GlassHouse Square Sports Arena History

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Glasshouse Square on Sports Arena Boulevard

GlassHouse Square was located in the heart of San Diego’s Midway District at the intersection of Sports Arena Boulevard and Rosecrans Street. The mall was renamed Rosecrans Plaza in 2020. The Plaza has five stand alone pads and an above ground three story parking structure which includes 3156 Sports Arena Boulevard (EOS Fitness,) 3146 Sports Arena Boulevard (Chuck E. Cheese,) 3102 Sports Arena Boulevard (In-N-Out Burger), and 3106 Sports Arena Boulevard (Del Taco).

San Diego Pioneers Change the Course and Future of the Midway District

Historically, the Midway area was part of the San Diego River delta. The river system would occasionally switch paths, sometimes flowing into Mission Bay (False Bay), or into the Midway flatlands. There was fear from early settlers that Mission Bay might eventually be lost due to silting from soil erosion. As a result the river was confined to its present course north of Point Loma by a levee built by the city in 1877. The result exposed the flat, marshy areas around Midway which was not an ideal environment for future development.

Military Influence on the Midway District

In 1921 the Marine Advanced Expeditionary Base (now Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego) was built in the Midway area on Barnett Avenue. The military influence would eventually change the face of the Midway district forever, and is visible at present time. When the United States entered World War II the need for trained personnel, weapons, and materials led to a massive boom in the area. Factories, barracks, lodging for defense civilians, food, entertainment, and care facilities sprung up everywhere along and around Midway. One such project was Frontier housing which included Frontier Street (now Sports Arena Blvd.) Due to the fast nature of development many areas which were still partially wetland had cement slabs poured right on top.

End of WWII boosts Commercial Development Across Midway District

A post WWII boom of economic growth led to an increased need for commercial space. Many of the obsolete military industrial and housing properties in the Midway District were sold, and transformed into private commercial businesses. One such property was located at 3176 Sports Arena Blvd, known as Save-Co Veterans and Services Department Store, Inc.

Save-Co Veterans and Services Department Store, Inc.

Save-Co is the first non military structure known to inhabit the current day Rosecrans Plaza. Save-Co was a San Diego based one story supermarket type department store that opened August 23, 1958. What is interesting to note, however, is the store might not have opened at all. In 1958, four juveniles were arrested for starting a fire that could have destroyed the property entirely. Thankfully, the local fire department were nearby and able to quickly put out the flames. When it was finally built, the building spanned 56,000 square feet. The owner, Harry L. Foster, patterned the facility after Naval ships’ service stores and Army exchanges. What was particularly notable, however, was the inclusion of a full service gas station – something that was not prevalent at the time. Additionally, buyers were limited to registered memberships for military personnel and their families only. Save-Co was a success in the military community it served however the business was short lived and sold in 1969 to Cal Store Inc. who remodeled the location.

Save-Co San Diego Store
Save-Co San Diego Store

Cal Store Opens at 3176 Sports Arena Boulevard

Once the property was purchased by Cal Store Inc., the building underwent extensive renovations – including expanding the square footage to 75,000 feet and adding multiple departments aside from groceries. No longer your typical grocery store, Cal Store wanted to serve your every need – they were essentially the Wal-Mart of today. Opening October 2nd, 1969, Cal Store was a membership-only store. Memberships were only available to Union members (in good standing,) all city, county, federal and state employees; Board of Education members, hospital employees, all active members of the armed forces and any retired persons who were collecting Social Security benefits. While the chain had multiple locations throughout San Diego, the business couldn’t survive financially and had to close its doors in July of 1976. The last Cal Store closed its doors around 1993.

Cal Store San Diego
Cal Store San Diego

The San Diego International Sports Arena

The San Diego International Sports Arena (now Pechanga Arena) was built in 1966 by Robert Breitbard, a local football hero who played for Hoover High School and San Diego State, for $6.4 million. The arena could seat 13,000 for hockey or 13,700 for basketball. The arena opened on November 17, 1966, when more than 11,000 pro hockey fans watched the San Diego Gulls (then a member of the Western Hockey League) win their season opener, 4–1, against the Seattle Totems.

The San Diego International Sports Arena had a profound effect on the existing Midway District’s economy. Local sporting events and high profile live entertainment drew big crowds not just from San Diego but the entire world. The influx of local tourism boosted revenues for the local business community.

The impact from the San Diego International Sports Arena wasn’t limited to financial gain. Traffic congestion had always been an issue in the Midway district, and the addition of the Sports Arena complex made this problem even worse. In order to combat this growing problem, the city expanded the freeway and added additional traffic lights and other safety measures. While these measures helped somewhat, they did not fix the problem entirely. In fact, traffic congestion still plagues the area to this day.

Building the Sports Arena Complex also led to renaming Frontier Street. This road – the main road in front of the complex – was renamed Sports Arena Blvd to make the complex easy to find.

GlassHouse Square Model San Diego
GlassHouse Square Model San Diego

The Birth of Glasshouse Square

Glasshouse square was a joint commercial venture between L.H International Development Co. and Universal Real Estate Partnership V. Unique architecture and greenhouse inspired design featured a 100,000 square foot enclosed mall bordered by two dome-shaped green houses and a three story parking structure. A separate 8,000 square foot restaurant and a permanent indoor stage for free entertainment was also included in the design. The mall had space for 60 shops and five restaurants located internally behind the closed perimeter wall. The mall opened in the summer of 1981 with a planned additional opening of United Artist 6 theater in 1982. The theater was mentioned in Variety Magazine June 23, 1982, pp. 14-15 as a great showplace and prototype-complex. The theater was a strong entertainment venue and drew in many movie goers not just into the theater but the mall as well.

Ghosthouse Square Transformed

Glasshouse Square was intended to be the mall that other malls strived to be. Unfortunately many factors directly impacted the business model such as perimeter walls blocking the internal mall shops, inadequate and dangerous parking, distance from residential housing, and lack of interest from the general public. Many shops struggled to make profit and pay their leases. Local realtors nicknamed the mall “Ghost House Square.”

Only five years into the operation mall owners announced a face lift for the mall. The original design hid the interior spaces and the only attraction was the United Artists six-plex movie theater. The owners changed this by renovating the complex to enable shoppers to see the stores from the street. While the property owners hoped this change would entice more people in, not even the multiplex theater proved to be the draw it once was. In 1999, the property owners elected to close the struggling theater. 

Meanwhile, renovations continued at the property. The Federated Video-Stereo Store moved into a larger space, paving the way for individual shops to open at its former location. These shops would open onto the parking lot, where shoppers could easily see what businesses were there. 70,000 square feet of leasable mall space would remain unchanged and the 9,500-square-foot Garcia’s restaurant at the corner would be unaffected. Parking control through a validation charge system was also considered but never executed. The renovations eventually paid off and businesses began to return.

Over the next 20 years many businesses would come and go. Glasshouse Square would change ownership multiple times before finally losing its namesake. As of 2020 the mall was renamed “Rosecrans Plaza.” The only existing reference to Glasshouse Square is a placard located on the wall next to a retractable door. This door used to lead into Ultrazone Laser Tag, which closed permanently in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rosecrans Plaza Today

Gone are the days of mom and pop shops enticing consumers with their wares. Instead, visitors to Rosecrans Plaza today will find well-known chains including EOS Fitness, Chuck-E-Cheese, Subway, 7-Eleven, Mattress Firm, Panda Express, Staples, Del Taco, and In-N-Out Burger. However, remnants of the unique architecture that was part of Glasshouse Square’s charm still remain – if you know where to look.

A glance at the now-vacant Ultrazone building and EOS Fitness offers a look back in time with the glass atrium style awning, interior vaulted windows and an original door handle located where the former mall entrance would have stood. A strange open original interior mall space also exists between Ultrazone and Mattress Firm, but that area is not accessible to the public.

Glasshouse Square Gone but not Forgotten Businesses

GlassHouse Square Placard
GlassHouse Square Placard

Many businesses have come and gone as Glasshouse Square transformed into Rosecrans Plaza. Below are some – but not all – of the businesses that the complex has seen over the years:

7-Eleven
Athlete’s Foot
B. Dalton Bookshop
Consumer Computers
Contemporary Woman
Dr. Stephen Bustard Optometry
Exclusively Women’s Spa
Federated Group stereo/video superstore
Film Express
Garcia’s Of Scottsdale Mexican Restaurant
Gifts of Nature
John & Young
L.J. Lagoon
Magic Cookie Shop
Marrakesh restaurant in Glasshouse Square -Moroccan cuisine circa 1986
Murry’s Tickets
P/S Perry & Snyder Jewelry
Rose Chan
Shell World International -owner Phiroz Sukhadwala circa 1989
Travel & Travel Mike Tuck and Ted Leitner
United Artists 6 GlassHouse
Up Your Alley
Wiener Construction
Yellow Brick Road Arcade- circa 1993 (where Chuck E. Cheese is currently located)
Yet Wah
Yogart Encounters

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