Shopping for History at the Tanforan Mall
There is probably nothing more antithetical to San Francisco than the sprawling, homogenized shopping mall. In fact, the city has only has only one traditional mall which is located just inside the southern city limits. The mall shown above, the Shops at Tanforan, is located a few miles south of San Francisco in the city of San Bruno, and while it looks like any other urban shopping mall, this one rests upon a lot of the Bay Area's history.

The area the mall sits upon was once inhabited by indigenous Ohlone natives, a tribe distinct from the Miwoks a few miles North. In 1827 the land became a Spanish Rancho owned by Jose Antonio Sanchez who named 64 acres after his granddaughter's husband, Torribo Tanforan.

In 1899, the Tanforans sold the land to a developer who turned it into a horse racetrack. Weathly San Franciscans like Adolph Spreckles, Leland Stanford, and George Hearst owned and ran horses here. The most famous horse to call Tanforan home was Seabiscuit, whose statue sits in front of the mall today.

After 1910, Tanforan became an airfield with planes taking off and landing from the racetrack infield. In 1911 pilot Eugene Ely made history when he took off from Tanforan and landed on the deck of a specially-outfitted Navy ship in the Bay. He then took off and returned to Tanforan, marking the first time a plane had ever landed on or taken off from a ship.

In 1917 Tanforan was converted to a military training center for World War I. But the war was over within a year and the base returned to private control as an airfield and a para-mutual racetrack.

In 1942, the Navy purchased Tanforan and it became an Assembly Center for people of Japanese ancestry who were interned under federal order. Around 8,000 people stayed at Tanforan on the way to Relocation Camps. These families were housed in the horse stalls of the stables.

The last of the buildings from the internment camp and the racetrack burned down in 1964 and in 1971 Tanforan became “Only Enclosed Mall of the San Francisco Peninsula.” Years later the mall was renovated and a BART station added. Who knows what the future will bring to Tanforan.

[ MAP M-10 ]


Blogger AphotoAday said...

Yeah, I can just hear the authorities saying back in 1942; "We'll just house them in the horse stables"...

4:28 PM  
Blogger dutchbaby said...

Great research, Ramsey! Just yesterday, I was reading about local sculptor, Ruth Asawa. Her family was interned at the Santa Anita track and lived in the stables for six months. So humiliating.

9:14 PM  

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