Avenida Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Expresso Las Americas
San Juan (Hato Rey Norte), Puerto Rico

The first fully-enclosed shopping mall in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and one of the earliest in Latin America, was built on a 70 acre parcel, situated 3.6 miles southeast of the San Juan Central Business District.

Acquired by San Juan's Fonalledas Brothers in 1918, the mall site was used as a dairy plant between the 1920s and early 1960s. Plans for a regional retail hub, modeled after Atlanta's LENOX SQUARE and Miami's DADELAND CENTER, were underway by 1962. Construction commenced in April 1967.

A 35 million dollar interior mall, encompassing 771,000 leasable square feet, was officially dedicated September 12, 1968. It was anchored by a 3-level (261,000 square foot) J.C. Penney, 2-level (76,500 square foot), San Juan-based Gonzales Padin ["pa-deen'] and 1-level (22,000 square foot), San Juan-based Velasco ["vay-lahs-koh"].

The PLAZA Penney's was noteworthy for two reasons. It was the chain's first location outside the fifty states and also its second-largest store; the largest being at Concord, California's SUNVALLEY MALL. In October 1971, the PLAZA Penney's moved into the third-largest Penney's position. The 300,000 square foot J.C. Penney at Chicagoland's WOODFIELD MALL was now the chain's largest location.

Among the seventy-nine charter tenants at PLAZA LAS AMERICAS were Martha Washington Ice Cream, Gordon's Jewelers, Florsheim Shoes, Zale's Jewelers, Clubman, Marianne Shops, Singer Sewing Center, Cervantes Restaurant, Lerner Shops, Thom McAn Shoes and FirstBank.

In addition, there were an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10, in-mall bowling alley, amphitheater, Pueblo supermarket and freestanding Shell gas station. In October 1968, these tenants were joined by the Cinevista Plaza Theatres (Plaza 1 & 2), which was the first twin cinema on the island.

The shopping center, referred to as simply "PLAZA", enjoyed a decade-long run as the only major mall in Greater San Juan. In 1978, it was joined by PLAZA CAROLINA ["kair-oh-lee-nuh"] {6.5 miles southeast, in the suburb of Carolina}. By this time, an expansion of PLAZA LAS AMERICAS was underway.

This project was to add a 3-level (329,000 square foot) Sears, the La Terraza Food Court, a northwest parking garage and over forty inline stores. The 3-level addition increased the mall's GLA to approximately 1,471,000 leasable square feet, with its retail roster growing to one hundred and thirty. A grand opening was held in 1979.

An interior facelift of PLAZA was completed in 1994, which included an update of the La Terraza Food Court and reconfiguration of the mall's cinematic venue into ten screens. Moreover, a 9-story medical office tower, the Torre ["tor-ee"] de Plaza, was built atop the Sears Wing and the mall's parking garage, at its northwest corner, was enlarged.

By this time, the mall's San Juan-based anchor stores, Gonzales Padin and Velasco, were going through various changes. The Velasco chain was acquired by a sister company of Gonzales Padin in December 1991.

Arkansas-based Dillard's was poised to purchase the 7-store Gonzales Padin operation in July 1995. However, this transaction fell through after Dillard's proposed expansion into Mexico was abandoned. The two anchors at PLAZA were shuttered by the mid-1990s, with their store space repurposed. Woolworth was also shuttered and repurposed at this time.

In 1996, a 246 million dollar PLAZA renovation was announced. This was to be completed in four phases, with the first consisting of the construction of a new 4-level (350,000 square foot) J.C. Penney. It was built on the west side of the existing store and dedicated in April 1998. The new Penney's location was (and still is) the chain's largest location. 

Phase Two of the PLAZA renovation entailed repurposing the old Penney's building as 3 levels of inline store and restaurant space. This was completed in 1999.

Phase Three of the mall expansion was executed during the year 2000. This entailed the addition of a 2-level west mall concourse. A new theatrical venue, the Caribbean Cinemas Plaza Las Americas 13, was also dedicated.

These modifications were followed by Phase Four, which consisted of the addition of a new third anchor store. Planned in 1995 to be a branch of the Miami-based Burdines chain, the store wound up sporting a Macy's nameplate. The 3-level (255,000 square foot) location, the first Macy's outside the fifty states, held its grand opening October 25, 2000. 

The final stage of construction entailed a second parking structure, built at the south end of the mall, and a thorough remodeling of existing mallways. With these renovations complete, PLAZA encompassed 2,173,000 leasable square feet and housed three hundred stores and services.

Today, PLAZA is still owned and operated by its original developer, the Fonalledas family, under the auspices of Empresas Fonalledas, Incorporated. It is one of only five major malls within United States territory still family-run; the other four being Costa Mesa, California's SOUTH COAST PLAZA, San Mateo, California's HILLSDALE CENTER, Des Moines, Iowa's MERLE HAY MALL and Dallas' NORTHPARK CENTER.


"Plaza Las Americas" article on Wikipedia
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