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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.