of Valley Fair Center
In 1948, Macy's parent company, R. H. May & Co. Inc. planned
to open a Macy's department store in Downtown San Jose, California,
according a San Jose Mercury News article. After failed purchase
negotiations with San Jose's Hart's Department Store about obtaining
property, Whelk H. Gingham, head of Macy's West Coast operations,
approached San Jose land owner, Warren Helms, about another
available downtown site.
Helms' asking price was too high, so the firm began seeking
other locations and purchased some land along San Jose's Stevens
Creek Road. At the time, there wasn't much there except for
a few orchards and Highway 17 was a few years from being built.
Macy's Valley Fair opened their doors in the summer of 1956,
gradually getting around 40 stores. This included Woolworth,
The Cable Car restaurant, Leed's, Lerner Shops, Thom McAn, Mode
O'Day, McWhorter-Young and Campi's Music, a record store that
provided preview kiosks before purchase. Helms was later informed
that negotiations for his downtown location may have merely
been a bargaining tool to acquire a better deal at the Stevens
Creek Road site.
A free parking lot provided shoppers more convenience than
the parking meters and paid lots of downtown, although Peerless
Stages Bus Line offered shuttle service for loyal downtown shoppers,
Unable to compete with Valley Fair a few miles away, downtown
stores closed or moved, giving way to blight during the sixties
In 1957, Bayfair Shopping Center opened across the bay in San
Leandro. A joint venture from Capital Co. and Macy's California,
the 60 acre center was designed to serve a quarter million shoppers
in the east bay. The first 22 stores included Amerio's Bayfair
Drugs, Hellwigs Bayfair Toys, Marlene's Feminine Fashions, Nancy's
Casual Apparel, along with a barber and beauty shop, and a grocery
In 1956, Gold Coast Shows, headed by William H. Meyer, set
up a kiddieland amusement park on the roof deck of Macy's, Valley
Fair. The seven rides included a Merry-Go-Round, boat ride,
a miniature train and a 40 foot Ferris Wheel. The giant Ferris
Wheel could be seen several blocks away as it peered over the
walls of the department store.
The following year, Gold Coast opened Kiddieland at Bayfair.
This was larger and on the terrace level over some small stores.
Fourteen rides included a Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round, Tilt-A-Wirl,
Octopus, as well as the Arrowflite
Freeway Auto Ride, a popular sports car ride featured at
Disneyland that was made by Arrow Development, of Mountain View,
California. Manager, Gene Cardoza, ran both the Valley Fair
and Bayfair rides, according to the November 8, 1957, Hayward
William H. Meyer, who began with with Ringling-Barnum Circus
in 1919, ran successful amusement parks in Southern California
during World War II and kiddieland attractions at the Sacramento,
California, state fair. In 1947, he founded Gold Coast Shows
and came up with the department store roof-top carnival concept.
“William H. Meyer, veteran West Coast park operator, took
a tip from ‘There's a gold mine in the Sky’ and
applied it to his business.” according to the
Billboard. He opened his first rooftop attraction at the
downtown San Francisco Emporium department store. After a successfully
1947 Christmas season, he erected one at Stonestown Center in
South San Francisco. Remember all the carnivals in Bay area
shopping center parking lots in those days? Chances are, they
were his, as Gold Coast was doing many of these these as well.
The Valley Fair Macy's Sky Terrace Cafe offered shoppers a
place to eat lunch while their kids enjoyed the rides. Tables
with colorful umbrellas lined the outside of the eatery, but
a small dining area was available inside.
Pre-teens fashion shows were held on the the roof deck. Afterward,
the kids were allowed free access to the rides. Some even recalled
Dixieland bands up there. According to a 1956 San Jose Mercury
News article, a helicopter with Santa Clause landed on the deck.
A Hayward Daily Review article described a event at the sister
center across the bay:
"...a dramatic arrival of Santa by helicopter landed
at Bayfair to meet the children, followed by the 60-piece
US Marine Corps band, initiating the Bayfair "Toys for
As you walked out to the deck from the elevator, a colorful
tower with bright mosaic tiles was seen out on the left. The
structure was an excellent example of 1950's pop art and complemented
the fair atmosphere. It served as an exhaust system for the
center's underground shipping area but was painted over around
1970 and removed in 1986 when the shopping center expanded.
The Macy's rides closed after a dismal 1957 Christmas season.
However, Kiddieland at Bayfair continued on and was renamed
Playland, later even adding a roller coaster attraction.
The cafe and roof deck at Valley Fair were blocked off from
the general public and used as a break area for Macy's employees.
The Emporium department store opened in 1957, later adding
small stores and becoming Stevens Creek Center. In 1959, Payless
Drugs was added to Valley Fair. Town & Country Village opened
the same year.
Around 1960, Meyer was appointed general
manager of the new Frontier Village project by Joe Zuken.
A miniature antique car based on the Arrowflite track technology
was purchased for the South San Jose park. In May
of 1960, Meyer once again utilized Valley Fair. Along with
Arrow Development, he came there to showcase the miniature cars
for Frontier Village. Frontier Days, by Wild West Entertainment,
included some horses, a stage coach, covered wagons, “nine
Indians headed by Chief Feather and a display of whip cracking,
sharp shooting, knife throwing and rope spinning”. They
planned a similar event the following month at Bayfair.
Ferris Wheel like the one at Valley Fair showed up at the
Frontier Village park after their 1961 opening. Did Bill Meyer
bring it from Valley Fair?
In 1964, a second floor was added to Macy's as originally planned.
The Hahn Company bought the center in 1984, merging it with
The Stevens Creek Center, in Santa Clara. Crossing the border
between two towns could have been a logistical nightmare, but
apparently cooperation from the two cities expedited the process.
The annual Christmas carnivals at the downtown San Francisco
Emporium lasted until 1995 when the store closed. But it's not
clear who was running it at that time.