Katy Mills Opening Day

All images in this post were taken by Darel Rex Finley. With his permission, I have used them to write this post.

When Katy Mills Mall opened in 1999, it wasn’t surrounded by much. To the South, two recently developed and unfinished neighborhoods, Pin Oak Village and Falcon Point. To the North, downtown “Old Katy”. With no development to the East or West. Even the outparcels of the mall were underdeveloped, with a Walmart and Toys ‘R Us being the only other retail nearby.

The former Katy Mills Highway Sign Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

The idea of building a mall here puzzled some, as it seemed to be “out in the sticks.” The reality is that this was a prime location for a mall. The suburbs were booming, and the developer, The Mills Corporation, had gone through tons of trouble to build this mall. The land on which the mall sits was part of the Katy Prairie. Specifically, they were wetlands.

The exterior decor elements were mostly removed in 2020 Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

The Mills Corporation had given a large donation to the Katy Prairie Conservancy to help purchase new land and prevent environmental backlash. The Army Corps of Engineers had to permit and supervise the draining of the wetlands as they had protected status. As well, the land was owned by the City of Houston, it was sold to the city of Katy, who then sold it to the developer. During development, competing companies tried to open two rival malls at the same time as Katy Mills, both of which would fail before being started.

Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

The Mills Corporation was finally able to build the mall, pushing the original goal of early 1999 to late December, just in time for Christmas. The mall was sold on the outlet concept but in a traditional mall setting. Many stores in the nearby Sealy outlets would jump ship to Katy Mills. This would help to make Katy Mills the premier shopping destination for most of West Houston.

The “Star Family” (mom holding the ATM sign) were the mascots of Katy Mills Mall.

The mall was designed in the standard “Mills fashion” the mall had a racetrack layout with a central food court. Each segment of the racetrack was considered a neighborhood. Each neighborhood was sponsored by a company. Upon entering the mall, you were told by an automatic speaker which neighborhood you had just entered.

The AMC movie theater, which is still open, is located at the “end” of the track. Photo Credit: Daniel Rex Finley

The mall had a theme of a day out at the mall with the Star Family. The colors and styles were meant to evoke the idea of children creating the decor using only construction paper and scissors. The food court had its own unique theme, entitled Katy Field Day the individual stalls were each theme to look like a child’s lunchbox, and the ends of the food court were flanked by full-service restaurants.

The main corridors, which were mainly vacant when the mall opened, have had kiosks placed throughout. Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

The corridors were designed with a rising and falling pattern. The changes were dealt with by a combination of ramps and stairs. The floors were wood under a heavy coat of lacquer. Trees were placed at certain intervals in planters built into the ground. The ceiling was unique in that no drop ceilings were used or required by stores. Meaning that, for the most part, if you looked up, you could see straight to the roof.

Until recently, most of the mall retained this color scheme. Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

With the exception of anchors and the two full-service restaurants, storefronts were limited to their logo and minimal branding. They could add some individual touches, but for the most part, they were very standardized. The idea behind this probably fell to the fact that Katy Mills was considered to be an Outlet Mall, but the conformity would diminish over the years.

The spot to the left of Vitamin World was a restaurant. However, like the other corner spots (Johnny Rocket’s), it has since become a Tommy Bahama store. Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

Certain areas were themed based on their sponsor, such as the Coca-Cola neighborhood. It featured a giant white polar bear (Coke’s mascot at the time), sled-shaped benches, and moving spotlights with snowflake-shaped filters. The theming reflected the company, and save for the sled-shaped benches would be stripped when Coca-Cola was no longer sponsored.

Notice the Pacsun in the back using the old full name of “Pacific Sunwear”. It is still in the same location, however, they have updated the sign. Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

Please take some time to visit Darel’s website. Not only does he have more pictures of Katy Mills on opening day. He also has tons of tutorials for cool things.


  1. hey im looking for a news clip from the day it opened on october 28, 1999 on fox 26 news. If you find a clip anywhere please respond asap so i can watch it and look for my principle Sonya Sanzo and her son Tyler Sanzo being interviewed. If you find a link please respond by adding its link.

    Thank you, Kohen D

  2. I just saw that there was a Harold P store but I don’t know the full name. I know that it has become a Last Call outlet by Neiman Marcus.

  3. Is anyone aware of the name of the restaurant that looks like a stone building and starts with an M? It’s now a Tommy Bahama at Katy Mills but I’m looking for the original restaurant name.

      1. Hello there. I think I heard you got maps from 1999 or 2004. If you have them, please reply to me or send me an email. I’m waiting for you here!

        1. Hi Lenny the only directory I have is the one linked in the comments. You might be able to find more using the internet archive.

  4. According to an article from the Houston Chronicle in The stores committed to be in early 1998 included: “Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Off Rodeo Drive Beverly Hills, Virgin Megastore, Books-A-Million, a Boot Town outlet, Rainforest Cafe, GameWorks, Bed Bath & Beyond, Burlington Coat Factory and Marshall’s”.

    Bass Pro Shops, Books-a-Million, Rainforest Cafe, Burlington Coat Factory, and Marshalls opened as planned, as well as Bed Bath & Beyond, though it moved summer 2016. However, there were a few that I’m dubious about:

    Boot Town – “Old West Warehouse” is there in a directory in an online directory that appears to date from 2002 or 2003, as well as the 2004 directory. Now it’s Off Broadway Shoes. Boot Town closed chain-wide in 2008, so it may never have opened.

    Off Rodeo Drive Beverly Hills – Described here: [http://www.nreionline.com/mag/next-generation-retailing-evolves-mills-corporation], was in Grapevine Mills in 1998. Not enough for a full sized anchor and would’ve, based on the size of the store in my 1998 Grapevine Mills directory, about a mid-sized anchor. This probably what became Midnight Rodeo later (“opening 2002”) and is now Ross Dress for Less.

    GameWorks – Isn’t mentioned in any articles past 1998. Jillian’s opened up instead (pre-dating Marq*E) and the space became Steve & Barry’s (briefly)

    Virgin Megastore – Again, no mention of it after 1998. (It too opened in Grapevine Mills). FYE opened in the south (AMC) side at some point (operational by 2002-2003), but FYE, as a brand, did not operate until 2001, two years after Katy Mills’ opening…and Virgin Megastore operated until the late 2000s. I considered that it could have been Media Play originally, but if that were true, it would still have been Media Play in the early 2000s.

    None of those would have been big enough for the large “Future Major” next to Bass Pro. However, if we take Grapevine Mills as a template for Katy Mills, the Future Major would’ve been a JCPenney Outlet Store, and they may have cancelled it fairly late in development in anticipation of another mall project in the area. (They would open a full-line store across the highway just about seven years after the mall’s opening).

    There was another “Future Major” to be built out further past Jillian’s (they had a shipping dock and everything) but it was only partially occupied, and it’s much smaller than other stores, about the size of Books-A-Million.

  5. The pictures are all broken. One thing I’ve never known the answer of is that there’s a “ghost anchor” on the north end of the mall that was never developed, something really substantial (150k square feet!)

    I wonder what it was.

    1. Huh that was weird. I fixed all the pictures, I know that the property has never been developed, and Simon still lists it as a Future Anchor space. I’ll look into it and see if I can figure out what may have been planned. I’m thinking maybe it was some kind of attraction along the lines of AMC, or the Jillians which was originally in the mall. Grapevine Mills up in Dallas has a Skatepark. Possibly something that they could have replicated here.

    2. Okay, so upon some investigation as far as I can tell nothing was ever even planned for the land. I found some old maps, and they all call it “Future Major”. I wonder if the fact that the land passes through both Fort Bend and Harris County poses an issue.

      1. Hello there. I think I heard you got maps from 1999 or 2004. If you have them, please reply to me or send me an email. I’m waiting for you here!