A look into Houston's retail past

What’s left of West Oaks Mall

Welcome back, today we’re taking a look at West Oaks Mall. A place which is special to me. It was my middle school mall. At the time the mall had a good selection of stores, was pretty safe, and most importantly was closest to where my family lived at the time. By the time I was in high school I was either driving or new people who could drive me, and would generally go to First Colony. I stopped by West Oaks last December, and took so many photos it has taken this long to filter through them.

West Oaks has been through many different stages of life. Originally opening in the mid 80’s with high-end stores like Lord and Taylor and  Saks Fifth Avenue, the mall seemed destined for greatness. However with a slow economy, development stalled and, the mall stagnated becoming just another general suburban shopping center. That is until a tremendous amount of traffic was driven to the area with the opening of the Westpark Tollway. During the early and mid 2000s a huge number of new homes were being built just beyond West Oaks Mall.

A full force remodel took place to update the mall from it’s early 90’s suburbia look into a Ranch styled masterpiece. This remodel brought in many new stores, and helped to revitalize the few upper-end retailers left. It was going quite well for west Oaks all up until the late 2000s recession. The mall was dealt its final blow throughout the 2010s as all the anchor tenants except for Dillards shutdown. Ever since then the mall has been fizzling into a quiet and mostly unnoticed death.

The food court entrance was generally quite busy. The building straight ahead was originally the movie theater, and was last Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar and Grill. 

Coming under the very retro looking canopy you can notice some of the original decor which was removed during the ranch renovation. The hole in the plaster went all the way through and was meant to be reminiscent of a mission’s window. I believe the canopy was extended during the early 90s renovation. 
This falling plaster is probably one of the best examples of the lack of care given to this mall. Rather than fixing the leak causing this, they just continually replaster the result.

The brand carpet was left untouched during the most recent renovation which aimed to keep a similar color scheme with the removal of most ranch elements. 

This shot is looking down towards the food court. The movie theater on the left, and the former McDonald’s and T-Mobile on the right. 

Whoever this dude is, he seemed to be renting out the former T-Mobile as ad space. 

The movie theater space at West Oaks originally opened as Plitt Theaters in 1984, who sold most of their chain to Cineplex-Odeon. The name was changed around 1986. It would close at the end of 2000, reopening mid 2003 as Houston’s first Alamo Drafthouse location. It would close in 2013 to make way for a Toby Keith’s which would only last until 2015. It has sat vacant since. 

This was once McDonalds, which closed around 2014. The black square of tiles was where the golden arches were mounted. 

This map is not up to date with all the store closures. It was a piece of false hope before entering the depths of the mall. 

Looking into the food court, the dire situation the mall is in becomes more apparent. The food court originally had a second floor smoking area around where the fireplace sits today. This area was completely updated during the ranch renovation. 

This is the corner of the food court near the restrooms and offices. The left storefront was most recently Orange Julius, which puts the former McDonalds to the right. 

Los Ranchos, which I believe replaced a pizza spot? has closed. The Chinese restaurant to the left was one of only two spots open in the food court. 

Long time hold out Kelly’s Cajun Grill also seems to have closed their West Oaks location, leaving behind an untouched store front. 

These ranch table tops were one of the best things of to come of the renovations. They are being mostly phased out after years of neglect. I tried to grab a couple of shots to help document whoever compiled all this research into these ranches.

Krispy Krunchy Chicken replaced Arby’s a few years back. It actually seems to do pretty well, granted it’s either this or chinese. 

Roman Delight has finally called it quits, packing up sometime in 2019. 

Originally a Great American Cookie Co this spot was used by a few independent bakeries, but has sat empty for a bit now. 

The former FootAction USA has been remodeled. After they moved out, an R/C group rented the space, and used it without any real changes. The floor still sports the shoe brands though. 

Pac-Sun, or Pacific Sunwear if you’re of a certain age, left behind this facade. 

Hollister opened here during the mall’s mid-200’s upswing. It only lasted a few years closing by 2011. 

Beyond the former FootAction one wing of the mall has been demolished. This was done to facilitate construction of the Edward’s Theater. A large glass wall was built to create a new entrance. This one seemed to have much more traffic than the older Food Court Entrance I had used. I was unable to get a direct shot of it for that reason. 

I came outside to get a glimpse of the theater. It was early afternoon and the place was relatively dead. The mall overall had very little traffic for the Christmas season. The exterior of the Edwards theater is beginning to show some age, which doesn’t bode well for such a new facility. 

This whole section used to be indoors. The original plans showed the entire mall was receiving similar updates but it seems unlikely that anything new will be done at this point. Original anchor Mervyn’s was demolished during the update. Although by that point it had been vacant for many years after briefly serving as Steve and Barry’s. 

Another look at the old Hollister shows at half decent job at covering up the center porch the stores tend to have. Looks better than most other dead malls. 

Walking back through the food court, you cross by the former Image Nails. During the mid 2000s upswing this was converted quickly from a Cingular Wireless store to the new location of Hot Topic.

Walking down the busiest corridor (the one leading from the food court towards Foley’s) you see a mix of stores that are reminiscent of Northwest Mall. 

Yup, definite flashbacks to Northwest Mall. 

The Guest Services desk, is beautiful decorated but completely unmanned. Behind it, is the Dillard’s now a clearance location. 

Zales has shut their doors at West Oaks, the large mural to the left is part of a child’s play area which hides the former entrance into JCPenney. 

This part of the mall has been fronted by vending machines for a few years. It was originally a part of Kay Jewelers whose space was subdivided when they closed. 

The remaining portion of Kay Jewelers, if my memory serves correctly they were the ones who distributed the “You are loved” buttons that were popular for a while. 

The Sears signage remains despite the store closing over a year ago. 
Champs seems to be doing well. They are often among the last stores to close in dying malls.
Entering the park court the high mission window still in place, it’s easy to notice that the ranch remodel was less drastic here
Getting to the so called “Park Court” you can see the ranch renovation was much less drastic on this side of the mall. This is pretty much what the food court used to look like, including the mission influenced round window.
Originally serving as a secondary food area the park court featured a few food based retailers, including a small sunken seating area. This was filled in during the renovation and the only remnant is this now defunct smoothie shop.
The Palais Royal is still open and as far as I can tell has not been converted into a Goordman’s. This space was briefly a Linens n’ Things. With Palais Royal returning to the mall in the late 2000s. Thanks to Rachel on facebook for confirming this!
Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works are still both running strong. They were by far the busiest stores in the mall. Despite this they are smaller compared to any other nearby mall. They also lack their co-branded counterparts (Pink & White Barn) which some nearby malls have.
The former Sears space still has some lights on. I’m sure to some extent the management it aware that morbid curiosity of the mall does generate some foot traffic.
Looking inside Sears this was a elegant looking store with some distinct Saks Fifth Avenue features left behind.
Looking down the final corridor the number of open stores does perk back up near operating anchors. Such is the case with Foley’s/Macy’s replacement, The Outlet.
This however, did not stop Visible Changes from deciding to leave the mall.
The Outlet, which is as the name implies an Outlet style store which replaced Macy’s is deserving of its own post. The place is HUGE!
Being back where the mall started over 35 years ago, that leaves one thing left to do. Take a look back, then head outside.
Foley’s is where everything started, this store included an entrance with terracotta handprint tiles made by school children. When The Outlet moved in, they chose not to use that entrance, but it still sits there untouched.
Now a Fortis College this was originally built as a Lord and Taylor. I remember shopping here quite a bit with my mom when it was a Penney’s. The store was cramped, with oddly placed departments.
This building was added to the mall in the mid 90s for Linens n’ Things. Palais Royal moved in around 2009.
It’s you can tell that this store wasn’t originally a Sears, it is almost difficult to identify that it was originally a Saks Fifth Avenue.
Built during the mid 2000s update, this was originally home to an Applebee’s which closed a couple of years ago. It was replaced by an African restaurant which also failed.
Lets take a look at Dillard’s. This store is special for two reasons, one it is the only anchor to have never changed names. Second, this pad site was originally going to be a Macy’s. At the time Houston only had one other Macy’s and this was also prior to their purchase of Foley’s. However, with the failure of Saks and Lord and Taylor, plans were abandoned.

All in all, this is a sade fate for such a great mall. The memories of this mall will stick around for some time. I plan come back and document the area around the mall a bit better. Including the West Oaks Village shopping center across Westheimer. I’m also curious to see what old photos I can pull up. If you have any you want to share consider dropping me a line on Facebook.


Reader Comments

  1. Oddly enough Sears DID expand the space, it was originally half the size it was (this was when they went from an experimental clothing-only Sears to a full Sears). From what I can tell, though, the aesthetics were almost identical (Foley’s expansion of their stores in the 1960s and 1970s was identical–both the Northwest and Greenspoint stores got expansions early in their lives). This is in contrast to any department store physical expansion stores (rare in recent years due to the closings and downscalings, but…), which will completely change the exterior. For instance, the Willowbrook Mall and Deerbrook Mall Macy’s were almost identical on the exterior, but when Dillard’s took them over, they expanded the Willowbrook Mall store that it looks barely anything like the old store, even from the air.

  2. This was the ultimate hangout back in the late 80’s! Does anyone remember the name of a fabric/sewing store that would have been there in the mid to late 80’s?

  3. Standing here at the entrance to THE OUTLET looking away, South, Southeast to sky lighted, slant ceiling. It seems 90% of everything is empty. Yet they have built a motel north of new gas station at Richmond Ave. & Hwy 6, some sort of Islamic ?? school in & Westheimer, Richmond still very busy. Contracting economy, busy dual working parents, aging demographics, & inflation seems to strain marginal mall locations.

  4. There was another yeehah bar in the Alamo Drafthouse/Toby Keith space for a few months last year. They found out the hard way that the C&W demographic had migrated far, far west.

  5. Just found your website. Very cool for a curious Houston native now on the East coast and missing her roots! This gave me the feels. West Oaks was also the mall I would go to with my mom to spend my allowance money (mostly at Natural Wonders) and have a slice of Brother’s Pizza as a kid, and meet up with my friends in middle school. It was quickly going downhill by the time I was in high school in 2000 though. So sad to see it in this shape.

    1. Thank you for the kind words about my site. I too share many middle school memories of West Oaks, but by the time I was in high school First Colony was the place to go.

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