For 61 years, it stood as a symbol of the postwar building boom.
The freestanding May Co. department store, which would later serve as the anchor for North Hollywood’s Laurel Plaza shopping center, was in its early years a popular destination for San Fernando Valley residents who wanted to escape the heat and have a little fun.
The department store marketed itself as one of the biggest in the country, advertising air conditioning and parking for 3,000 cars.
Now the store, which was converted to a Macy’s in 2006, is shutting its doors for good.
Weekend customers were met with “store closing” signs and blow-out final sales of 20% to 40% off all merchandise. The discounts were incentive enough to fill only a quarter of the sprawling parking lot on Saturday — and that, locals said, was the most crowded they’d seen it in a long time.
After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, the plaza and its 33 merchants, including a popular ice skating rink, struggled to survive.
For years, locals were promised change and reinvigoration that never came.
The 25-acre plaza property was sold two years ago, and a developer now plans to turn the land into a mixed-use retail and multifamily development called NoHo West.
“I’m excited,” said Mike Melikyan, who lived across the street from Macy’s and has a view of the store from his front yard. “This place felt like a retirement community when I was a kid.”
The 28-year-old, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, said he’s eager for the new development to bring in “life” and “big change” to the area.
“That shopping center has been dead for 10 years,” Melikyan said. “They kept saying they would change it, and now finally they are.”
Melikyan, a network engineer, is ready for an “Americana-esque” shopping center across the street, much like the mixed-use mall in Glendale.
“It’s all about the pros and cons,” he said. “For me, the good outweighs the bad. It adds life, color, movement and breadth.”
Some older residents, he pointed out, are staunchly opposed to the change and circulated a petition to stop the project a few months ago. They worry about the noise and whether neighbors in new high-rise apartment homes will be able to see into their backyards.
Melikyan told them he disagreed and supported adding new restaurants, stores and housing in the area. He worries about the increased traffic, he said, but it’s not enough to stop the community from evolving. With any luck, Melikyan said, development could improve the neighborhood the way it did in North Hollywood’s Arts District.
Although he shops at Macy’s, he won’t necessarily miss the store.“It’s not a life-changing detriment,” he said. “We’ll walk to the True Religion or whatever it is they decide to put there instead.”
The 475,000-square-foot store opened as a May Co. store in 1955 and, at the time, included such amenities as a tea room, a snack bar, a beauty salon and an auditorium.
The current Macy’s is expected to close in late September or early October, store officials said.
Developers hope to put open-air plaza with retailers, restaurants and cafes, as well as a market and cinema. Some 642 apartments would be built along the north and northeast corner, down from the originally proposed 742 units, said City Councilman Paul Krekorian. Construction of the proposed mixed-use complex is pending city planning approvals, he said.
“Right now, we have a big, ugly, empty parking lot with a very underutilized Macy’s in it. So underutilized that it’s going to close,” Krekorian said. “It absolutely is imperative that we move forward there so it doesn’t add to the blight we have on the Laurel Canyon Corridor.”
The community, he said, is eager for change, and the new development will improve “this ghost town we have right now,” he said.
May Co. and the plaza were built during a different era, Krekorian said, when it was considered an event to go shopping at a mall.
“As always, things that are new and popular, after a few decades, become old and not so popular,” he said.
As they perused the sales racks and pored over the cosmetics counters, shoppers on Saturday agreed and said it was time for the store to close.
The end of Laurel Plaza is just another step in the decline of the old-fashioned American mall, said Kevin Roderick, author of “The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb.”
“People don’t want to go to malls anymore, not enough to keep it sustainable,” Roderick said, “Not old, indoor malls that feel sort of sterile. Laurel Plaza, to me, is just another notch in the old-fashioned malls closing down.”
Malls are “desperately trying to get people to stay” by putting in fancier food options, revamping movie theaters and putting in nicer stores, he said.
The question, he said, is whether the new project will succeed. At the very least, a new mixed-use center would create more incentive to head to North Hollywood than a lone Macy’s, he said.
Melikyan’s neighbor, who lives a couple houses down the street, doesn’t see new shops as a perk and opposes the new development.
“More traffic, more noise, parking problems,” Lousine Kasparian said, listing off her issues with the proposed change.
The new development isn’t a convenience for locals who live within walking distance of the plaza, she said — it’s a boon for investors.
“They just want to make money,” Kasparian, 60, said. “We’re not happy about it.”
Kasparian said she likes Macy’s as is, and shops there about twice a month. If she really wants to walk around a mall, she said, she can drive a few minutes to Glendale or Burbank.
As for NoHo West?
“I hate it,” she said. “I don’t want it.”