Ceiling The Deal
By Jon Lewis
Story: Jon Lewis
When Downtown Redding Covered Up
Today, you’d have to squint pretty hard to see it, but some 33 years ago, when the streets were blocked off and roof went up, the mall in downtown Redding was quite the deal.
“People were hopeful it would bring a resurgence to downtown Redding,” recalls Gary Lewis, who was 22 when the mall was created. Lewis, now the president of Shasta College, had a front-row seat for the proceedings since he was helping his father run the Lewis & Son Shell service station at the corner of California and Yuba streets.
The gas station is long gone—demolished and covered by the California Street parking garage—but the mall remains. “I watched them tear down three blocks of downtown Redding and I remember having mixed emotions,” says Lewis, adding that he recalls feeling sorry to watch California Street landmarks like the Redding Theater and the Golden Eagle Hotel fall by the wayside.
The mall represented progress, and as the 1970s began, Redding’s downtown was in dire need of some progress, according to Bob Dicker, who owned Dicker’s, the 65,000-square-foot department store that anchored the mall.
Dicker, 84, served on the Redding Chamber of Commerce board of directors and headed up the committee that began researching the idea of putting a roof over three blocks’ worth of Market Street and transforming the area into a 340,000-square-foot shopping mall.
With the support of George Moty, the co-owner of a California Street auto parts supply business who went on to serve as Redding’s mayor, Dicker and his group moved steadily forward.
A redevelopment district—Redding’s first—was formed and some $10.5 million in public financing was secured. Dicker said there was little, if any, public opposition to the mall project and most were relieved when several old buildings resting on precarious foundations of rock and crumbling brick were torn down before they fell down.
Back then, covered malls were all the rage and Redding’s plan was considered cutting edge, according to Michelle Goedert, the facilities manager and a board member for the Midtown Mall Benefit Corp., the organization representing downtown mall property owners.
“It was written up in many planning journals,” she says. When the mall was completed, a team of five civic leaders from Elkhorn, Ind., flew to Redding to see if a similar project was possible in their city, Dicker says.
“When it first opened in 1975, it was 100 percent occupied and it stayed that way for several years,” Dicker says. The mall garnered 25 percent of the retail spending in Redding, “which was very respectable at the time,” Goedert adds.
Progress, however, can be a peculiar thing. The same year the mall opened in downtown Redding, the city approved plans by Southern California developer Ernest Hahn to build the $25 million Mt. Shasta Mall on the east side of the Sacramento River, and the era of big-box retail had begun.
Soon, retailers like J.C. Penney and Sears left downtown to be closer to the interstate, and shoppers joined the migration. Still, the mall’s mix of specialty and high-end shops managed to keep afloat well into the 1980s. But then retail sales began to wither, shops closed, and government and service agencies began filling up the vacant stores.
Dicker’s was scaled down in 1990, yielding some floor space to an antique gallery, and the department store closed for good in 1992. The building was recently sold and is now home to an indoor go-kart race track.
Rite-Aid was the final major retailer to leave the mall in 2001, a departure that had been expected for about two years. The discount drug store moved to a new downtown location at the corner of Court Street and Eureka Way.
Local merchants were saddened to see the mall lose its last major tenant but others viewed the departure as an opportunity to begin transforming downtown. Revitalization proponents lobbied to have the Shasta County Library built on the high-profile parcel, which is now home to the Shasta College Health Sciences and University Center.
Goedert, who also serves on the board of Viva Downtown Redding, says the mall deserves credit for keeping downtown deterioration in check. “All the financial institutions stayed downtown and the Lorenz building was refurbished. The mall went a long way in staving off downtown blight,” Goedert says.
Today, the mall is again stepping in to provide a spark in downtown Redding. This time, however, it is serving the city by disappearing. This month, crews are expected to begin removing the final two-thirds of the roof.
Editor’s note: The dreams, efforts and hard work helping to fuel the mall’s transformation from a foundering retail center to a key player in Redding’s downtown will be examined in the August issue of Enjoy.