West Oaks Mall

History

The history of West Oaks Mall begins with Foley’s. Wishing to expand their department stores, Federated (owner of Foley’s at the time) commissioned a search for a new location for their department store. The search would lead Foley’s to the west side of town, where a spot for the new store was found at the intersection of Highway 6 and F.M. 1093. At the time the area was not much more than fields, farmhouses, and the looming Barker Dam. However, real estate development was taking place on a large scale around the area, both North and South along Highway 6. Most of the new homes in the area were for employees of the Shell Westwood Development Campus that had recently opened its doors just across the Highway, from the planned mall. The area was primed to be the next big “yuppie community” and development was happening at a rapid pace. Most residents of the area were upper-middle class, bringing with them their demand for high-class shopping. As such, the new Foley’s was to be very ornate and chic, unlike the majority of their original Houston stores which had become dated as the company focused on expanding elsewhere. The idea was Foley’s would build a nice store, and with other upscale anchors, this would attract a high-class mix to the proposed mall. On July 20th, 1982 the Alabama-Coushatta Medicine Men helped Foley’s open their tenth store in the Houston area.

Construction on the mall would start just as Foley’s held their grand opening. The tenant mix that came together was quite impressive, with Mervyn’s, Lord & Taylor, and Sak’s Fifth Avenue, making up the rest of the mix. Mervyn’s stands out as their first Houston location and the second for Sak’s. Lord & Taylor on the other hand had already opened a few locations in town, including the similar Greenspoint location. For most Houstonians the new shopping destination was a neat attraction, the mall stood out without any substantial competition in the area, and this was to be the immediate shopping destination for most people in West Houston. Foley’s had already had success with the similarly developing Willowbrook Mall. The mall was also planned to have a Plitt Theaters 6-Screen Cinema.

Approximately two years after Foley’s opened their West Oaks location, the rest of the mall took part in a grand opening celebration. The mall was built in three wings. One led from Mervyn’s (the West anchor) to the Fiesta Court, a two-story food court. The second wing led from Foley’s (the East anchor) to the Park Court, which served as a smaller secondary food court. The third wing dubbed “The Arcade” ran North to South between Lord and Taylor (the Northern anchor) and an empty anchor pad, which was being used as parking and an entrance. The Arcade also connected the Fiesta Court and Park Courts via two short hallways. The mall’s design was decidedly Spanish. With Terracotta tiles being used for flooring, darker Earth tones used for paint, and lots of accent wood, all contrasted by bright white stucco. The mall also featured plaza-style fountains imported from Mexico. The food court even contained a “second story” which functioned as a raised plaza for smokers. (Most reports have stated this was more like a suspended platform, which was hung from the roof, rather than a true second story.) The Movie Theater was located in a hallway adjacent to the food court entry.

By the mid-1980s the west side of Houston was the place to be. With what had been farmland only a few years ago becoming the hottest portions of Houston. The housing developments around the West Oaks area were built up to be quite high class. Initially, it lived up to this, with many lots being sold to employees of nearby petrochemical companies. This demand for modern higher class neighborhoods was noted by amenities like community tennis courts, pools, and parks. By the mid-80s Macy’s was being toyed with as the possible fifth anchor, however, these plans would never come to fruition. By the late 1980s, Houston’s oil-based economy began to tank which ended up with people defaulting on their homes, there was also an excess of built but unsold homes, leading to a quick drop in price point. As the value of properties dropped, so did the average person’s income around West Oaks Mall. While the mall was still bringing in some upper crust shoppers by the end of the 80s it wasn’t enough.

By the early 90s traffic bound for the mall was mainly coming from areas directly around West Oaks. While some shoppers would still make the trek from distant suburbs in the Richmond and Katy areas for stores like Foley’s, those who intended to go to luxury stores usually wound up at The Galleria instead. This shift in demographics would cause the closure of both Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue in 1990. While the demographics of West Oak’s traffic had changed, the flow was still steady. Both stores were quickly replaced. With Sears taking the Saks spot and JC Penney moving into the Lord & Taylor. Mervyn’s at the time was already undertaking their “Mervyn’s California” campaign to rebrand the company as more consumer-friendly. The empty anchor pad would also finally be developed, with Dillard’s building a brand-new store that was not directly attached to the mall. A small hallway would be built to connect Dillard’s with what was a stub entrance that led into the empty pad.

During the early 1990s, West Oaks saw a period of stability. The mall was updated, with the mission theme being mostly removed, in favor of lighter colors, and brighter lights. These tactics were able to drive new traffic from the ever-expanding Katy and Fort Bend County areas. The mall had also re-established itself as a mid-level regional mall, no longer would it be dependent on destination shoppers looking for high-end stores, but instead a more level consumer, just “your average person from the neighborhood”. The early 90s also saw the construction of multiple power centers around the mall, in spots that had previously been vacant. While some big-box retailers like Best Buy and Babies ‘R Us had staked out territory up Westheimer in the late 80s, this was the first face-to-face competition the mall would face. Namely, from upscale department store Venture. However, for the most part, the new retail helped support the area as a hub of activity and traffic. In the mid-90s, some traffic would be drawn away by the opening of First Colony Mall. While the drop in traffic was measurable, the effects were handled relatively well by West Oaks, especially due to the difference in non-anchor stores. However, things wouldn’t be as easy when Katy Mills Mall opened only a few years later. By the mid-2000s the new Katy Mills “Outlet” mall, was drawing away shoppers in droves. The low price point, combined with new facilities, and entertainment venues, made West Oaks look downright dumpy. To help combat this, the mall would begin a major retheming, and “rebranding” if you will to a Ranch Style.

During the ranch-theming of the early 2000s, the mall was completely reskinned. Nearly every surface in the mall was replaced, from floor to wall coverings, from ceilings to light fixtures, it was almost all changed. The updated “Ranch Theme” fit the area well, as prior to the dam being built this was part of one of the largest ranches in Harris County. The hope was likely to draw in shoppers from communities like Cinco Ranch, which were technically closer to West Oaks than Katy Mills. While the retheming helped somewhat, what really helped the mall was another bout of development, this time in the West Oaks area. The mall would also be updated with the area’s first Alamo Drafthouse to draw in shoppers. With this supplement of newfound customers, West Oaks was able to keep chugging along without issue for a few more years. In 2005 the first of the permanent anchor closures started with JC Penney. That same year would Mervyn’s also close their West Oaks location prior to their bankruptcy. The closure was a result of Mervyn’s sale of the store to Steve & Barry, who was expanding nationwide at the time. They would operate out of the space, until their 2009 bankruptcy meltdown. By the end of the year, the mall had been sold to a new owner and was again feeling run down, even with the relatively recent renovation. The new owners would seek to demolish Mervyn’s wing, consolidating the remaining tenants into vacant storefronts, and using the new space to build a “lifestyle wing”, containing a Multiplex Regal Movie Theater

At this point, part of the problem was a weak economy, an over-saturation of malls in the area, and an increase in nearby big-box competitors. Throughout the 2000s, the remaining pad spaces had mostly filled in with tons of big-box stores that were a bigger attraction for most consumers than the mall. As such, the tenancy in the mall began to dip. Many mainline stores like The Disney Store, Foot Action, Forever 21, and even Dairy Queen were out of the mall by 2010. While for the most part the tenants were replaced, their replacements were usually 2nd or 3rd tier. By 2011 the new Lifestyle Wing was complete, and as a result, Alamo Drafthouse moved to Vintage Park (and later to La Cantera as the only remaining Drafthouse in the area). Unfortunately, the new lifestyle center turned out to be somewhat of a flop. While it did bring a new Multiplex Cinema, and room for new tenants, it didn’t bring actually bring any new tenants. Except for a Froyo shop in 2013, that took over what was originally inside the mall, but is now an exterior facing shop. Over the next several years, the mall’s tenant list would take a real beating. Losing just about every major chain, at this point mostly due to national cutbacks, and West Oaks generally performing low.

In 2017 the Mall would again be sold, this time to an investment company owned by a local family, who made their name running boutiques and developing a fashion line in Houston in the 90s and 2000s. After purchasing the mall, the family would also purchase the Macy’s building, which would just as soon announce they were shutting down that location. Leaving West Oaks with only Sears and the movie theater at this point. Although, it is worth noting that West Oaks did have a Junior Anchor. It was originally built as a Palais Royal which operated from the mall’s soft opening in 1983 until 2001. The space would then be leased to Linen’s ‘n Things would operate there until their bankruptcy in 2008. After sitting vacant for a bit Palais Royal would move back in during the 2011 update. In 2018 the Mehta Family would open “The Outlet” in the former Foley’s/Macy’s building. The store is a huge scale “pallet seller” meaning they take overstock/return items from other stores and resell them. Most of their merchandise comes from places like Target, Sam’s Club, or Costco. They also maintain a large selection of Wedding and Prom dresses, which is what some of their boutiques previously specialized in.

Over the past few years, little has changed at West Oaks Mall. Sears closed their store as part of the “world’s longest bankruptcy” in 2018. In 2019 Palais Royal would close their store, and many interior tenants began to close their doors too. The mall itself is in decent shape, at least better than Greenspoint. However, the tenant mix is tiny, and almost no major chains are represented, with long-time holdouts after Victoria’s Secret, and Bath & Bodyworks closing in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Little effort has been put into developing the lifestyle feature of the property, with a huge vacant portion being walled off but not developed for years now. Many other sites have been vacant for nearly 10 years now. A trucking school has taken over a portion of the parking lot, and while they do have a storefront, they use the parking lot loop as a training ground, and it’s taking its toll on the lot. West Oaks is not in great shape but is not likely to go anywhere while The Outlet is still open and doing well.

7 comments

  1. West Oaks was Saks Fifth Avenue’s second location in Houston, not the first. Built as a free standing boutique mall in the 1970’s at 1800 South Post Oak (today Post Oak Blvd), Saks Fifth Avenue opened its first Texas store in Neiman Marcus territory. Saks remained the dominate store in its mall until it relocated several years later into the Marshall Field’s location in the Galleria. Subsequently, a several years after taking over the Marshall Field location, Saks built the current location in the Galleria. The original 1800 Post Oak Mall had Saks in the center and three sides of upscale designer stores. The final renovation added a wing on the Post Oak side with additional shops and restaurants. The Saks Post Oak store and boutique mall was demolished and the site redeveloped.

    1. Good point, I’ve never been a Sak’s shopper (at either location!) so it’s easy to forget that the Galleria store moved.

  2. West Oaks. Ahh, memories. I went shopping for Christmas gifts there in December of 1999. Ran into a guy I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. We caught up, had some lunch, and off I went. Had a heart attack six hours later…

    (Note that I said, “memories” and not “good times!)

  3. 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.

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