From the Office of Historic Alexandria
Alexandria, VA – In 1965, when it first opened its doors on the corner of Duke and Van Dorn Streets, Landmark Shopping Center instantly established itself as the epicenter of retail industry in Alexandria. Where shops had once been spread out over Alexandria’s uneven growth, major department stores such as Woodward & Lothrop, Hecht’s, and Sears now were available to shoppers, surrounded by the same parking lot.
And that parking lot was noteworthy. The Landmark Center’s parking lot boasted 4,000 spaces, easily making it the largest in the city. This is the story of how Landmark Center went from overflowing that parking lot to its current state.
Landmark Shopping Center formally opened on October 11, 1965, but two anchor stores, Sears and Hecht’s, had already opened for business that August. The Landmark Sears store, encompassing 236,000 square feet, was the first new Sears to open in the Washington metro area in almost ten years. Hecht’s was smaller, “just” 163,000 square feet, but like its competitor Sears, it included an auto service center.
The mall’s third anchor store was Woodward & Lothrop, a company that had been a retail force in the metro area since the 1880s. Its 151,000 square feet of retail space opened to the public along with the 30 other stores that comprised the complex that October.
Representatives of Sears and Hecht’s estimated that the grand opening brought up to 15,000 cars to the center. Nearby apartment and condominium buildings such as Edsall Gardens and Landmark Terrace used their proximity to the shopping center as a selling point almost immediately. For its first Christmas season in business, the open-air mall advertised Santa arriving by helicopter.
But the accolades didn’t last forever. In March 1982, an electrical fire caused $150,000 in smoke damage to a dozen shops, but no one was injured. The fire’s cause came as an unwelcome and somewhat bizarre surprise: it was a chemical reaction to a floor-sealing compound.
Less than two years later, the Australian investment company International Investment Property Company bought the shopping center. The company had experience renovating aging malls throughout the eastern U.S. and set out to give the Landmark a facelift. But one original tenant, the S&W Cafeteria, closed rather than trying to ride out the hiatus needed during renovation.
The first stage of renovation began in August 1989. IIPC converted the single-level, courtyard style mall into a three-story, fully-enclosed facility, making it more enticing for shoppers on hot days like those we’re experiencing this summer. The mall’s original three anchor stores, Sears, Woodward & Lothrop, and Hecht’s, returned for the reboot, along with some other 40 stores. The second phase of renovation added 100 more stores and a food court.
But Landmark’s new lease on life didn’t last. Despite new investment by the Howard Hughes Corporation, staples of suburban malls such as Lord & Taylor, which by 2009 had taken over the old Woodward & Lothrop department store, and Macy’s, which in 2017 occupied the original Hecht’s, closed their stores. This came during a nationwide downturn in brick and mortar retail.
Earlier this summer, Sears announced that it too would close their Landmark store, leaving the shopping center without an occupant. The new Wonder Woman film, shot in 2018, will include scenes shot in the soon-to-be empty center, a reminder of the former draw large shopping centers had on Americans, including the many Alexandrians who once visited Landmark.