Bella Terra Mall: The Remarkable Evolution of a Huntington Beach, CA Landmark

The Inception of Huntington Center: A New Era in Retail

In the mid-1960s, a significant transformation occurred in Huntington Beach, California. Amid the sun-drenched landscapes and the gentle Pacific Ocean breeze, the Huntington Center (Bella Terra now) was taking shape. This was not just another construction project; it was the birth of the first enclosed, all-weather mall in Orange County.

In 1966, the Huntington Center opened its doors to the public. The project, which cost a staggering $20,000,000 at the time, was a marvel of modern architecture and planning.

It housed 55 retailers within its expansive 843,000 square feet of retail space. The mall was designed to be more than just a shopping center; it was envisioned as a community hub where people could gather, shop, dine, and socialize.

The Huntington Center was anchored by three major department stores: The Broadway, JCPenney, and Montgomery Ward. These stores, each occupying a significant portion of the mall’s retail space, offered a wide range of products, making the Huntington Center a one-stop shopping destination.

In addition to these anchor stores, the Huntington Center was home to various other retailers at its opening. These included Leed’s, Lerner’s, Harris & Frank, Judy’s, Thom McAn, Kinney Shoes, Crocker-Citizens National Bank Food Fair supermarket, Security First National Bank, and Thrifty Drug Stores.

The mall even boasted an eight-ton statue from Budapest, Hungary, adding a touch of international art and culture to the shopping experience.

The Evolution and Decline: A Period of Change and Challenge

Over the years, the Huntington Center underwent several changes. In 1986, a new wing was added to the mall, introducing Mervyn’s as its fourth anchor store and a new food court. This expansion brought fresh energy to the mall, attracting new customers and boosting business.

However, the following years were not as kind to the Huntington Center. By 1993, JCPenney had closed its doors, leaving a significant void in the mall’s retail offerings.

This was a significant blow to the mall, as JCPenney had been one of its main attractions. 1995 the Burlington Coat Factory replaced JCPenney, and Barnes & Noble opened in the long-vacant former Barker Bros. building.

Despite these changes, the mall’s business began to decline. The Broadway, one of the mall’s original anchor stores, closed in 1996 due to the company being purchased by Macy’s and liquidated.

This closure began a challenging period for the Huntington Center, as it struggled to attract new tenants and customers.

By 2000, the situation had become so dire that the Burlington Coat Factory sued the mall owners, claiming they were being “forced out” during the mall’s redevelopment. The following year, Montgomery Ward, the last of the original anchor stores, closed its doors, marking the end of an era.

The Rebirth as Bella Terra: A Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

The Huntington Center underwent a complete transformation in the face of these challenges. In 2006, it was reborn as Bella Terra, an outdoor shopping mall that offered a fresh and modern shopping experience.

Kohl’s took over the old Broadway building, marking a new beginning for the mall. The empty Montgomery Ward building, a symbol of the mall’s past struggles, was left standing until 2010 when it was finally demolished.

However, the transformation was not without its challenges. In 2008, Mervyn’s and Circuit City, two of the mall’s major tenants, closed due to liquidation and bankruptcy, respectively. These closures were a setback for Bella Terra, but the mall continued to evolve and adapt.

In 2010, the vacant Montgomery Ward and Mervyn’s buildings were demolished, allowing Whole Foods Market to replace the former Circuit City.

This was a significant development, as it brought a new type of retailer to the mall, catering to the growing demand for organic and healthy foods.

In 2012, another significant change took place at Bella Terra with the opening of Costco. This addition brought a new dimension to the shopping experience at Bella Terra, offering customers a wide range of products at wholesale prices.

Recent Developments and Future Plans: A Vision for the Future

Bella Terra continues to evolve and adapt to the changing retail landscape. In July 2023, the mall signed a handful of leases with new tenants, bringing a fresh wave of retail offerings to the shopping center.

Looking ahead, Bella Terra has ambitious plans for the future. The mall plans to demolish the Burlington store to make way for a 300-unit apartment complex. This development is a testament to Bella Terra’s commitment to providing a comprehensive living, shopping, and entertainment experience.

Bella Terra’s journey from the Huntington Center to its current state is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the community it serves. It’s more than just a shopping center; it’s a testament to the spirit of Huntington Beach, California, where the past is cherished, the present is celebrated, and the future is eagerly anticipated.

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