Illustration of Signal Hills enclosed mall in West St. Paul.

History of Signal Hills Shopping Center

Thanks to Cherokee Service and Southview Animal Hospital for their support.

Once upon a time, an enclosed mall found a home in West St. Paul: Signal Hills Shopping Center. It started as a strip of stores and later became an enclosed mall. Signal Hills Shopping Center existed for half a century until competition from the Mall of America and changing economics forced a shift back to a strip mall and standalone K-mart. The strip mall still exists today, but the K-mart and former bank building were torn down for the Hilltop and Legacy Commons apartments.

Despite the changes, Signal Hills mall stood for nearly half a century and is firmly rooted in West St. Paul’s nostalgia.

The Evolution of Signal Hills

Let’s look at how Signal Hills has evolved over the years. Oddly enough, photos of the Signal Hills mall are hard to find, but we’ve scoured our sources and shared as many photos as we could find (have photos of Signal Hills? Let us know).

Here’s a look at aerial imagery showing the evolution of the Signal Hills site between 1957 and 2021:

Aerial views of the Signal Hills site in West St. Paul from 1957, 1964, 2000, and 2021.

Hills and a Lake (Pre-1955)

Initially, Hurley Lake and hills occupied the land, with some romanticized stories that the Dakota used the hills for smoke signals.

Early stories of West St. Paul talk about kids sledding on the hill in the winter.

Undated black and white aerial photo from before Signal Hills was built showing an empty field with hills and a lake.
An undated aerial photo looking east showing the Signal hills site before construction of the mall.

Signal Hills Shopping Center (1955-1999)

Brothers John and Joseph Hurley were early settlers in West St. Paul and claimed a lot of land, including what would become Signal Hills. In the 1950s, John’s grandson Eugene A. Hurley formed a construction company with his brother-in-law Jad Asfeld and future Mayor Robert Callahan and built Signal Hills. They leveled the hills and filled in the lake to create an initial strip of 20 stores that opened on October 26, 1955.

During the early 1960s, an addition to the north added a new anchor, the Emporium department store, and enclosed the mall.

1961 black and white photo of Signal Hills mall under construction with framed, two-story building on right, Red Owl grocery store on left, and framed church in construction in the background.
Construction photo from 1961 of the original expansion. River Heights Baptist Church is also under construction in the background (photo courtesy of Dakota County Historical Society).

This questionable ad from the 1960s shows the apocryphal name, but more importantly gives a good overview of what the mall layout looked like:

Illustrated ad showing the layout of Signal Hills Shopping Center with a questionable image of a figure wearing a feather and making smoke signals.
Early 1960s ad featuring Signal Hills.

Later in the 1960s, the separate Signal Bank was built on the northeast corner of the property.

The original Red Owl grocery store was replaced with a movie theater in 1982.

1978 photo of Red Owl grocery store.
1978 photo of Red Owl grocery store (photo courtesy of Dave Lynch).

Here’s an incomplete list of stores that were in Signal Hills Shopping Center at some point in time:

  • JC Penney
  • Emporium; later Herbergers
  • Red Owl Grocery Store; later Signal Hills Movie Theater
  • B. Dalton’s Bookstore
  • United Stores
  • Pets Unlimited
  • Post Office
  • Great American Music Company
  • Woolworth’s
  • Schaak Electronics
  • Foot Locker
  • Chess King
  • County Seat
  • Hickory Hut
  • Pier One
  • Shangri La
  • Walgreen’s
  • Saint Paul Book & Stationary
  • Comic store
  • Barber shop
  • Salon
  • Arcade
  • Hot dog stand
  • Ice cream stand
    (Thanks to Carolyn Swiszcz and her zine.)

The opening of the Mall of America in 1992 meant the end of the Signal Hills mall. Here’s a glimpse of the end of the enclosed mall in 1998 (black and white photos courtesy of Dakota County Historical Society, color photos courtesy of John Ramsay):

K-mart Era (2000-2020)

By 2000, the anchor Herbergers and the enclosed portion of the mall were demolished, with a new standalone K-mart constructed to the northwest of the old mall.

Signal Bank closed in 2001 and stood empty for 20 years. Multiple rejected proposals came along, including a funeral home, youth shelter, banquet hall, and combined restaurant/dog park. None had serious backing or fit with long-term plans for the site.

K-mart filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and the local store struggled for years. It eventually closed in 2016 along with more than 130 K-marts nationwide. The building briefly housed a Halloween store and local auctions. In 2017, the City Council rejected the idea of a shooting range. Go-karts and mini-golf were also proposed, without serious support or backing. 

Here’s a view of the former K-mart and Signal Bank buildings in 2020 just before they were demolished for the Legacy Commons and Hilltop apartments.

Apartment Era (2022- )

Here’s Signal Hills today. The original strip mall still exists to the south, but we enter a new era with the Legacy Commons and Hilltop apartments, which opened in 2022, dominating the northern end of the property.

Aerial photo looking south showing the new apartments on the site of the former K-mart and bank buildings.
Aerial view looking south (Butler is on the very bottom of the picture, Robert Street in the upper left) with the new apartments dominating the bottom of the picture and the old Signal Hills strip mall at the top of the picture.

Legacy Commons is a five-story, 247-unit senior apartment building located on the east end of the property. Hilltop is a four-story, 146-unit apartment building located on the west end of the property. Both buildings are in affordable housing programs and income limits apply.

Experience Signal Hills

While photos of Signal Hills are hard to find, this shaky camcorder video from 1988 recently resurfaced.

This video was originally shot by the late Mike Fischer and shared with the permission of his sister, Helen Ballinger.

Captured in a Local Zine

Perhaps the best way to experience Signal Hills is with the zine by local artist Carolyn Swiszcz. In 2020 she created the “Signal Hills Shopping Center” zine with the support of the Minnesota State Arts Board. Swiszcz recounts the history in this little booklet, making wry observations and sharing unique anecdotes. The zine also includes a map and list of the stores that used to be in the mall. You can buy a copy of “Signal Hills Shopping Center.”

Watch Swiszcz read her “Signal Hills Shopping Center” zine.

More Photos

Old photo of the Signal Hills sign from a 2014 Urban Land Institute report.
“World’s Longest Park Bench” at Signal Hills in 1961 (photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

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26 comments

  1. I moved to WSP in 1993, and remember a buffet-style restaurant in Signal Hills, back near the theater. The food was served on large carousels which slowly rotated. The carousels were on the wall between the dining area and kitchen, which made it easy for kitchen staff to keep them filled. Can’t remember the name of the place.

  2. I used to work in Signal Hills Mall at Regis hair Salon in 1988 and Hal’s menswear store. Kinney’s Shoes, Bresslers Ice cream, Woolworths — loved the diner & ate at the counter all the time!

  3. My mother worked at Gruss Bakery on the corner across from Woolworth’s making $.75 per hour. Then worked at Del Farm Grocery that was located down from Penny’s toward Robert Street.

  4. My Mom opened a fashionable women’s boutique called the Byzintine around 1980, it was located next to United Store and Herbergers Dept Store.

  5. Before Herbergers, there was a department store in the mall called Van Arsdales. It was where you went if you wanted something “fancy”!

  6. I worked at the Gingerbread House during the 1980s. It was my first job. Then I worked at United Stores for many years through high school and college.

    1. I loved Ray’s. I remember walking in and being blasted with the smell of (what I assume was) leather and some chemicals. Not sure what that smell was, but I loved it.

  7. I lived in the apartment building on Robert street just south of the strip when I was 2-3yo. I can still see it in the arial pictures. There was a PigglyWiggly grocery store at that end near Robert St. Also a drug store, maybe Snyder’s. I remember getting cigarettes and TV tubes from there with my dad. I also got a three foot doll named Mary from there.

    The post office was next to Penney’s.

    Emporium, the VanArsdelles.

    We moved from the apartments to a house that backed up to Signal Hills. We walked almost every day to the Red Owl to get groceries for dinner.

    I remember being in the barbershop next Red Owl when the newspaper camer out about the tower sniper shooting at UT in Austin TX.

    The bank was Signal Hills Bank. They had hills and smoke rings in their logo. It was my bank until I moved to Texas in 1975.

  8. I worked at VanArdales my First job in cosmetics it was fun. Then Herberhers came in and it was exciting that’s when computers came to the store and it was a huge transaction for so many great memories and people I will never forget ..

  9. Not sure about “Emporium” but before “Herberger’s” it was “Van Arsdell’s” “…
    a complete department store on two floors — connected by a famous escalator (a ride in itself to many children), boasting such departments as Lingerie, Handbags & Hosiery, Sporting Goods, Housewares, Men’s and Women’s Wear, Juniors, Shoes and even a Travel Agency!” For the mall, who doesn’t remember the great “Black Friday” shindigs with hourly specials throughout? This mall is missed!

    1. Yep, they had “Midnight Madness” on Black Friday (Before “Black Friday” was really a thing). The most fun a kiddo could have in WSP. LOL

  10. I had to leave a comment to highlight “KB Toys”. As a kid in the late 80’s and early 90’s I couldn’t let such a monument go unmentioned. All the latest toys and the video game cartridges behind the glass.

    The pizza place between the “Signal 5 Theater” and the Arcade was called “Paul Revere Pizza” and sold pizza by the slice. Four dream stores in a row – Toy store, Arcade, pizza, theater. Then go around the corner and check out the new books, comics, and magazines at “B Dalton”.

    There was also a “Fannie Farmer” candy store I haven’t seen mentioned yet, over by “JC Penny’s”.

  11. Thanks for all the great memories.
    There was a restaurant (sit down, kinda of a nice place) back by Van Arsdales. Anyone able to refresh my memory?

  12. Very cool. Before I was born, my father co-owned the barber shop and eventually part owner in Antonio’s Beauty Salon. After he passed in 1982, my mother worked there and become a co-owner as well. Seems that mall was pivotal to my parents provide a nice, yet modest, life. Very cool.

    1. I have such fun memories. My wonderful friend Sue and I worked at Woolworths behind that food counter and it was fun every single time. Loved it.
      I enjoyed shopping at Bobby Brooks and Van Arsdales and eating at the Shangri-la restaurant. Nummmmmm!!! Still go to the one in N St Paul.

  13. My mom also worked at Gruss Bakery. She didn’t drive so one of her children would drive her. I drove her to Red Owl with her coupons because we had a very tight budget for groceries. I had a huge crush on one of the men in the meat department.

  14. I lived my first 50 years on the “East Side”, but remember getting a ride to, or driving to, Signal Hills. Woolworth’s for holiday shopping. The movie theater. Pier One. Stops at other shops and something to eat. No matter what I needed or wanted, I could do most of my shopping there in half a day! Now I live a mile from Signal Hills and still use the Post Office, dollar store, ice cream shop, T-Mobile, and more.

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