Santa Monica city leaders, Macerich officials and hundreds of other visitors came out to witness the demolition of the Santa Monica Place sign Thursday, April 17th, marking the end of an era for the indoor mall and the beginning of its redevelopment.

An estimated 500 people attended a ceremony near the mall’s entrance at Third Street and Broadway to see the 1980s-era sign crash down, officially ending the shopping center’s life as an indoor mall.

A life-size building wrap displaying the design of the new open-air Santa Monica Place was unveiled at the ceremony, which included a marching band and confetti.

The demolition launched the expected 18-month process of developing the new open-air mall, which will connect to the Third Street Promenade and downtown Santa Monica when it opens — scheduled for fall 2009.

Macy’s department store will remain open during the construction.

The Frank Gehry-designed Santa Monica Place, which opened in 1980, closed in January for the redevelopment project. Santa Monica-based Macerich, owner of the mall, plans to convert the shopping center into a modern three-level retail and dining destination.

Under the plan, the mall’s food court will be moved from the first floor to a rooftop dining deck, offering views of the ocean.

The design takes the roof off the central portion of the current mall to provide for open-air walkways and spacious public gathering areas, according to Macerich.

Macerich officials said the new design addresses the interests and priorities of Santa Monica residents, who offered input at extensive community meetings.

The new Santa Monica Place is expected to draw shoppers from throughout the region, Macerich officials said.