Horton Plaza, officially Westfield Horton Plaza, is a five level outdoor shopping mall located in downtown San Diego and remarkable for its bright colors, architectural tricks and odd spatial rhythms. It stands on six and a half city blocks and is adjacent to the city's historic Gaslamp Quarter. It is currently anchored by Macy's and Nordstrom. It was the first successful downtown retail center since the rise of suburban shopping centers decades earlier.
Before it was redeveloped as a shopping center, Horton Plaza was an actual plaza: a grassy area surrounded by banks of plants and flowers, standing in stark contrast to the buildings around it. It was named for Alonzo Horton, who was largely responsible for the location of downtown San Diego. In the 1960s and 1970s the plaza was a major public transit center, with most public buses that entered downtown having stops there. The entire area was run down by the 1960s, and the plaza was home to a substantial homeless population. Despite the poor condition of the plaza, initial plans to redevelop it into a shopping center were met with some skepticism and resistance.
Horton Plaza was the $140,000,000 centerpiece of a downtown redevelopment project run by The Hahn Company, and is the first example of architect Jon Jerde's so-called "experience architecture". When it opened in August 1985, it was a risky and radical departure from the standard paradigm of mall design. Its mismatched levels, long one-way ramps, sudden dropoffs, dramatic parapets, shadowy colonnades, cul-de-sacs, and brightly painted facades create an architectural experience in dramatic contrast to the conventional wisdom of mall management. Conventional malls are designed to reduce ambient sources of psychological arousal, so the customers' attention is directed towards merchandise. By making the mall an attraction in itself, Jerde stood this model on its head.
Horton Plaza was an instant financial success, with 25 million visitors in the first year. Twenty years after opening, it continues to generate the city's highest sales per unit area, in the range of $600 to $700 per square foot ($6500 to $7500/m²)). From an urban planning standpoint, Horton Plaza is a civic asset that generates pedestrian traffic and shares it with a number of contiguous destinations, paving the way for the revitalization of the Gaslamp District. According to its web site, the mall has been "hailed locally and nationally as an overwhelming success since its opening in August 1985, winning dozens of awards in design, architecture and urban development."
When originally built, the center was anchored by The Broadway, Mervyn's, Nordstrom and J. W. Robinson's. The Robinson's was renamed Robinsons-May in early 1993 and closed in June 1994, being subdivided for shopping and entertainment space. The Mervyn's was closed in 2006.
In 1998 Hahn sold the center to Westfield America, Inc., a precursor of The Westfield Group. It was renamed "Westfield Shoppingtown Horton Plaza" shortly afterwards. The unwieldy "Shoppingtown" name was dropped in June 2005.
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