Rancho Cucamonga, on the eastern edges of metropolitan Los Angeles known as the Inland Empire, is one of the fastest growing communities is Southern California. Much of Rancho Cucamonga is isolated, single-use PODs typical of sprawl – apartment complexes, single family homes arranged by price points, and strip-oriented retail. It is a most unlikely place to find a pedestrian oriented town center, yet this is precisely what one discovers at Victoria Gardens.
Where the City’s General Plan called for a conventional regional shopping mall, Forest City Development proposed an outdoors “lifestyle center” in the form of a traditional village downtown. Unlike other lifestyle centers in the LA region – such as The Grove in the Fairfax neighborhood – Victoria Gardens welcomes cars within its center. A variety of narrow streets balances pedestrians, slow moving vehicles, and on-street parking with meters. These streets define an urban pattern of twelve 300’x300’ blocks, with the center of each block dedicated to shared parking – sometimes in structures. As with historic village centers, a variety of buildings of can be found on each block – a team of four different design firms worked to generate a diversity of architectural styles and characters. Hidden in pedestrian paseos are vintage neon signs that generate the appearance of layered history. Entrances to large retail boxes – such as Macy’s and Robinsons-May department stores and the cinema complex – terminate visual axes and streets, but their blank sides are “wrapped” with thinner and smaller retail storefronts. At the center of Victoria Gardens is a town square, surrounded by restaurants and family-oriented stores.
But importantly, unlike other lifestyle centers, Victoria Gardens is not entirely dedicated to shopping. A public community facility – Rancho Cucamonga’s cultural center, a library and public theater – is under construction at the north end of the square. The mixture of commerce, entertainment, and culture makes Victoria Gardens more than a pretty mall.
What is missing at Victoria Gardens, however, are offices, housing, and pedestrian connections to surrounding developments. A second phase, a residential component under construction, may increase the mix of uses within the walking radius of Victoria Garden’s town square. As viewed from the neighboring arterial highways, Victoria Gardens looks just like any other regional shopping center – blank walls fronting large surface parking lots. Significantly, the urban pattern of streets and blocks extends into the perimeter parking, suggesting that future phases of development will replace surface lots with structures lined by retail, offices, and townhouses. It is not inconceivable to imagine Victoria Gardens expanded and redeveloped into richly mixed-use, heterogeneous and historically layered downtown, as authentic and lived-in as any historic town center in the region. It may seem contrived today, but it only opened last Christmas, and Victoria Gardens’ urban structure should prove robust enough to absorb change incrementally over the coming generations.
Victoria Gardens shopping center, located 60 miles east of Los Angeles in a neighborhood of the Inland Empire that has grown quickly from its agricultural roots into a low-density area characterized by sprawl, offers a unique pedestrian-oriented center to the town. The long-awaited addition of a “place” in the city of Rancho Cucamonga has been well received by residents. At 147 acres, Victoria Gardens is large enough to constitute its own neighborhood, a mixed-use project of 30 city blocks that incorporates major department stores and multiple civic functions as an integral part of the surrounding community’s fabric. The project includes over one million square feet of retail, with future phases adding up to 200,000 square feet of commercial office space and 500 residential units. Twenty acres of housing on site will allow people to live within walking distance of all the amenities of Rancho Cucamonga’s new downtown. A new Cultural Center, comprising of a library and children’s theater, will overlook the town square and form the centerpiece of the project. Victoria Gardens is a leading example of smart growth for California, with shops, offices and residences all located within easy walking distance from each other. The Inland Empire’s population of 3.2 million makes it the nation’s 11th largest and 4th fastest growing metro area. Victoria Gardens’ customer base is a combination of established affluent households and a large rapidly growing population of young, upwardly mobile families.
Urban Design & Architecture : Altoon+Porter Architects, Elkus-Manfredi Architects, Field Paoli Architects, KA Inc, & SWA
Client/Developer : Forest City Development California Inc. & Lewis Investment Company
Program : 1.3 million square feet of retail and entertainment on 147 acres
Completion : 2004