Fourteen Karat Gold
by Susie Hodgson
Who remembers Laugh-In? Who remembers The Golden Mall? What do these two have in common?
During the pandemic we are currently going through, some people remembered The Golden Mall. Restaurants, which are quickly going broke, were allowed to have outdoor dining. So The Powers That Be closed off San Fernando and put out tables and chairs. It was really very nice. Until it wasn’t and the pandemic’s numbers soared again.
But let’s go back in time first. It was 1967. Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, a milestone TV comedy variety show, begun. It was a sensation, starring the likes of Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Goldie Hahn, JoAnne Worley, Arte Johnson, Gary Owens, Lily Tomlin and more.
In 1967, The Golden Mall also “started.” What was that you say? It was a “pedestrianized” mall in downtown Burbank, meaning it was closed off to automobile traffic – only foot traffic. It went from San Fernando to Tujunga to Magnolia. Groundbreaking, led by Mayor Charles Compton, was a big event, drawing about 20,000 people in attendance with Mickey Mouse at the helm. That was because Disney was supposed to play a big part in the new venture. There was also a Miss Golden Mall (Jan Chronert).
By 1970, new foot traffic slowed down. Fewer and fewer customers were coming in. For one thing, before 1967, it was easy to park there; it used to be you could park on the street, right in front of the store windows. But by 1967, you couldn’t even see the stores and their windows from outside. The Golden Mall: Not exactly inviting.
By the late 1980s, The Golden Mall was deteriorating. The landscape was overgrown, and it was a haven for vagrants (what we now call homeless!) There were unkempt as well as empty stores. Even the fountains spouting waterfalls in The Golden Mall had dirty water IF it had any water in it at all!
The Golden Mall closed in 1989. Revitalization attempts focused on the 40-acre site adjacent to The Golden Mall, which would later become The Burbank Town Center. The idea was that The Golden Mall would look like a small town’s Main Street (think Disneyland), with the Mall feeding into the Town Center. In 1988, Disney dropped its plans to build out the $611 million shopping and entertainment center and the Burbank Town Center finally opened in 1991. Note: IKEA opened one year earlier.
According to Wes Clark, who puts together the wonderful web site Burbankia, the Golden Mall was a “bold exercise in forward thinking – 6 blocks long and 2 wide – futuristic and hexagonal designs.” Stores included Bur-Cal (fashions), Thrifty, Sav-On, Newberrys, Woolworths, JC Penneys, Kessler Jewelers, banks, and more. People complained. Elliot Leifer of Ed’s Towne Shop said, “Oh yeah! I would say there’s absolute frustration!” And Burbank Councilwoman Mary Lou Howard called it an embarrassment and a disgrace. Even City Manager Bud Ovrom claimed that The Golden Mall was a noble experiment that didn’t work.
But some thought the closing of the streets did more harm than good.” Vern Michel of Michel’s Record City called the closing of The Golden Mall “a disaster.” Burbanker Paul Hunt thought The Golden Mall was a “picturesque, quaint shopping area,” but fellow local Carole Kubasek didn’t like it: “That mall is a loser,” she said. The outsides of the stores look bad and the insides are awful… I won’t shop there and my friends won’t either.” But what did kids think? After all, there was jungle-gym-like equipment in the mall. Still children wouldn’t dare play on the hot equipment -- and they shrieked loudly -- when it was 100 degrees outside!
When I was a teenager growing up in the west valley, a good friend and I set out on a field trip to the Burbank Mall. After all, it was a MALL! Nothing gets a 16-year-old girl going like a mall! But when we arrived in Burbank, imagine our shock. Where is the Bullocks? The Broadway? Judy’s?? We lasted maybe ten minutes.
Eventually a 10-screen movie theater moved in, plus restaurant chains. The closed-off streets were opened back up and --remember what I said about Laugh-In? Well, Downtown Burbank finally became Beautiful Downtown Burbank!
As of today’s writing, the streets are open and there’s no outdoor dining. And some of us think that’s a shame. At least it’s still beautiful.
Want to learn more about Burbank? Come visit us!
The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
OPEN SATURDAYS & SUNDAYS, 1 TO 4 pm - FREE Admission!
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site: www.burbankhistoricalsoc.org