Tanforan over Time

To know our future, we need to understand where we’ve been, and where we are now.


Tanforan has a long and varied history of uses over its life. Originally built in 1899 as a racetrack, it has been used as a detention center, an army airfield, and even a golf course.

The Era of Speed

The 120 acre Tanforan racetrack opens, later bringing auto racing. Louis Paulhan makes the first West Coast flight in 8 minutes in 1910, while Eugene Ely makes the first carrier landing, marking the launch of naval aviation, in 1911.

Detention Center

Tanforan served as a detention center for thousands of Japanese Americans during WWII. The camp was occupied from April 28 to October 13, 1942, a total of 171 days. 8,033 Americans of Japanese ancestry were unjustly incarcerated at Tanforan.

The Tanforan Memorial plaza now permanently honors these individuals and stands as a symbol against future injustice .

A New Way to Shop, and Get Around

After the racetrack was destroyed by fire, The Shops at Tanforan was built on the site and opened in 1971. The San Bruno BART station opened in 2003, when the transit system was extended to Millbrae and the San Francisco International Airport.

The mall underwent a 3-year renovation, and reopened in 2005. Throughout recent years, it’s seen the same decline in condition and usage that has plagued the retail industry as a whole.


The decline of traditional retail has given rise to new opportunities to rethink how we use these spaces. At the same time, our emerging and urgent needs in the community – housing and affordability, local jobs, transportation management, economic stability – have taken center stage in conversations about our future.

Declining Retail

The rise of online shopping, changing consumer preferences, and a global pandemic have resulted in the closure of thousands of shopping malls across the country. The impact of shelter-at-home and other public health restrictions since March 2020 led to the closure of many of Tanforan’s stores, including Sears. More than one-third of U.S. enclosed malls had closed by 2019, and another 25 percent will close in the next 3 to 5 years.

Housing Shortage

California’s housing shortage and its affordability crisis have together generated a need for more local homes in nearly every city in the state. San Bruno is in the process of planning for more than 3,640 homes in the next eight-year cycle as its share of the region’s housing obligation. This planning process, part of the City’s Housing Element, will be completed in early 2023.

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

In 2021, the City of San Bruno embarked on the Reimagining Tanforan effort to help facilitate the creation of a unified plan for the entire 44-acre site, currently known as the Shops at Tanforan, in the hopes of better serving San Bruno’s future needs. The Fact Sheet laid out a vision for a future that supports a diverse mix of uses that includes office, retail, entertainment, and 1,000 housing units.

A new owner for Tanforan

On February 9, 2022, Alexandria Real Estate completed the final of three transactions to secure the entire Tanforan site, and expressed its alignment with the City’s vision.


On October 5, 2022, the City of San Bruno’s Planning Division received a preliminary project application for a mixed-used development to include an innovative life science campus, 1,000 housing units as well as new modernized retail space.

This is our opportunity to meet the changing needs of our community

Provide housing, particularly housing that is affordable

Create a more sustainable and robust economic engine for our City to replace Tanforan as it closes

Take advantage of the opportunity to plan for a 44-acre transit rich site as a new transit hub facilitating connections to Bart and Caltrain and promoting bike and pedestrian access

These are just some ideas

How we get there is up to you. We know what will replace Tanforan will be something for tomorrow, not yesterday. It won’t be a retail center like it was. However, it is currently proposed to retain some important things for our community, including a Target store that will be bigger and better than before, and an upgraded cinema that will feature modern facilities with the upgraded movie going experience of today.

Working together, we can determine the priorities that will shape how this site can better serve our community in the decades ahead. We think that it can still be a place where you can spend time, walking and gathering while adding vitality and vibrancy from the new uses that will be added. It will truly be a place to play, live and work for San Bruno’s current and future residents. And we need your help to get there, please join us.

Tanforan for San Bruno is dedicated to keeping our community informed and soliciting community input – in-person and virtually – throughout the City’s planning process. Elements include this website, for communication and information and virtual participation; a storefront for in-person participation, and a Community Priorities Report to share findings.  This community process will help inform the City as it reviews the preliminary application and will serve as a supplement to the City’s technical analysis, studies and the CEQA review of the project.

Learn more

Preliminary Project Application

View the Preliminary Project Application summary


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Tanforan for San Bruno, dedicated to keeping our community informed of community engagement for the City’s planning process.