Oak Cliff history: Before there was Red Bird, there was Westcliff

This 1966 image shows the bustling interior of Westcliff, Oak Cliff’s first indoor mall. Photo courtesy of Bill Melton
This 1966 image shows the bustling interior of Westcliff, Oak Cliff’s first indoor mall. Photo courtesy of Bill Melton

It’s gone now. But back in the day, Westcliff Mall shopping center was one of the most interesting locales in Oak Cliff.

In 1963, bulldozers and construction crews converged on the northeast corner of South Hampton and Ledbetter — an undeveloped piece of commercially zoned real estate — and began the development of Oak Cliff’s first indoor shopping mall. At the time, Wynnewood Village was still king of the Oak Cliff hill, with Lancaster-Kiest and A. Harris Shopping Centers also in the mix. While Jefferson remained relevant, the population was moving south and southwest, and the new residents needed something closer. Westcliff Mall developers planned on solving the problem.

In a time when school-age children could still roam safely without adult supervision, one group of southwest Oak Cliff kids immediately took advantage of the new mall even before construction began.

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Among the postings of former Westcliff customers were stories of the pink and powder-blue poodles that belonged to the owners of the mall’s dog grooming shop. Just about everyone remembers seeing the pooches all around the center.

According to one poster on the Dallas Historical Society Archives Phorum, a heavy rain fell shortly after the workers completed the large excavation for the mall’s foundation. Thus, in typical fashion of the time, local kids begged inner tubes from nearby filling stations and proceeded to float around for hours in the free “swimming pool” created by the torrential downfall.

Dallas Mayor Earl Cabell officially opened the center when he depressed the plunger on a faux dynamite detonator, triggering an air pump that propelled confetti and smoke upward from a hole in the ground. Following the ceremony, shoppers discovered the center’s numerous retail, service and professional offerings. And everything was inside, protected from the elements and encased within a climate-controlled space.

Westcliff Mall showcased indoor landscaping, a shiny aggregate floor, a fountain and a community room. The professional building on the east end of the center provided space for numerous physicians and dentists — along with offices for other businesses — with Jones Optical anchoring the ground floor. There were also specialty shops for men and women, boys and girls, adults and teens. A few mall spaces offered outside entrances as well, one being the Blanks Real Estate office and another the Sears Catalogue Store — reportedly the first “catalogue-order only” Sears store in Dallas.

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In the center of the mall stood the Carousel Snack Bar, a circular food stand with a tall cone-shaped topper that extended to the ceiling. And in the northeast corner, Sammy’s Westcliff Mall Restaurant provided Cliffites with white-tablecloth dining options, along with a place to have parties and rehearsal dinners or to experience a bit of refinement. (Sammy’s later became the Peach Basket, owned and operated by former basketball player Cincy Powell, and then reopened once again as The Yankee Club.)

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A rendering of the mall’s exterior, featuring the memorable butterfly image. Photo courtesy of Bill Melton
A rendering of the mall’s exterior, featuring the memorable butterfly image. Photo courtesy of Bill Melton

Another poster on the Dallas Historical Society site reminisced about Westcliff Mall being one of the first spots in the area to recycle and sell used aluminum cans. According to the description, a sorting table was set up in the parking lot — to make sure no tin items were included. The cans were then weighed, and participants received 10 cents a pound.

Among the other postings of former Westcliff customers were stories of the pink and powder-blue poodles that belonged to the owners of the mall’s dog grooming shop. Just about everyone remembers seeing the pooches all around the center. Other posters commented on slot-car racing and pinball games at the arcade (which enamored a significant number of Oak Cliff boys) and the M. E. Moses variety, store where kids could purchase candy, ice-cold sodas, comic books and cheap toys. There was a Zale’s jewelry store, a Super-X drug store and a Slenderbolic Health Studio. The Ralph Baker Art Studio offered art lessons, Margo’s La Mode gave customers a great selection of ladies’ clothing, and the Shoe Closet sold, well, shoes.

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Students from St. Elizabeth Catholic School used the length of the mall as a respite from the Texas heat and winter cold when walking to and from school. And, in quite a few cases, along with other Oak Cliff youngsters, the kids enjoyed annoying the mall proprietors. Being chased off by the mall adults became a badge of honor.

At Christmastime Santa listened to children’s wish lists, and at Easter the variety store sold pink and yellow baby chicks, while the mall itself hosted Easter egg hunts. A Fotomat drive-thru occupied the south parking lot, where traveling carnivals also set up shop.

The 50th anniversary Oak Cliff magazine, published by the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce in spring 1970, featured an aerial photo of Westcliff with the caption “Always a Cool 72 Degrees at Westcliff Mall Shopping Center” and a list of stores open at that time. Along with all the above-mentioned businesses were: Kroger Food Store, Rushman Cleaners, Jack Andrews Color TV, Westcliff Finer Fabrics, Bed and Bath Linen Shoppe, Union Life Insurance Company, Exchange Savings, Wall-Tim Interiors, La Lobe Ear Piercing Salon, Al Price Real Estate, Carr’s Card and Gifts, Westcliff Beauty Salon, Cinderella Dress Shoppe, Westcliff Barber Shop, Toy Fair, Albright Lock and Key, The Furniture Cottage, Metro Personnel Employment Agency, Will’s Shoe’s and Gift Wrapping Bizarre.

Unfortunately, the center never produced the anticipated results, and there were significant retail business turnovers in the later years, including a short stint in the mid-1990s as “Rosa Parks Mall,” the first African-American-owned mall in Texas, according to a Dallas Morning News article. With the adjoining neighborhood’s changing demographics and competition with the much larger Red Bird Mall constructed in 1975 — with its four major-retail anchors and scores of smaller stores — the curtain eventually came down on Westcliff. In 1997, the entire complex was razed. The West Cliff Shopping Center was built in its place in 2001 and is now anchored by Fiesta.

Things change. And they certainly did for Westcliff Mall. But for quite a few Cliffites, the memories of shopping and eating and doctor and dentist appointments remain, along with vivid recollections of the rotating butterfly-shaped “W” sign on the corner and hours of adolescent mall mischief.

As all the former little delinquents have finally grown up, somewhere those now-departed mall proprietors must be smiling — as they chase two pastel poodles through the clouds.

Editor’s Note: This is Gayla Brooks’ final column for the Advocate. She has written 63 of them in the last five-plus years, since September 2009. We greatly appreciate her contributions, not only to the magazine but also to preserving the history of Oak Cliff.

Correction: The print version of this article incorrectly identified the location of Westcliff Mall.

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  • Donna Roberson

    Just found thus page and thought it was interesting.
    My siblings and I lived in Oak Cliff and we were reminiscing about the good old days.
    One of our siblings recalls a monkey in an outside cage in the Westcliff mall area.
    Does anyone recall if there was one?
    I can’t remember?

  • Lisa Furst

    THIS IS SO NEAT TO SEE .I ALSO HAD MY FIRST JOB AT WESTCLIFF MALL AT THE SAYS RESTUARANT. I REMBER EVERY SUMMER MY FAMILY WOULD GO TO PADRE ISLAND I WOULD HAVE TO GO BACK TO WORK SUNBURNED SO BAD PEELING AND EVERYTHING LOL BUT IT SURE HELPED WITH THE TIPS! MY HAIR BEING RED ALSO MADE ME LOOK LIKE ONE BIV FIREBALL ! MY THING WAS I ALWAYS HAD TO STOP AND GET A REAL ORANGE JULIUS WHICH IVE NOT SEEN MENTIONED ! LOL I FO BELEIVE WE HAD ONE ON WESTMORELAND ALSO I HAVE NEVER FOUND ONE THAT STOOD UP TO THAT PLACE THEY WERE THE BEST!! LISA.

  • Amy Farrell

    Speaking of Malls. Does anyone know the name of the candy store from the 80’s in Red Bird Mall where you could get Gummie bears, nuts, big pretzels, etc?

  • Amy Farrell

    My goodness.. I worked at M.E.Moses through my high school years 84-88. Loved it. Ate at the food stand every Sat. and loved Margos. Ha!

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  • Allen Adkins

    Thanks for sharing…I lived a few blocks away as a kid and certainly picked up a few Star Wars action figures from M.E. Moses.

    I remember my Dad as an early adopter of VHS tapes and being able to buy a select few movies from the FotoMat in the parking lot. Long time ago indeed…

  • PG

    PG-
    Hi, Herb.
    Is J.W. Carpenter still there? LOL

    Gayla,
    I am surprised that you didn’t mention the miracle of everyone surviving those candy necklaces that were sold at M.E. Moses…UNWRAPPED !!!!!!!
    Anyone else remember that the librarian-looking cashier drove a sweet ’70 Dodge Challenger?

    Great memories. If kids today were to engage in the antics which we orchestrated at that mall, they’d be charged with terrorism.

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  • Allison Gordon

    Thanks so much for writing this. I spent so much time there as a kid and have at least 5 Santa pics taken there in the 70’s. I remember spending my weekly allowance on candy at the M.E. Moses. My Orthodontist, Dr. Stringfellow and the place where I got my first pair of glasses when I was in 3rd grade (Joan’s Optical) were both here. I actually threw the eye test because I wanted glasses so bad. Ridiculous, but I digress…. My mother forever shopped at Margo’s La Mode and I even remember a short lived poorly stocked video arcade being added towards the end (early 80’s) as it tried desperately to hold on. I can still see the snack bar in my mind’s eye clear as day. Your description is spot on! I was thinking about it a few months back as was longing to see some pics and really couldn’t find much online at all. Maybe 2 pics and they were from way before my time. Really appreciate the trip down memory lane!

  • Milton McKissock

    Gayle – I just notice that this will be you final column. Please know that I have really enjoyed these
    over the past several years as I am sure others have. I will miss reading your thoughts about the
    old stomping grounds.

    Milton

  • James Barzilla Ritz

    In 1966 I had just graduated from Kimball. The next dat I began work at Sears on West Jefferson, but was soon sent to Westcliff. It was more than catalog; as I was a salesman. We sold many lines including paint, hardware, tires, batteries, appliances, televisions, stereos, and much more. GREAT TIMES!

  • Barbara Boerschinger Moffett

    Gayla, you have brought back such wonderful memories and stirred deep emotions about the Oak Cliff where we grew up! I will truly miss reading your articles and learning more about my “hometown”. God’s blessings to you and a heartfelt “thank you”!

  • Kathy Seale Box

    Yes, slot cars, weekly Kroger shopping and Sammy’s after football games. My favorite memory was sneaking back to the dressing rooms of Margo’s with a friend and coming out to a darkened, locked up store! Luckily the security guard for the mall had a sense of humor. Gayla, I have loved your history articles. Good luck to you

  • Kathlyn

    WOW…who can Remember the sales manager “Maggie” @ MARGO’S!!!

  • A.L. Nickerson

    Sorry, it was supposed to be the “cutest” girls in OC.

  • A.L. Nickerson

    I worked at Kroger from 1965 until 1967 while I was attending Dallas Baptist College (now University). The Super X drug store was right across the mall. I don’t know who the manger of the store was, but he seemed to hire some of the curtest girls in Oak Cliff. I have some really great memories of my days at Kroger and Westcliff Mall.

  • Bill Melton

    Gayla-
    Great article on Westcliff Mall! It is with regret that I read this story, knowing that it
    will be your final contribution to “The Advocate”. Through the years your articles
    have searched the heart and soul of Oak Cliff and brought back wonderful memories
    of days long past. You have also provided “new” information about those long past
    days that should be valuable for Historians in the future.
    So, thank you my Friend for a job well done! And even though you will not be
    writing these articles, surely you will keep the spirit alive and we will hear from
    you again.
    All my best, Bill

  • gina

    i remember going there with my grandpa, going to me moses and getting and ice cream at the little snack counter. also remember going to my dentist that was up on one of the floors.it was a great place just to go to

  • Herb Coleman

    Yes, my favorite place to spend my early teen Saturdays. The place where I would sneak off to meet my girlfriend. The place where she broke up with me. The halfway point between school and home. The place to stop by after church. Westcliff was the enter of my Wonder Years.

  • Hotsawse

    Love this! I remember.

  • Gayla Brooks

    Thank you, Rick. I have made so many friends while writing the column, and the readers have been very, very supportive. It was a great experience…and now I wish Rachel all the best. With all the wonderful things about Oak Cliff, she should have no shortage of highly interesting subjects. Blessings to all, Gayla.

  • Anne Roberts

    Westcliff Mall had Rocket Man flying around the parking lot when I was in school at St. Elizabeth’s across the street. I still have a couple of the buttons from that.

  • We agree with you, norm. Our editor, Rachel Stone, is going to continue writing a history column in this same spot in the magazine and online each month. But Gayla is one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure. We appreciate everything she has done to help tell Oak Cliff’s story in the Advocate.

  • I’m going to miss Gayla’s columns so much!