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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.