Update 3/4/09: The Kirk land Reporter has reported that DDR is in the process of quietly putting the Totem Lake Mall property up for sale, which presumably means that whatever redevelopment plans might have been made for this mall are unlikely to ever come to fruition, at least in their current form. You can find a few more details on at this post.
For those of you arriving here from deadmalls.com, you might also be interested in an article that I have written over at KirklandViews.com describing summarizing the current situation here, as well as what I know about the history and potential future of this mall. Links to the three part article can be found here.
If you’re looking for something slightly less depressing to read about, check out the first part of a 4-part series of posts on Crossroads Mall in Bellevue, a small mall which was brought back from the brink of failure in the mid Eighties to be transformed into what is now a thriving neighborhood mall and a popular gathering place for the community.
Also be sure to check out the most recent post on my research into the history of this mall here.
One of the things you learn from spending time on the Internet is that no matter how obscure a hobby you engage in might be, there’s a good chance you’ll find a number of other people with similar interests. For some reason, I’ve always had an interest in malls, not so much because I like shopping, but because I find it interesting to watch them over time and see how things change. Some malls thrive, while others decline, and end up abandoned. There are whole websites (and blogs) devoted to documenting some of these declining and defunct malls. Over the course of the next few months, I intend to make a series of posts about some of the region’s malls, from those that are thriving to those that are failing.
One such mall is the Totem Lake Mall in Kirkland. Originally built in 1973, The mall is split down the middle by a road, separating it into two halves (hence the name “Totem Lake Malls” as seen on the signs.) The mall has faced a long, slow decline since the late 1990s, accelerated by the recent loss of three of its major anchor stores, leaving most of the enclosed mall portion of the property vacant. The owner of the mall has submitted preliminary plans to the City of Kirkland for a major redevelopment of the property, although no new documents have been submitted since last January. These plans seem to indicate that a majority of the existing property will be demolished and rebuilt. Although (as you will see) this is badly needed, After the jump, a tour of the desolation that is the Totem Lake Mall,
From this side, things don’t look too bad. On the north side of the mall, a number of stores can be found, and a fair number of cars are parked nearby. The building looks like it could use a fresh coat of paint, but otherwise it’s not too bad.
When you take a look at the other side of the mall, things don’t look quite so nice. Aside from the gas station at the end of the parking lot, the only store remaining on this side of the mall is the fly-by-night printer ink store. The CompUSA store closed several months ago (along with more than half of the CompUSA stores in the country, and all but one of them in Washington.)
The Rite Aid which used to be next door moved out into a freestanding store built nearby last year.
As we move in closer to the mall, we can see a labelscar from the Gottschalks which used to occupy the anchor store space in the main mall area. Originally, this space belonged to Lamonts, a regional clothing store chain which went bankrupt in 2000 and was purchased by Gottschalks, which later took over most of the former Lamonts stores, then gradually closed down most of these locations.
Up above, we see a badly weathered sign for the mall, where a number of pigeons seem to have taken up residence. Incidentally, the tower crane in the background is being used for construction on the expansion of Evergreen Hospital, located next to the mall.
As we move inside, we are greeted by this rather optimistic sign at the front door. As you’ll see, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of remodeling going on around here.
Here we can see the former storefront of the Gottschalks. Note the lights on inside the store. This space does see occasional use by assorted seasonal and transient businesses in need of a temporary space, and currently Halloween Express is in the process of setting up for their annual run. (EDIT 9/15/08: FINALLY remembered to replace the blurry photo with a new one.)
Looking to the north from here, we see two of the remaining businesses: a Christian bookstore, and an Old Country Buffet (which has no entrance from the outside of the mall.) A couple of soda machines are also set up here, in the unlikely event that anyone ever happens to show up.
Across from the Old Country Buffet, we see a number of empty storefronts. On the closest one, you can see a faint outline of a labelscar from Jay Jacobs, a long defunct clothing retailer. Most recently, a consignment antique and collectible shop was here for a while. At the end is a space which formerly housed a Radio Shack, which has since moved to a shopping center across the street.
Looking back in the other direction, we see… Not much. There’s the Christian bookstore, the Sleep Country USA store, and pretty much nothing else.
More empty storefronts, and a trash can which was virtually empty.
At the end of the hallway can be found the restrooms, which may be the only reason anyone might come here anymore. There is also this space which used to house a small candy and treat shop. I seem to recall that when the place was open, there was a rather large model of Big Bird on top.
And over here, we see the one remaining business on this side of the mall, the ink cartridge store. They don’t even bother to open up their mall entrance, it seems. I can’t say I blame them.
Moving on, we go around the back of the mall. In the back there are a couple of these storefronts, which appear to have sat emtpy even when most of the mall was still occupied. These have no connection to the enclosed mall space, and no visibility from the freeway (or the front of the mall, for that matter.)
Here we see the back entrance to the former Gottschalks store. The sign on the door is to inform job applicants for the Halloween Express store when interviews are available. Directly behind this, you will find the East Mall area:
This also illustrates one of the major design issues with the mall that is probably responsible for a lot of its current woes. To get from one half of the mall to the other requires crossing the street.
Not only do you have to cross the street, but getting from the main mall area to the East Mall requires passing through the now empty anchor store space. This means that with no store in that space, one would have to go all the way around to get from the front of the mall to here.
There’s a bank branch located here, but those tend to stick around regardless of the condition of the surrounding area. After all, people need to get to their money.
Ironically enough, in spite of the separation from the main mall, the East mall seems to actually be in better shape. Over on this side, we have a Trader Joe’s and a couple of miscellaneous businesses between the empty spaces. The second story holds the mall offices, as well as a couple of other small offices. Not pictured is a Hallmark store, to the right of these.
Next door we have Guitar Center running one blowout sale or another (they have a larger sign off to the left), and a small postal store, next to yet another empty space.
A beauty supply store and Denny’s Pet World (a longtime fixture of the upper mall) are next down the line.
These fossils were dug up from somewhere near the Rite Aid store, and date back to the early nineties… No, wait. Those are just aquarium decorations found in one of the windows of Denny’s Pet World. Beyond this (not pictured) is a Big 5 Sporting Goods store, a staple of lower end malls in the area.
Finally, in a dark corner of the parking lot, we find the Totem Lake Cinemas. The marquees are empty, and the theater looks like it’s definitely seen better days. For all intents and purposes, it looks like it could be abandoned.
Then again, maybe not. Although the showtimes are displayed in a handy easy-to-read ransom note format, there are signs of life here. The theater’s website indicates that the movies shown here are the latest new releases out of Bollywood for the thriving local Indian population.
So what does the future hold for the Totem Lake Mall? According to documents available on the City of Kirkland website, the enclosed mall portion, and the majority of the East Mall are to be demolished and rebuilt as a mixed residental and commercial use property. A new street is to be run through the former Gottschalks store to improve access to the East Mall area and create a “center court” to serve as a hub. The current plans also seem to call for keeping the existing large retail spaces in the lower mall intact, although I suspect that the closure of the Rite Aid and CompUSA might result in a change of plans here. Even if the current plans never come to fruition, I seriously doubt that the mall will ever reach the point of being completely abandoned, as has befallen a number of other malls. For one thing, the land is too valuable, and even if the current owners never do anything with this, someone will. For the time being, it looks like Totem Lake will remain a largely empty shell.
Next up: Factoria Mall, a mall in Bellevue with somewhat similar circumstances. It hasn’t declined nearly as much as Totem Lake, but it hasn’t exactly thrived either.