Wheaton Plaza celebrated it’s official dedication 50 years ago on February 5, 1960. At the time, Wheaton Plaza was an open air plaza and DC’s largest shopping mall. It held that distinction until 1981 (when Fair Oaks Mall was completed). Now, it’s called Westfield Wheaton Mall, but for any of us who have been around the Wheaton area for any time, we will always call it Wheaton Plaza.
The above photo shows the west wing of Wheaton Plaza. In the distance is the 240,000 square foot Montgomery Ward, which was the largest store in the chain at the time.
Then, Montgomery Ward and Woodward & Lothrop were the two anchor stores.
A partial list of WHEATON PLAZA TENANTS in 1960 included:
WOODWARD & LOTHROP (with public auditorium) / MONTGOMERY WARD (with outparcel Auto Center) / S.S. KRESGE / GIANT FOOD / GRAND UNION supermarket (in outparcel annex) / PEOPLES DRUG / Fairlanes Bowling Alley (in outparcel annex) / Hot Shoppes Restaurant (outparcel) / Hot Shoppes Cafeteria / Fannie May Candies / Hahn Shoes / Tiara Gifts / Barracini Candies / Farrell’s Ice Cream / Foxmoor Casuals / Dannaman’s Fabrics / Thom McAn Shoes / Becker’s Luggage / Bank of Silver Spring / Shell service station (outparcel) / Hanover Shoes / E.D. Edwards Shoes / Merry-Go-Round / Joseph R. Harris Company / Embassy Father and Son Shop / Stronsnider’s Hardware / Paris Hats / Bakers Shoes / Variety Records / Charcoal House Restaurant / Brentano’s Books / Calby’s Clothes for Young Boys / Raleigh’s Haberdasher / WHEATON PLAZA OFFICE BUILDING (outparcel annex). Farrell’s Ice Cream was one of my favorites.
The ribbon cutting at Washington’s first mega-mall occurred on the morning of February 5, 1960. Developed by DC’s Theodore N. Lerner and Isadore Gudelsky, the 1,100,000 square foot WHEATON PLAZA was centered on an 80 acre lot, located 11.2 miles northwest of the United States Capitol.
On hand for the grand opening festivities were M.L. Reese, Montgomery County, Maryland manager, Paul M. Hammaker, President of Montgomery Ward and Company, Andrew Parker, President of Woodward and Lothrop, and the Wheaton High School Band.
The largest store in the chain at the time of its opening, Ward’s consisted of 2 retail levels. A third -basement- level served as district offices.
Among the fifteen stores inline at the grand opening were S.S. Kresge, Lerner Shops, Brentano’s Books, Peoples Drug, Hahn Shoes and Giant Food and Grand Union supermarkets. Within a year, the open-air complex housed seventy-five stores and services.
Giant Food, situated at the northwest corner of the structure, predated the mall proper by two years. Grand Union was part of a bi-level, southeastern parking area outparcel annex which included a lower level bowling alley and 7-story office tower.
A single-screen theater, originally known as the Wheaton Plaza Playhouse, opened -on the north side of the mall proper- July 25, 1962. The cinema was refitted as a 3-screen venue, which reopened -as the Wheaton Plaza III- in November 1974.
WHEATON PLAZA was enclosed and climate-controlled in 1981. Five years later, the first expansion of the shopping venue got underway. This included a 2-level (179,000 square foot), Arlington, Virginia-based Hecht’s and adjacent, southeast parking garage.
In 1987, with its new expansion, WHEATON PLAZA assumed the status of fourth-largest shopping mall in the DC suburbs (at the time, the largest was Virginia’s FAIR OAKS). The addition at WHEATON PLAZA had added Hecht’s and a parking garage in the southeast lot.
This shows the Hecht’s Wing and anchor store. The mall’s first Food Court had been installed on Level 1 of this addition. At the time, the new wing was the only part of the mall with two retail levels.
The Macy’s Wing was officially dedicated in late 2005. The store took space previously occupied by the mall-accessed cinema, added to the complex in 1962.
The next major change brought Target to the mall. In the circa-’60 center, this area would have been part of the service tunnel beneath the mall.
This shows the current layout of the mall today.
The latest news is that Costco is talking with Westfield and Montgomery County about redeveloping the old Hecht’s site and opening a store here.
The past 50 years has brought many changes and modernization but Wheaton Plaza has survived and is still servicing shoppers and Wheaton.