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The men behind the Southern California mini-mall

March 7, 2008 |  3:32 pm

Minimall_2Your neighborhood mini-mall is no longer just a convenient spot to have your nails done or pick up a donut (a glazed cruller, please). These often parking-challenged retail centers are now home to chic wine bars, art galleries and trendy boutiques, says Lea Lion at the Guide.

So, who do you have to thank for all these homely havens of hipness?  Most likely the men of La Mancha ... La Mancha Development, that is. While the earliest forms of Southern California strip malls date back to the 1920s, it was the founders of La Mancha Development, Sam Bachner and Alan Riseman,  who most likely built more mini-malls than anyone else.

After building their first mini-mall in Panorama City in 1973 (is this a historic landmark yet?), the development duo went on to build more than 600 of these stucco centers across the region. At its height, La Mancha was building five malls a month. By the mid-1980s, La Mancha and its competitors had built an estimated 3,000 mini-malls, many of them on the sites of former gas stations, across the Los Angeles area.  Click on the link below for Mini-Mall Milestones.

Of course, there was a backlash. Cities responded by imposing regulations to limit their development. In 1989, 10% of respondents to a quality of life poll identified mini-malls as their biggest pet peeve.

Is there a difference between a mini-mall and a strip mall? Who cares, responded Bachner in a 1998 interview:

"Mini-malls? Strip malls? We built convenience centers, to give easy access to go in a store and come out."

-- Jesus Sanchez

Photo: Joe Merrell via Flickr


From a November 1997 Times story:

Mini-Mall Milestones

1924: First drive-in market built in Glendale.

1928: First full-fledged Ralphs Supermarket erected on Wilshire Boulevard, prefiguring the decline of drive-in markets.

1973: Gas stations across the city go bust during OPEC oil embargo, freeing corner lots at busy intersections for mini-mall development. La Mancha Development Corp. opens its first mini-mall in Panorama City. More than 650 follow.

Sept. 8, 1979: The first Yoshinoya Beef Bowl in a mini-mall opens at the corner of Colorado and Brand boulevards in Glendale.

May, 1986: The American Institute of Architects sponsors the exhibit "Real Problems: Convenience Centers" at the California Museum of Science and Industry.

March 13, 1987: Community activist Kathleen Aberman is arrested when she refuses to come down from the roof of a historic Eagle Rock building that is to be demolished for a mini-mall.

October 27, 1987: Kay Damiano gives birth to a 9-pound, 12-ounce girl in the back seat of a Lincoln Continental in a mini-mall parking lot at Vanowen Street and White Oak Avenue. "I got the best doctor, the best hospital room. I got $2,000 worth of furniture in a nursery," her husband, Gene, says afterward. "Why is my baby being born in a parking lot strewn with beer cans?"

Nov. 23, 1988: Councilman Michael Woo castigates Los Angeles as "the mini-mall capital of the world."

April 2, 1989: Ten percent of respondents to The Times' "quality of life" poll cite "mini-malls" as "biggest pet peeve," between "stupid local TV news" at 4% and "potholes" at 16%.

March 1, 1991: The LAPD announces a war on "mini-mall crack," sold blatantly at an East Hollywood convenience center.

1991: In "Defending Your Life," Albert Brooks' character, killed in a car crash and languishing in the afterlife, is informed of the opening of six mini-malls outside Judgment City.

April 29-May 1, 1992: More than 30 mini-malls are seriously damaged or destroyed as riots and fires engulf Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King trial verdicts.

1995: In "The Brady Bunch Movie," the family's familiar ranch-style house is threatened by a scheming real estate agent who wants to put in a mini-mall.

Oct. 5, 1997: Photographer Catherine Opie's show opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring seven black-and-white prints of local mini-malls.