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.

Visiting Almeda Mall for the first time

In light of the recent publicity of my website thanks to a Chron.com Article I decided to visit the literal twin of Northwest Mall, Almeda Mall.

The following may come as a surprise to my readers, prior to yesterday I had never set foot in Almeda Mall. I had of course driven by many times, knew where it was, and knew its shared lineage with Northwest. Both malls opened in October of 1968, they also shared developers, and shared many tenants. There were 70 stores in each mall, with a total of 6 unique stores per mall by 1976. (This leaves out obvious exceptions such as independent barber shops, pet shops, and cinemas located at both malls.) The malls were also built around pre-existing Foley’s stores.

Approaching the mall from the Gulf Freeway, one of the first things I noticed about the mall was it’s striking similarity to Northwest. However, getting closer to the entrance I noticed that it had been updated.

The similarities to Northwest Mall were extremely noticeable. Such as this former exterior entrance to both mall’s Tex-Mex Restaurant El Chico. The locations seemed to have both closed by the mid-90s.

Entering the mall the first thing you’re greeted by is a set of claw machines. These are built into a false wall which covers the exterior of the former Piccadilly Cafeteria location which closed at Almeda in 2014.

Across from the former Piccadilly Cafeteria inside of the prior mentioned El Chico space, is 4040 Arcade. This is not an original arcade to the mall, however it is interesting that it’s still up and running.

Step 1 in spotting a dead mall, check for retail in the food court. Except, this mall isn’t really all that dead. In fact it was quite lively, and this was on a Tuesday night. I actually had trouble getting pictures without people in them.

This is the middle of the food court, facing back towards the entrance. Sesame Hut is still going strong, and not just the Almeda location. The Northwest Mall location moved out from the mall, and is still in business. The stall next to Sesame Hut, was apparently at one point a KFC/Taco Bell Express, notice the reused “Taco” sign.

As you continue forward, you’re finally greeted by the main hall, and mall entrance to Palais Royal. The differences between Northwest Mall and Almeda are very evident here. There is no raised stage, the flooding and walls have been updated. As well the lighting has updated, and “kites” have been added to the raised window.

Due to the length of this article (nearly 40 pictures!) I have added a read more tag, if you want to keep reading click below. If not, keep scrolling and you’ll find the Northwest Mall Article among others!

Continue reading “Visiting Almeda Mall for the first time”

Katy Mills Renovation

Katy Mills which has been previously covered in this blog, is undergoing a renovation. Simon who purchased the malls original developer (The Mills Corporation) had not invested much in Katy Mills in terms of upgrades. Individual stores had updated their store fronts, but nothing in common areas.

One of the first things to go was the “Star Family” a common mascot among the Mills malls. My understanding is that the idea was that you and your family were members of the star family, because at Katy Mills you’re the star? Regardless the star family slowly disappeared. They sank into obscurity around the same time Katy Mills removes the Neighborhood sponsors.

The mall is in need of an update. As is evident by the state of maintenance in the mall. This is not the first time I have seen a former Mills mall receiving a refresh that goes to Grapevine Mills which went through this process a few years ago.

It’s likely that many of the unique design features in this mall will be lost. The Katy Field Day theme is being removed from the food court. Which includes restaurants themed to look like lunch kits and a dining area not only the size of a football field but a fully marked one as well.

Business at the mall seems good, especially for the middle of a Monday. Hopefully this renovation helps ensure Katy Mills continued success.

Check out the rest of the photos on my Flickr

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 sign remains on the feeder of I-10 Unchanged to this day.
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.

Although, no longer in such great shape most outdoor decor is still around. However, many lighted elements have burned out.
Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

The Mills Corporation had given a large donation to the Katy Prairie Conservacy 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 a protected status. As well, the land was owned by the City of Houston, it was sold to Katy who then sold it to the developer. During development competing companies tried to open two rival malls both of which would fail.

While the Field Day theme is still used, chairs and tables have been thinned out to make room for more retail opportunities
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.

Johnny Rockets was definitely a cool feature, but it did not last closing in 2010.
Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

The mall was designed in the standard “Mills fashion” the mall had a racetrack layout with a center 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 themes 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 has retained this color scheme.
Photo Credit: Darel Rex Finley

With the exception of anchors and the two full service restaurants, store fronts were limited to their logo and minimal branding. They could add some individual touches but for the most part they were very standardized. The ideal 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 sponsor.

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.

Northwest Mall June 2017 Update

Northwest Mall closed the interior of the mall March 31st, 2017. It was a sad and unexpected occasion. I made a final visit to the mall to try to talk to some of the shop owners. I found that everyone was unaware of the closure, until Mid-March, and for the most part lacked concrete plans of where to go or what to do next.

Once the mall closed, the interior sat untouched for a few months. During May the exterior doors were walled off and covered. With the exception of, The entrance near The Post Oak Club, which had a wall built further  back, and a door installed to accommodate entrance into the interior of the mall. The entrance near Chapa Club, the former movie theater, had a similar recessed wall built to accommodate the building’s interior emergency exit.

All stores with exterior access have remained open. The Antique Center of Texas, former JC Penny, closed their gate to the mall, and it has been walled off. Including a plastic covering to prevent dust getting into the store. Palais Royal, has not covered any of their windows or entrances.

The Food Court as viewed from Palais Royal


Zooming in on the doors, the original “Entrance A”.


A shot of the Macy’s Wing through the Palais Royal gate.


A view of the JC Penny’s Wing.


A Final Panoramic View of the mall.


As you can see little to nothing is going on. There are some construction dumpsters out front, which are loaded up. However only time will tell if Northwest Mall’s revitalization will actually be put into place. If interested you can find the rest of the album and higher resolution photos here.