Lloyd Center’s Evolution

By Don MacGillivray

Lloyd Center has been one of the largest urban shopping centers in the Pacific Northwest for many years. It is built on a 50-acre site located one mile northeast of downtown Portland, featuring three floors of shopping with the third level serving mostly as professional office spaces, a food court and a small, private college. 

It was constructed at a cost of $100 million  in 1960 and the original structure encompassed 1,200,000 square feet. A MAX light rail station is located one block to the south. It was recently announced that it will not close and will be redeveloped.

In 1868, Californian Ben Holladay, known as the “Stagecoach King,” came to Oregon and built the first railroad between Portland and California. He invested in real estate just north of Sullivan’s Gulch but lost everything in the depression of 1874, leaving only his name to the area.

Ralph Lloyd came to Portland in 1905 as a successful rancher and businessman. He struck oil on his California ranch in 1912 and, within a few years became a millionaire. 

In 1926, he bought Holladay’s Addition for over $1 million and another 170 parcels of land. In August of 1929 he began work on his $40 million development just east of Holladay Park. Two months later the stock market crashed and his great plans were in ruins. 

He succeeded in building a nine-hole golf course in the bottom of Sullivan’s Gulch that opened in October of 1932. The clubhouse is still standing on NE 12th Ave., just north of Benson High School.

He also continued to believe the area was destined to become Portland’s “second downtown.” At the time of his death in 1953, he owned approximately 100 blocks in NE Portland.

Portland Mayor Terry Schrunk opened the Lloyd Center shopping mall on August 1, 1960 with Governor Mark Hatfield watching. The 100-store open-air mall configuration included a unique ice skating rink and extensive free parking. 

It was built by Ralph Lloyd’s heirs in response to his dream to make East Portland grow and prosper. The original anchor stores were Meier & Frank, Nordstrom, JC Penney, Woolworth’s and JJ Newberry.

A major periodical of the day noted that Lloyd Center had 1.2 million square feet of rentable space which gave Portland the nation’s largest urban shopping center at the time.

The first significant expansion to the mall was made in fall 1972, adding six stores including Lipman & Wolfe. By 1987, the mall was ageing and enclosed malls were the norm across the United States. 

Between 1988 and 1991, the mall was gradually renovated and updated to fully enclose the mall and a food court was added. It was to be a $50 million renovation that eventually cost $200 million.

The intention was to make the open-air shopping center just like the other indoor malls nationwide, but the higher rents and the larger stores were replacing many of the smaller local retailers. In 1995, the owners got an offer from Hank Ashforth who wanted to buy 17 blocks of the Lloyd District. Ashforth’s purchase set the mall on a new course.

JC Penney and Sears closed in 1998 and JJ Newberry in 2001.

In 2013 it was sold to Cypress Equities Real Estate Investment Management for $148 million. In 2015, a $100 million a redesign of the mall created a brighter and cleaner look, improved the food court, added more exterior storefronts, created pedestrian focused entrances, reduced the size of the oval ice rink and integrated the mall with the changing neighborhood. 

These ambitious renovations did not achieve the desired results and the mall struggled in the face of mounting debt and other difficulties along with the closing of Nordstrom.

People were regularly reporting crimes and janitors were finding needles in the restrooms. In recent years, the large parking garages had become crime magnets and car prowls were frequent. 

This and the reduction of stores caused the mall to lose business and public trust. The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the center’s problems.

In 2020 Macy’s, the last major anchor store, announced it would be closing in 2021. Then in the summer of 2021 the mall suffered a two alarm electrical fire and was closed for three weeks. 

In November 2021, KKR Real Estate and Finance Trust, a New York-based real estate lending company, announced the repossession of the mall.

The Urban Renaissance Group announced that it will renovate Lloyd Center in association with KKR Real Estate and Finance Trust. They expect to renew and enhance Lloyd Center by preserving the retail stores, creative workspaces and the ice skating rink. 

Lloyd Center’s popularity as a community gathering place is essential. The mall is expected to remain open for the foreseeable future.

Lloyd Center photo by Kris McDowell

Lloyd Center’s Evolution

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