Efforts to Save San Diego's Horton Plaza

Author

Michele Racioppi

Affiliation

Docomomo US staff

Image details

Background

Horton Plaza opened in 1985 to much fanfare. The postmodern complex, designed by "experiential architect" Jon Jerde with supergraphics by Deborah Sussman and Paul Prejza, was billed as a way to revitalize the downtown Gaslamp Quarter. The effort appeared to be successful, drawing over 30 million visitors in its first year, propelling the careers of the designers, and redefining the concept of the American shopping mall.

Owned by Westfield Corporation from the late 1990s through 2018, the shopping center has had ups and downs, relating to both the changing retail landscape and Westfield's ongoing indecision over investing in renovations at the site. In 2018, Stockdale Capital Partners purchased the property and announced plans to develop it into an office park and tech campus. The new layout called for an overhaul of the site that would strip it of its orignal detail and design intent.

Advocacy Efforts

After becoming aware of the threats to Horton Plaza, a group of stakeholders quickly came together to advocate for this unique representative of our recent past. 

Preservation advocates including Docomomo US, Save Our Heritage Organisation San Diego, architectural historian Diane Kane, David Marshall, owner of Heritage Architecture and Planning and chair of AIA San Diego's Preservation Committee, and John Gish, an architect who worked alongside Jerde on Horton Plaza, have all come out in strong support of retaining the site's unique postmodern elements.

Docomomo US wrote a letter to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and has publicly urged Stockdale Capital (the new owner), Civic San Deigo (the local economic development entity), and the San Diego Historical Resources Board to evaluate the project further and consider its historic significance.

April 2019 Update

Stockdale Capital released its first public renderings of the Horton Plaza redevelopment project ahead of a meeting with Civic San Diego, and it's not good news. The renderings show the former Nordstrom building and a tenant amenity deck where the food court used to be, essentially completely overhauled. There appears to be no intention of preserving any of the original setting. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, other changes, not pictured in the renderings, include "a winding pathway from Broadway to G Street that is stripped of most of the mall’s current structural overhangs, [and] a redeveloped Bradley Building."

At a meeting on April 11, Civic San Diego gave initial approval for changes to the deed agreement, allowing Stockdale to decrease retail space by 50% in exchange for a list of concessions. The City Council will need to give final approval for these changes, a date has not been set yet. Council members have stated they would like to see more progress in the resolution of a number of lawsuits between Horton Plaza tenants, Stockdale, and the former owner, Westfield, and would like a commitment that the Lyceum Theatre remain in its location. 

Docomomo US will continue to follow this story and will share any opportunities for public comment.

Docomomo US Letter of Support for Horton Plaza

"Should Horton Plaza be Preserved?," San Diego Union Tribune, December 16, 2018.

"Horton Plaza owner seeks city approval for office campus conversion," San Diego Union Tribune, April 4, 2019."

"Horton Plaza as a tech campus? Here’s a preview," San Diego Union Tribune, April 10, 2019. 

"Horton Plaza owner gets initial OK for tech campus," San Diego Union Tribune, April 11, 2019.

October 2019 Update

Earlier this month, Macy's, one of the few remaining retailers on the site, notified Stockdale that they would be pursuing a lawsuit. Macy's is a party to a "reciprocal easement agreement," which "grants them veto power over any changes." In statements, the retailer claims it has not been given enough say in the process and would like to see the site remain focused on retail, as opposed to the currently proposed tech campus. Despite pressure from the City of San Diego (the Mayor issued a public letter), this week Macy's announced it would continue to move forward with the suit. Although this lawsuit and others (Jimbo's Natural Foods is also suing) do not comment on preserving Jon Jerde's Postmodern design, they may slow or halt the project if the developer is unable to secure funding. According to local reports, interior demolition in some stores has already begun.

"Macy’s Continues Lawsuit Against Horton Plaza Redevelopment," KPBS, October 21, 2019.

"Horton halted? Macy’s sues to block downtown tech campus," San Diego Union Tribune, October 10, 2019.

"Macy’s to mayor: Sorry, but Horton Plaza lawsuit is ‘necessary’," San Diego Union Tribune, October 17, 2019.

"Lawsuit could stop (or slow down) Horton Plaza demolition in San Diego," Archinect, October 17, 2019.