Howdy readers, I have some sad, but not unexpected news today. The end is finally in sight for San Jacinto Mall. While this is a sad day for mall lovers everywhere, this has also been a long time coming, and almost everyone would agree that the property should be redeveloped rather than left to sit in the state it currently does. Originally envisioned back in 1978 by Paul Broadhead & Associates, a mall development company based out of Meridian, Mississippi. Broadhead had already made his mark on malls in Texas during the last decade. Originally getting his start in 1966, building malls throughout Mississippi and Louisiana, Broadhead was in Texas by 1974 with plans for Brazos Mall in Lake Jackson. Broadhead’s approach was to build super regional 500,000+ Square Feet malls in medium-sized towns that didn’t really have any competition. The idea was appealing to both small stores, and large anchors, often the last vestiges of a town’s Main Street would find themselves inside these malls. Thanks to the massive square footage, it was easy to include plenty of room for national chains and local outlets. On the success of the Lake Jackson mall, Broadhead would move on with a similar formula on malls like Sunset Mall, and Mall of Abilene. These also proved successful and by 1978, the decision was made to develop another mall, this one in Baytown. At the time, there was almost no competition in the area, with Gulfgate being the closest shopping destination for most of those on the East side.
Originally only planned with Sears, and a Montgomery Ward as anchors, the mall would make a good fit for the area. They would bring stores that had no real representation, with many of these stores being higher end, although some locals were of course also included. The anchor count would eventually grow to 8, including Foley’s, Mervyn’s, JC Penney, and a few “junior anchors” in addition to the originally planned Sears and Wards. The mall was initially quite successful, and brought in shoppers from outside the Baytown area to peruse the new mall. However, this trend would not last, as one of the first issues San Jacinto mall would experience was a lack of foot traffic, which was caused in part by competition from other malls in the area, like the new Pasadena Town Square. It seems that the mall was designed anticipating a surge of development in Baytown, that never really happened. While the softening 80s Houston economy, this would hamper development all around Houston, the Baytown area was particularly hard hit. While one neighborhood was constructed around the same time as the mall, the next housing projects wouldn’t arrive until the mid 2000s. During the 80s, some of the higher end stores in the mall would be the first to go, although for the most part it seems most early tenants lost were replaced. During the early 90s, the mall would first begin to falter. With chains like Walgreens pulling from the mall without ever being replaced, it showed how lacking foot traffic truly was. Around the turn of the century we saw the exit of the first anchor stores, with Montgomery Ward, and Service Merchandise both closing due to ongoing bankruptcies in 2001. Shortly after, Bealls would close their store, leaving the Wards Wing without an anchor or junior anchor. It must have been obvious to the mall’s owners that progress had stalled as despite constant talk of internal updates and remodels, the mall had still not been touched by the mid 2000s, with multiple original empty storefronts still standing, labelscars intact.
In 2006, Mervyn’s would close their store as part of a pre-bankruptcy slim down. This would leave two full wings of the mall without any anchor stores. During this time, remaining stores began consolidating into central areas, usually nearby anchors, and what survived of the food court. Entire wings were left empty, with some storefronts covered by plywood murals, and ads for the mall, and the few remaining retailers. However, an equal amount were left exposed to the public. Years of deferred maintenance had led to the conditions inside the mall seriously deteriorating. The huge curved ceilings were some of the first pieces to fall apart, with water damage destroying portions of the sheetrock, and mold growing along the remaining portions. The mall would also begin to fall prey to petty vandalism, especially in the lesser occupied corridors. At this point, the almost tenantless Mervyn’s wing was sealed off. Plans for a lifestyle center were floated shortly after, by demolishing both empty wings of the mall and replacing them with short strip center style plazas. Other ideas included possibly adding big box discounters into the mix. While there’s no doubt that an addition like this would have driven new traffic, it was unrealistic to expect this to happen when the mall itself was unable to find basic maintenance funds. In 2015 the mall was sold after sitting on the market for over 10 years. While many hoped that the new owners would bring much needed cash into the mall in the way of maintenance and upgrades, this wasn’t exactly what the new owners had in mind. Plans were to demolish the mall structure, leaving the anchors in place, and redevelop the area as an open air shopping center, similar to Pearland Town Center.
While the plans made were grand, they were not acted upon. Instead, the mall would continue to sit dormant under new ownership as anchors continued to close, although this time it was again due to larger company issues. With Sears leaving in 2018, a surprise move was made on the mall, the next year, three wings would be demolished. This would be the two longtime empty wings, and the recently vacated Sears Wing, including the former store. This left only a small portion of the original mall, which was essentially a corridor between Macy’s and JCPenney. Although there were still a handful of operating businesses, it seems that at this point the mall only served to generate a little bit of income off of the property, while the new owners waited for the next store closures. The interior mall would close in early 2020 leaving JCPenney and Macy’s as the final operating stores. Unfortunately, during these past years, both chains have fallen upon difficult times and are selling off locations. JCP, and Macy’s both put these locations up for sale, in 2020. In July 2021 JCP would close their store, and Macy’s has announced the closure of their store this week. At this point there’s no official word as to what will replace San Jacinto Mall, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that outdoor anchored center come to life, although it’s anyone’s guess.