Malls Thrive on Golden Touch

The man known by the venerable title of "father of California shopping malls," looks more like a retired athlete than a legendary giant of commercial real estate.

Tall, tanned and broad-shouldered, Joseph K. Eichenbaum has also been blessed with a "Midas touch."

This youthful senior continues to reap the golden harvest from yesterday's bean fields. But when Eichenbaum is asked how many bean fields he has turned into successful multi-million-dollar shopping malls and other ventures in the past decades, he grins. "I've simply lost count."

He founded the enormously successful "pilot" Lakewood Shopping Center, California's first regional shopping mall, patronized by a consumer population in excess of half a million a month.

The Lakewood shopping mall was built in 1950 as part of the Weingart/Boyar masterplan for the community of Lakewood and was the first real testing ground for Eichenbaum--an Eastern retailer-turned-developer--who at 23 already owned a retail business.

Eichenbaum also brought into being the equally thriving Eastland Shopping Center in West Covina, the Desert Inn Fashion Plaza in Palm Springs (which he envisioned as a mall that would be like "taking a stroll down 5th Avenue in New York City"), and Fallbrook Square in Canoga Park.

The "shopping center wizard" went on to experiment with theaters-in-the-round (notably the Carousel Theater in West Covina that featured the likes of Liberace and Dorothy Kirsten) and developed the phenomenally successful formula for Restaurant Row in West Covina.

Commenting on what he might have done differently today, Eichenbaum said he should have put in air conditioning at the Lakewood shopping center and didn't. A later developer had to spend several million dollars to accomplish this.

Another costly mistake was the initial "poor design" of Fallbrook Square. "We failed to realize that anchor tenants must never be located too far apart; it interferes with the smooth flow and integration of smaller tenants."

Eichenbaum's energies currently focus on new neighborhood convenience centers and in "doing things for others".

"I may not have scored business bull's eyes 100% of the time," he remarked,"but I have been able to make friends--and keep them . . . and that's the greatest wealth there is."

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