The Empty Halls of Puente Hills Mall, City of Industry, CA

The Dawn of Puente Hills Mall

Once upon a time, Puente Hills Mall was the epitome of American consumerism. Opening its doors in phases between February 1974 and Spring 1975, the mall was a spectacle to behold.

The Broadway was the first anchor store to grace the mall, opening on February 18, 1974, with a sprawling three-level, 160,000-square-foot space. J.W. Robinson followed suit, and by March 1975, the mall was a bustling hub with about 150 shops.

The mall’s design was a work of art, a cross-shaped masterpiece developed by The Hahn Company. It was strategically located in the City of Industry, California, benefiting from the completion of the Pomona Freeway a few years earlier.

Puente Hills Mall

By September 1975, the mall had 152 shops and announced plans for an adjacent 41-acre auto mall and home improvement district. It was a place where families congregated, teenagers hung out, and everyone shopped till they dropped.

A Period of Change: The 1990s

The 1990s were a transformative era for Puente Hills Mall. J.W. Robinson’s underwent a rebranding, emerging as Robinsons-May in 1993. However, not all changes were positive. The Broadway and JCPenney, two of the mall’s anchor stores, closed their doors in 1996. At that time, the mall’s occupancy rate plummeted to about 50%.

Despite these setbacks, the mall underwent extensive renovations. A 20-screen AMC Theatres megaplex became one of its new attractions. Retailers commonly seen in power centers, like Burlington Coat Factory and 24 Hour Fitness, also began operations at the mall.

Ross Dress for Less, Circuit City, Linens ‘n Things, and several others joined the mall’s roster in 1998, breathing new life into the shopping center.

Puente Hills Mall

Signs of Struggle: The 2000s

The new millennium brought its own set of challenges. In September 2006, Borders closed its doors, followed by Linens ‘n Things, Circuit City, and CompUSA in 2008 and 2009. These closures indicated the changing retail landscape, as many of these companies had either gone bankrupt or shifted their focus to online shopping.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In August 2010, Round1 Bowling & Amusement opened its first U.S. location at the mall. This Japanese sports entertainment chain brought a fresh wave of energy, replacing the space previously occupied by Linens ‘n Things.

Around the same time, the mall underwent a total interior makeover, including removing a koi pond that had been a staple since 2006.

The Asian Influence

The mall’s proximity to Asian immigrant populations in nearby areas like Industry, Hacienda Heights, and Rowland Heights had a noticeable impact. Some mall redesigns even incorporated feng shui principles, adding a unique cultural flavor to the shopping experience.

This influence was not just limited to the mall’s design. Over the years, various Asian-themed stores and eateries have found a home in Puente Hills, reflecting the diverse community it serves. It’s a subtle yet significant nod to the cultural melting pot the area has become.

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The Inevitable Decline

Fast forward to today, and the mall is a shadow of its former self. Toys “R” Us, which had opened in June 2011, closed its doors in April 2018. Sears followed suit, closing in September 2018 as part of a nationwide downsizing. Forever 21 and Macy’s also joined the list of closures in January 2020 and March 2022, respectively.

Only three anchor tenants remain: Burlington, Round 1, and AMC. The mall has numerous empty storefronts, and foot traffic has significantly declined. It’s a sad reality, especially for those who remember the mall in its heyday.

Puente Hills Mall
Puente Hills Mall” by Mark Yasuda is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Crime and Safety Concerns: A Growing Worry

Safety at Puente Hills Mall has been a topic of concern for quite some time, and it’s not just petty thefts or shoplifting incidents that have plagued the mall. The mall has a history of more serious crimes that have left an indelible mark on its reputation.

One of the most shocking incidents occurred in 1991 when a murder spree occurred, leading to multiple arrests and life sentences for the perpetrators. The event was a grim reminder that even spaces designed for leisure and community can become stages for tragedy.

In the early 2000s, the mall saw a series of car break-ins and thefts in its parking lots. The decline in foot traffic, especially during the evening hours, made the mall a target for such activities. Local police increased their patrols, but the incidents continued sporadically, further deterring visitors and contributing to the mall’s decline.

The recent years have not been kind either. A decline in foot traffic has catalyzed various criminal activities, from botched robbery attempts to indecent assaults. The mall’s management has tried to counter this by installing more security cameras and increasing the presence of security personnel, but the challenges persist. For many locals, especially those who remember the mall in its prime, these safety concerns have added a layer of sadness to its decline.

Pop Culture Legacy: More Than Just a Mall

Puente Hills Mall‘s decline in commercial success is counterbalanced by its enduring cultural significance, particularly its role as the filming location for the iconic “Back to the Future” movie. The mall served as the backdrop for the Twin Pines Mall, where Marty McFly first travels back in time. This has made the mall a pilgrimage site for movie fans, who often visit to take photos and reminisce about the film.

In October 2015, the mall went all out to celebrate the movie’s 30th anniversary. Replicas of the Twin Pines Mall sign were erected in the parking lot, and a DeLorean car was displayed, drawing fans worldwide. The event was a massive hit and served as a reminder that the mall still holds a special place in the hearts of many, even if its commercial glory has faded.

But it’s not just “Back to the Future” that adds to the mall’s pop culture legacy. Over the years, the mall has been featured in various other films and TV shows, including “Short Circuit” and “Chopping Mall.” While these may not have the same cult following as “Back to the Future,” they contribute to the mall’s status as a pop culture landmark.

The mall’s pop culture significance offers a glimmer of hope. While its commercial prospects may be dim, its place in cinematic history will never be forgotten. It serves as a testament to the mall’s better days, a time when it was not just a shopping center but a cultural landmark that captured the imagination of moviegoers and shoppers alike.


The story of Puente Hills Mall encapsulates the broader shifts and challenges in American retail. From its promising beginnings to its current decline, it reflects the challenges and changes that malls across the country face. For the local community, it’s more than just a mall; it’s a repository of memories, a slice of history, and a symbol of times gone by.

Comments: 6
  1. Avatar of Martin Batistelli
    Martin Batistelli

    Much misinformation in this story. Half of the stores mentioned in the story were never located at Puente Hills Mall. They were located in the vicinity.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      It’s essential for information to be accurate, especially when discussing the history and current state of a community landmark. Still, it’s unclear which ones you’re referring to as incorrect.

  2. Avatar of Steve Churilla
    Steve Churilla

    I have alot of great memories growing up as a kid at that mall.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Thank you for sharing your fond memories of Puente Hills Mall. Your comment adds a layer of nostalgia that many of us can relate to.

  3. Avatar of

    :cry: :cry: :cry:. I remember shopping at Puente Mall before Christmas time, shopping till I dropped!
    While attending college, I worked part time at the ice cream place there.
    I am surprised it wasn’t mentioned how the Covid pandemic negatively effected the mall.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      Thank you for sharing your experience with Puente Mall, from holiday shopping to working part-time. Your comment highlights the mall’s role as not just a shopping destination but also a place of employment and social interaction. Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic has significantly impacted malls and retail spaces globally, and Puente Hills Mall is no exception.

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