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Mission Valley Architectural Icon Seeks Tenant As Macy’s Departs

Macy’s is closing down its Mission Valley apparel store but history buffs hope there’s another use for San Diego’s modernist landmark.

The weather outside was wet and cloudy at the Westfield Mission Valley mall, but the message inside Macy’s was clear. Everything had to go. The first two floors were still full of merchandise, sale signs and clearance racks. The third floor had already been hollowed out.

Macy’s apparel store in Mission Valley is closing due to changes in the retail business. It’s one of 65 Macy's being closed down around the country this year. The company said it needs to “right-size its physical footprint.”

“I’m kind of sad to see it go because it has been a landmark that I’ve seen for a long time but…I do think the sales need to be better,” said Macy's shopper Heather Zook.

While the store reflects an earlier era of shopping, it is truly a landmark as it also reflects San Diego’s architectural history.

Darren Bradley is an architectural photographer and historian who said the closing of Macy’s in Mission Valley makes him concerned for its future.

“There is still kind of a lack of appreciation for this design, and for original elements that still exist out there,” said Bradley.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Darren Bradley is an architectural photographer and historian, Jan. 20, 2017.

The design is modernist, and the Macy’s building was envisioned by the Los Angeles architects Ward Deems and Bill Lewis, who opened an office in San Diego.

Built in 1961, the Macy’s building originally housed a May Company store that was part of San Diego’s first suburban shopping mall. It quickly followed the construction of I-8 that was put in place just a couple years before.

Bradley describes the building as a jewel box with a unique texture.

“The design of the store is really quite striking if you look at the cladding,” he said, “which is the preformed concrete that goes all the way around the building. It’s a very interesting pattern.”

It is a modernist design that plays with light and shadow.

“So it’s designed to look differently depending on the time of day. So as the sun tracks across the sky, shadows will form, and it looks quite different. It’s designed to grab attention really.”

The view from the freeway side, with the First Methodist Church just to the south, was part of a modernist landscape, which Bradley said has been diluted due to further development.

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Macy's in Mission Valley is a midcentury modern architectural icon, Jan. 20, 2017.

But to shoppers the architecture is secondary. Jennifer Clark said she is not surprised this Macy’s is going away.

“The stock’s different from what’s in Fashion Valley. It’s a bit older. Like, my grandmother would get stuff from there,” she said.

On the other hand, Sally Scoffield, another shopper, said she is sad to see this Macy’s go. She blames online shopping for its loss of business, adding that she hates computers.

“I like to feel the fabric. Try things on. Get up close and personal. I don’t like to look at things on a picture,” said Scoffield.

Westfield, the company that runs the Mission Valley mall, has purchased the Macy’s building. They said they are considering a “range of possibilities” for the elegant shell that has held Macy’s for so many years.

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