O.C. malls, fading from their hip glory days, may get new lives as apartments

Westminster, CA - February 06: Shoppers at Westminster Mall in Westminster Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Malls in Orange County being redeveloped into mixed use developments with shopping and housing. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Shoppers walk through the parking lot at Westminster Mall in February. Malls in Orange County are being redeveloped into mixed-use developments with shopping and homes in an effort to increase the region’s housing supply. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Growing up in Orange County in the late 1970s, KL DeHart often wandered the Westminster Mall with her mother, checking out the latest fashions and seeing what movies were playing.

As a teenager, she spent many weekends there with friends playing pinball and skeeball at the arcade and shopping for trendy Chemin De Fer jeans.

Now, the mall is pocked with empty storefronts. At the remaining businesses, employees eagerly jump to help the few customers passing through.

What may rise in its place, if developers and city officials have their way, is a new kind of mall, one that will include lawns, walking trails and thousands of apartments.

“It was the hip place to be, and it’s really faded out, but it’s just sad to see it go,” said DeHart, a 55-year-old massage therapist who still lives near the mall, in the house she grew up in. She is among the residents worried that the new apartments will increase traffic while doing little to solve the region’s affordable housing crisis.

In Orange County, the San Fernando Valley and suburbs throughout America, the mall was a gathering spot where there were few other places to hang out. It was where kids stocked up on the latest fashions and roamed in packs after school, spawning the term “mall rat.”

The 1980s cult classic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” began and ended at the mall where the teens worked. In the 1995 film “Clueless,” a Beverly Hills teen retreated to the mall, which she described as a “sanctuary,” after failing to persuade

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