Tanforan to close after 51 years


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After half a century as a mall, Tanforan will close to make way for a biotech campus and housing.

Katelyn Leong '25, Staff Reporter

For 51 years, Tanforan Mall has stood as a major shopping destination in San Bruno, home to a variety of 104 different shops. The once bustling mall will soon close as it is planned to be redeveloped into housing units and a new biotech campus.

“When I was younger, Tanforan was the go-to place for my family if we ever wanted to hang out,” Marina Viray ’24 said. She fondly recalled the many shops residing at the mall including the movie theater, the food court, Mrs. Fields, and most notably for her, Ichiban. 

“There were just so many cool things there. And overtime it would still be the go-to shop, but sometimes it wouldn’t be fun anymore because all of the shops would close, like Ichiban.”

The fascinating history of the property traces back before its time as a mall to the Tanforan racetrack, famed for having stabled Seabiscuit. The track was at times utilized as an airfield where the first successful shipboard aircraft landing took place and where several scenes for a few movies were filmed. At one point, it was also a Japanese internment camp during WWII.


A bronze statue commemorating the 8,000 Japanese Americans who were housed at the Tanforan Racetrack during World War II, before being relocated to internment camps, was unveiled in September.

This historic site was recently acquired by a Pasadena-based real estate developer, Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. (ARE). They plan to develop 1 million square feet of office space and at least 1,000 homes on the site, a biotech campus, transit-oriented commercial developments, and an innovation hub. Due to its favorable location being set up directly beside the San Bruno BART station, the transit focus aims to provide tenants easy access to downtown San Francisco and downtown Oakland.

The firm procured the 44-acre property in three separate transactions totaling $328 million. The first took place in September of 2021 where $105.25 million went toward the site of the JCPenney store, and another $128 million secured anchor tenant Sears. In the final purchase, the remaining $95.2 million covered the cost of the rest of the retail and restaurant complex.

Rumors of Tanforan’s closing have circled for some time, but were confirmed when the San Bruno City Council approved the Reimagining the Tanforan Land Use Fact Sheet in July of 2021. What has been referred to as “the retail apocalypse,” had been negatively affecting shopping centers like Tanforan for a while now, and it was only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the striking shift to online shopping. Now it has been referred to as a “dead mall.”

The famous racehorse Seabiscuit once raced at the Tanforan Racetrack. ( Syd Whittle for Historical Marker Database)

“Man, I am gonna miss all the memories I made there,” Viray reflected as she enjoyed the nostalgia from the Tanforan Mall’s days of prime. “But yeah, even though I’m a bit sad, I feel that it was bound to happen.”

As of now, the transformation is currently in its groundwork stage. Nevertheless, the news of this once lively center marks the end of an era and saddens many. But the future, albeit still just a vision, looks bright for the site where Tanforan Mall stands for now.