that it is close to several office buildings, thus gets a lot of lunchtime and after work traffic.

  8. I think the covered up storefront was also a Tuxedo shop. I could be mistsken. The current food court is also where the old food court was, just redone. There used to be a drugstore and a sporting goods store there as well. Before the remodel, the food court led to the outside. I visited this mall as a teenager and ate at the Woolworths that was located in front of where Saks is now. I worked there before, during, and after the big remodel that expanded the food court and added the movie theater. I worked at what is shown in your picture as Lids and it used to be The Sweet Factory. love this mall.

  9. I know it's pretty old but saks had to close 1 year ago and was replaced by Dick's sporting goods ( ) lets see what next come

  10. Sacks, now a Dicks Sporting Goods, was actually attached to west side of the mall where a Woolworths once was. Woolworths had both mall side entrances as well as parking lot side. When Woolworths closed, the mall added a corridor straight out and added more inline stores. As for the JCPenney building, as far as I can remember, it was always built only as a two story building. I never heard of a third floor that was planned. It may have been built that way to offset the fact that Maas Brothers built a three story building. Also, here is a link showing what the fountains looked like.

  11. The JC Penney also houses the district offices. Westshore has always been a nice mall.

  12. I worked at robinson's in 1982-3 and remember that chick-fil-a gave a discount to mall workers.Also we used the parking garage in bad weather. Glad to see the mall survives.