WELLINGTON SQUARE
York and Wellington Streets
London, Ontario


As odd as it may seem, Canada's very first enclosed shopping centre was not located in (or near) Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or even Winnipeg. A 5.3 acre site in the downtown area of London, Ontario was actually the location of the nation's earliest interior mall.


In addition to being Canada's first climate-controlled retail hub, WELLINGTON SQUARE was the first of many so-called "urban renewal" shopping mall projects. These attempted to reestablish the downtown areas of North American cities as the hubs of commerce that they had been before a post- World War 2 exodus to the suburbs.

Planning for the innovative shopping centre was underway by July 1958, when Toronto-based Eaton's announced its plans for a new downtown store. Seattle's John Graham, Junior was enlisted to design the store and an adjacent retail complex, which was developed by Montreal-based Webb & Knapp (Canada), Limited.

Costing 11 million dollars, the single level WELLINGTON SQUARE was built over a subterranean parking deck. A 4-level (248,000 square foot) Eaton's anchored the shopping venue, which housed forty stores and services. Among these were Grafton's, William Govan & Sons, McKittrick Scientific, the Wellington Restaurant and an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10.

The official grand opening was held August 11, 1960. The complex, which encompassed 420,000 leasable square feet, was heralded by the New York Times as being "The pattern for urban renewal". It was an astounding success and became the model for the many centre city shopping malls that followed.

Suburban centres were eventually built in the environs of London. The more significant of these were WESTMOUNT CENTRE (1971-1973) {3.2 miles southwest, in London}, WHITE OAKS MALL (1973) {3.6 miles southeast, in London} and MASONVILLE PLACE (1985) {3.2 miles northwest, in London}.

Fast forward to 1986...Enter Ottawa's Robert Campeau, a Canadian real estate developer and financier. He acquired WELLINGTON SQUARE, which had been known as LONDON EATON SQUARE since a 1980 renovation, and embarked on a major expansion and remodeling.

The 5.3 acre block to the north of the existing complex was acquired and structures demolished. A 2-level mall was constructed, which extended across King Street, connecting with a second level that had been added to the circa-1960 structure. The new shopping hub would be 
known as GALLERIA LONDON.

Its north mall was anchored by a 3-level (176,000 square foot) The Bay. Among the toney tenants in the 900,000 square foot shopping venue were Ralph Lauren, Harry Rosen, Eddie Bauer, Roots and Laura Ashley. On the Second Level of the South Mall was the Galleria Cinemas, a 6-screen megaplex.

The 
one hundred and seventy-five million dollar GALLERIA LONDON was dedicated with a lavish black tie gala, held August 16, 1989. By this time, developer Robert Campeau was in dire financial straights. He had embarked on an unprecedented series of hostile takeovers of the two major United States department store holding companies; Allied Stores and Federated Stores.

Allied Stores, which included Boston's Jordan Marsh, Seattle's The Bon Marche, San Antonio's Joske's and Paramus, New Jersey's Stern's, had been acquired in 1987. Federated Stores, with New York City's Abraham & Straus and Bloomingdale's, Columbus, Ohio's Lazarus, Boston's Filene's and Atlanta's Rich's, came under the Campeau corporate umbrella in 1988.

Soon, the debt incurred as a result of these mergers, accompanied by a downturn in the economy, toppled the Campeau corporate empire. Two hundred and fifty profitable department stores had been bankrupted. Toronto's mega-millioned Reichmann Family came to Campeau's aid and were financially ruined in the process.

Amongst all the commercial carnage, GALLERIA LONDON proved to be only moderately successful, if that. The centre was in decline by the early 1990s, had a resurgence in the mid-'90s and was in a second downward spiral by the late '90s.

Eaton's, yet another troubled retail corporation, shuttered its GALLERIA LONDON location in February 1999. The Bay pulled out of the mall in March 2001. With two vacant anchors, and several empty inline store spaces, the shopping centre was on life support.

In December 2000, it was acquired by I.F. Property Holdings. The lower levels of the Eaton's space were repurposed as a Teletech call center. The upper levels were sectioned into leased office spaces. The old The Bay store was acquired by the City of London, who renovated the facility into the flagship for the London Public Library. This opened in August 2002.

The Eaton's / Teletech space was renamed Wellington Square (a homage to the original shopping centre) in May 2004. On May 7, 2009, a 16.5 million dollar redevelopment and repositioning of GALLERIA LONDON was completed, with a new name bestowed; CITI PLAZA.

During the renovation, the remaining retail on the Upper Level was relocated to the Lower / Ground Level. A 9-bay Food Court, installed in the Upper Level in the late 1990s, was also moved down to the Lower Level. Mallways were given a facelift, a new Atrium Entrance built and a state-of-the-art video system installed.


Sources:

www.london.ca
Canadian Architecture Archives, Libraries & Cultural Resources, University of Calgary
www.citiplazalondon.com
http://reurbanist.com