Lloyd Center: Mall memories from once-booming shopping site
The Lloyd Center has been creating memories for more than 60 years.
For much of that time, they were good. When it first opened in 1960, the mall was groundbreaking — the largest shopping center in the country, covering 18 acres and featuring 100 stores, eateries, and offices in an open air setting, making it a destination for family trips, dates, or simply passing the time. Tonya Harding famously learned to skate there. Santa made heralded pre-Christmas visits.
The memories have not been as good, more recently. As shopping patterns changed, anchor stores like Sears and Macy's left. The surrounding neighborhood gained a dangerous reputation. Recessions and COVID-19 decimated the remaining tenants. A series of expansions and multi-million dollar renovations were not enough to reverse the decline.
Now KKR, the New York City lender, is foreclosing on the property. Portland officials have no plans to prevent it from being sold. In fact, Mayor Ted Wheeler has already said he hopes the inevitable redevelopment will honor the center's legacy. But memories will linger.
Longing for the old Lloyd
"It feels like it existed in this brief period of time before everything was owned by the same two companies," Cabel Sasser said.
The 45-year-old Portlander's recollection of the mall is layered by age — scampering up the spiral staircase as a youngster; covertly climbing onto the rooftop Meier & Frank sign during his rambunctious teen-age years; and now playing chase with his own son in the office section.
The restaurant above the ice rink seemed like a palace where "the fancy people ate" while, according to family legend, the candy at Morrow's Nut House was the first thing his sister wanted once she shed her braces.
Tiered memories are only fitting for a mall that wore its successive remodels like a badge of honor, said Sasser, who co-founded the local video game publisher Panic. His parents proudly display on their wall a neon sign advertising the J.J. Newberry five-and-dime that closed in 2001.
Sasser has just one request to the developers mulling the Lloyd Center's fate — keep the caramel corn. "I do hope they save a space for Joe Brown's. That's all I ask!"
For state Rep. Ricki Ruiz, the commercial emporium was just a short MAX ride away from Gresham, though growing up without much meant his mom, dad and sister spent more time window-gazing than shopping.
"We couldn't afford Christmas pictures with Santa Claus," Ruiz said, "so we would wait outside the perimeter and take a picture without him even acknowledging us."
These days, the 27-year-old has plenty on his hands — he's a lawmaker, Reynolds School Board member and has a two-month-old baby at home — but during his teenage years, the Lloyd Center was the spot to see and be seen.
"It was just like a college campus but without the classes," Ruiz recalled.
"When I was 18, — 60 years ago — I was a 'cute' waitress at Manning's Buffet, next to the Ice Rink," said Northeast Portland Native Anne Kelly Feeney.
"And she was pretty damn cute!" her sister, Susan Kelly, quickly amended.
"There were about eight tables on a large platform, built right up to the side of the rink," Kelly Feeney said. "The all-female wait staff wore pinafores, reminiscent of Austrian dolls, taking orders and bringing out hamburgers, sundaes and hot chocolate. It was the only table-service restaurant run by Manning's extensive buffet-type chain. Just a lark!"
For others, Lloyd was a quintessential part of growing up in Portland.
"I grew up just a few blocks away from Lloyd Center. That and the Hollywood 'Freddie's' are the first places I was allowed to walk to on my own or with friends starting when I was 8 years old," said Katie Quick, who now lives in Southwest Portland. "I spent a lot of time there as a preteen and teenager. I was frequently loitering with my friends taking photo strips, browsing belly button piercings we would never buy, previewing CDs on those chunky headphones, and indulging in Jamba Juice. It was a haven for me and my friends as kids (with minimal pocket change) who didn't really have other places to hang out — especially when the weather was particularly rainy or hot.
"But it was also a thing my mom and I would do. 'Want to go to the mall?' was code for mother-daughter time, usually involving a free Sees chocolate or coffee."
Quick said the ambiance of Christmastime at the Lloyd mall was most memorable, with performances of "The Nutcracker" on the nearby ice skating rink.
"It's been pretty depressing to watch the decline," Quick said. "It's such a ghost town now, and just doesn't really seem to serve a purpose for the community in the same way anymore. In a more virtual world, it makes sense, I guess. My main hope is that they utilize the space for something intentional that will actually serve the community."
What will come next is unknown, though both Sasser and lifelong Portlander Nick Erickson say their dads would jump for joy if the mall became a Major League ballpark.
Erickson, a local teacher, remembers the nights spent feasting on soda and popcorn with his younger brother at the top-floor movie theatre. Their parents would buy the brothers multiple sets of tickets, so by the time the latest PG-13 blockbuster had ended, most of the mall was deserted.
"It's like this weird, empty, giant 1.4 million square foot space — just by yourself," Erickson said.
The 31-year-old recollects that he had so little interest in back-to-school shopping he would spend the day playing the Magic: The Gathering card game in the food court rather than pick out new clothes.
While the mall may be doomed, Erickson said it still holds some allure. A recent trip revealed a barren J.C. Penny, but about half of the 200 people he saw were using the ice rink.
"Even though it's a mall," he said, "there's something special about it."
Editor Dana Haynes contributed to this article.
Tribune surveys readers
"We used to drive into the 'Big City' from Battle Ground, Washington, back in the 1970's," said D.J. Shoepe, responding to an email survey from the Portland Tribune. "My dad loved Sears, and we girls loved when mom took us shopping for school clothes at the exciting fashion-forward stores. Remember, this was before the internet, this and downtown was all we had, and Lloyd Center was much easier to get around than downtown for us country folk."
Shoepe's memories go beyond being a shopper. "In my college years, I worked at the Lloyd Center Nordstrom and loved it! I worked in accessories, and my absolute favorite customers were the African American women who came over directly from church, all dressed in their colorful church finery. They came in to try on and buy our fancy hats, and those hats were never so happy as when one of those beautiful, stylish women picked them! The women were so different than my church background, the humble, wallflower Lutherans."
The Tribune email survey drew a wide array of responses. "Nixon appeared here in 1968 run for president," wrote Robert Pawelski.
"I was present when it opened," added Ben Merrill, who called himself, "a long-time diner at Meier and Frank's restaurant above the ice rink; and an attendant for ice rink events, Santa Claus lap-sittings, and all around out-door experience — remembering when it wasn't enclosed and Tom Hardy's sculptures graced the planters and the walls. I am dis-heartened by the news (of the closure)."
"As a teenager I remember taking the max from the suburbs to go to the mall with my friends," wrote Brittney Piper. "We would walk around the park and the mall and buy food. My youngest sister took Santa photos there every year. We also used to go there for back-to-school shopping."
"Everything circles back to Lloyd Center," wrote Claire Turner. "My brother and his wife were visiting from Montana and Portland seemed like a giant metropolis. Somehow, every single trip out of the house, they ended up at the Lloyd Center. Now, whenever any of us say 'Lloyd Center,' we remember those visits and how the Lloyd Center drew them like a magnet regardless of where they thought they were going."
"I used to teach ice skating there to the little ones," reader Deli Buscher wrote.
"I was 6 or 7 when it opened," wrote Corynn Limon. "I remember the open air shopping, Newberry's, Woolworth's and Joe Brown Carmel Shop. Getting dressed up to go shopping there and later learning to ice skate at that rink."
"You would see everyone you knew there," added Edna Baseden. They had anything and everything you might need."
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