The Millard Sheets Mall in Downtown Pomona
Beauty in the downtown part of a city is a necessity, not a luxury. People will always respond to beauty if we make it intimate and personal and related to the charter and integrity of the city. This was how Millard Sheets summed up his philosophy for the design of the Pomona Mall shortly after it opened in 1962.
The Pomona Mall was hailed as one of the first pedestrian malls in the United States and nationally recognized as a blueprint for urban revitalization.
Five years in the planning, the mall was just one part of a massive plan of civic improvements that were orginally envisioned to encompass nearly all of Pomona. Sheets's design for the shopping center was simple: close off nine blocks of an existing shopping district; add trees, benches, artwork, and fountains; and include plenty of nearby parking. Many of these elements remain today, including mosaics and sculptures by Sheets and fellow artists Arthur and Jean Ames, Betty Davenport Ford, and John Svenson.
To enhance the potential for the project's success, Sheets asked friend and patron Howard Ahmanson to locate a new Home Savings and Loan branch on the mall, resulting in the impressive tower designed by Sheets. The east end of the mall was anchored by upscale department store Buffum's (1962), with a sleek modern design by Welton Becket and Associates. The mall was initially vibrant and popular, but as early as 1969 local newspapers noted an alarming number of vacancies in the retail store.
In 1977, five of the nine blocks were reopened to automobiles in an effort to lure shoppers back. The east end of the mall remained closed to traffic, and it has been integrated into the campus for Western University of Health Sciences. The west end of the mall is now the center of a growing arts colony, with galleries, studios and restaurants.
This article first appeared at https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/pomona-mall. The photos below were taken by Arteco Partners.