Monday, January 6, 2014

Regency Mall (Part 3): Augusta, GA

One thing I never expected was that 10 years after my first visit to the boarded up Regency Mall that I would have somehow obtained photos of the inside of that mall.  Also, I never expected that I would not only still be discussing it, but discussing it with quite a few people that are even more passionate about it than me.  Considering that, I was not originally planning to write a third post for Regency Mall, but interest has definitely soared since the first two posts about the mall.  Since then I have been sent additional information about the mall as well as tons of images that I will be sharing here largely from happier times.  Best of all, the mall and this blog has been featured in a "Metro Spirit" article detailing how the photos that grace the first two posts made it to this site where one of the four photographers of the mall has chosen to come forward to detail his experience.  As someone who deliberately avoids the spotlight, the attention that this has gotten is a bit awkward for me, but that's why I write.  I explain things a lot better when I am hidden behind a faceless screen.  That was the case for Regency as well: a mystery hidden behind a white brick monstrosity that those photos brought to light.  The best way to discover those mysteries, though, is through clues from the beginning when Regency was a brand new mall full of possibilities instead of a depressing reminder of the blind optimism of the 70's and 80's.

Since the first two posts, I have been given additional information and images submitted to me by Alaska Jill originating from The Augusta Chronicle that was important but left out due to lack of previous knowledge.  Most of that information is about the anchor stores.  First, the first anchor to open was Montgomery Ward with 136,000 square feet of retail space (1).  Montgomery Ward was the second of only three modern mall stores to open in the state.  The chain originally had a larger presence in the state but had closed its original stores located in downtown areas across the state years before.  Next, Cullum's opened in late 1978 with 28,000 square feet apparently originally planned as an inline tenant but expanded late in the process.  It costed $1.5 million and was originally supposed to supplement, not replace the downtown store that ultimately closed for the store.  Signature features of the Cullum's were a winding staircase and greenhouse with plants with floor to ceiling, both meant to highlight its elegance.  It followed the opening of a store at Washington and Davis Roads called "Cullum's West Town" in Martinez and a store that opened at National Hills Shopping Center prior to that (2).  Last, Belk Howard relocated to the mall from two stores that subsequently closed.  These stores were in downtown and at Southgate Plaza.  Southgate is located here:   The Belk store at the mall was particularly large at over 167,000 square feet.  The downtown store actually closed prior to the completion of the location at the mall suggesting that closing the downtown store was very high priority for reasons unknown.  Daniel Village and North Augusta also had stores at the time.  Daniel Village would close later, converting to a JB White furniture store, but North Augusta remains open today as the only remaining Belk in the Augusta market.  A fourth store was also planned in Augusta, but it was never built probably due to the lack of profitability of the Regency store (3).

The first image is a rendering of the mall, which showed a far more detailed center architecturally.  Only the Cullum's remained as planned.  The image shows additional skylights, a more elaborate Wards, greenhouse entrance canopies at JB White, a rotunda at Belk and the never-built JCPenney.  I guess either the size of the mall or the decisions of the department store anchors dumbed down this design.  The second two images are of the theater.  When the General Cinema theater opened, the movies shown at the premier were "The Driver" starring Ryan O'Neal, "Foul Play" starring Goldie Haun and Chevy Chase and Disney's "The Jungle Book".  The first image was submitted by C. Lewis with the second two submitted by Alaska Jill.

Regency Mall's original logo was never updated.  It was still present in the mall long after it had closed.  Image by C. Lewis.

The DeBartolo corporation was on a mall building boom at the time that Regency opened, and Regency was unfortunately like many others they built: an ill-conceived mall that came out of arrogance more than need opening in saturated markets or sub-par locations a few years prior to a huge wave of department store closures and consolidation.  At the time it was built, Regency should have been built on the opposite side of Augusta closer to Martinez or North Augusta, but instead DeBartolo wanted to go head-to-head in an area already showing signs of decline thinking apparently that a different anchor line-up would be enough to sustain two very large malls in a relatively small city.  Most malls built in smaller cities in that time span tended to be on one level and about half the amount of square footage that Regency had.  DeBartolo malls that opened around the same time included Cutler Ridge Mall in Miami and the now-dying Century III Mall in Pittsburgh.  Even their signature Randall Park Mall closed a few years ago.

Alaska Jill kindly sent me this detailed map of the lower and upper levels of the mall when the mall opened in 1978.  The information was from an ad that included a directory of stores, but she polished it up by putting the names of the stores on the actual stores.  Thanks for your hard work!

It was noted when the photos were taken for Sky City that the mall directories were missing.  I suspect that the teenagers that got into the mall prior to this set of photos took more than pictures and left more than footprints.  This directory showed up in a flea market for sale.  The directory dates the late 90's during the final days of the mall after Belk and Upton's had left.  This dates the directory to around 1997 or 1998.  The images of it were sent to me by Jacob B.

One reason that Regency Mall fell so hard was that the mall never seemed to attract many Mom and Pop tenants.  It seems that when the chain stores got out of their leases that nobody came along to replace them.  The mall never truly became an urban mall, and much of this is that the amount of crime and the low income levels in the area were just too much for a mall this big.  If the mall had been a single story or much smaller mall it might have survived, but the rents were probably just too high. 

When the mall closed, four tenants remained.  These were most likely Foot Locker, Piccadilly Cafeteria, GNC and the Richmond County Substation (which left a couple years ago).

The woes of owning an abandoned mall is that it's very big, very plain, very creepy and really drags down the neighborhood around it.  Add decay to concrete-heavy brutalist architecture and it looks beyond apocalyptic.  That's the issue Cardinale Entities has faced as it has been threatened repeatedly by the city for keeping a giant abandoned eyesore and fire hazard standing in South Augusta.  Cardinale Entities, fronted by Mark Axler, purchased the mall in an auction in July 2002 and has owned the mall ever since (4).  Despite much of the mall being completely locked up, it was proven after these photos were taken by a local TV station that entering the mall was still possible.  This also meant that someone entering the mall could become trapped if a fire broke out.  This led to the city forcing the owners to either fix the fire code violations or strip the mall down to the point where nothing was flammable in the mall.  The owners took the latter option.  In 2013, work commenced to gut the mall.

Here is an artist rendering of the interior of the Belk with the terraced ceiling.  This was quite elegant for 1979.  Likely the delay of the store opening is why the design got changed.  This was part of a piece called "The Belk Story" that mentioned that the stores were indeed Belk-Howard.  This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

From a trade publication at the time was this rendering of the Belk store.  This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

While previously published, this is the full ad and drawing of the Cullum's featuring the two levels of plants and greenhouse.  The first image showed that this sloped greenhouse entrance was also originally planned for the JB White.  This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

Here is a rendering of the JB White showing the rather basic prototype design that Mercantile stores decided on.  This was an unfortunate design for the flagship store and replacement of the historical downtown store.  Fortunately, the store that replaced this at Augusta Mall was far more elegant and worthy of flagship status.  At least with this store closing in 1998, it kept the JB White logo on the mall entrance.  The Augusta Mall store was only JB White a short time before becoming Dillard's.  This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

Rendering of the Wards prior to opening.  Despite the troubles with the mall and the company, this store seemed to be profitable for the company nearly outlasting the mall itself.  It was more appropriate for the immediate area than JB White and Belk and it drew from a much larger trade area than the other two stores since only three Wards stores ever opened in the state.   This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

The time has indeed come...and gone.  Alaska Jill sent me this scan showing the poignant clock that went from a cheery 9:45 AM to the cynical 4:20 PM in later images.

The unfortunate aspect of gutting the mall is that the relic-filled 1978 time piece is now just be a big empty building in the shape of mall with cinder blocks horrifyingly blockading all the entrances.  At this point, there is no reason to keep the building standing since there is little potential reuse of the structure.  The problem is, the owners jacked up the price when the city offered to buy the structure in order to demolish it.  Apparently, Cardinale Entities still has some idea of what they want to do with the property, but it's unclear what that is.  The view taken by the city and most people, though, is that they want to do nothing.  Still, why would they hold onto a huge chunk of real estate like that costing them a big tax bill every year that produces exactly zero profits?  As it stands, the mall is worth considerably less than what it would cost to tear it down.  Nobody really knows, but we at Sky City are elated to have captured so much of the mall before what remained was lost.

The newspaper scans do not do justice for early interior photos, but they show a mall when it was open for business.  The first image shows a lost design element on the column in center court, the third is an architectural rendering and the fifth image shows the interior of the JB White housewares department.  The images otherwise already have captions.  All images submitted by Alaska Jill.

In all, there is absolutely no future in Regency as a retail mall.  It is not a beautiful building nor is there a need for a building this size in that area anymore with the decline of the neighborhood, poor location and overall crash of commercial real estate all over the country.  Being far from a historical area, the area is not likely to be gentrified either although some of the site may eventually be of interest to retailers (such as Wal-Mart) meaning that some of the structures may be demolished.  The structure is even too large for a mega-church, too ugly for housing, too impractical for government offices, but it could possibly function as a factory given that the U.S. was actually producing much of anything anymore.  Even if the neighborhood gentrified, this would not be enough to make stores want to repopulate to an out-of-the-way locale in a city that hasn't grown very much in years.  At this point, the best use of the property is to demolish the structure and vast parking lots and either turn it into a park or turn it back to nature.  Once this building is demolished, this will help Augusta focus on the rest of the corridor around it that has also deteriorated since the mall closed.  If Augusta needs another mall, it is definitely not here.

Cruel irony knows no bounds.  Submitted by Alaska Jill.

A collection of grand opening ads for various stores in the mall.  Most of these stores listed here are long gone.  Hardy Shoes is very appropriate considering the visible remains of one of those stores in the infamous Dixie Square Mall.  All submitted by Alaska Jill.

Yes, children, O.J. Simpson was once known for something besides a car chase in a Bronco, an ill-fitting glove and a murdered blond wife.  He was quite the sports hero in the 70's and 80's.  Submitted by Alaska Jill.

And speaking of O.J., you could find Orange Julius at Regency Mall every day in the 70's.  Submitted by Alaska Jill.

Typical of 70's malls, the downtown department stores and specialty shops moved into the mall in a desperate attempt to survive.  Most failed in this move.  Ruben's, however, did not open a full anchor-sized department store like Cullum's did instead becoming an inline tenant near Belk.  While they have long since closed their store at the mall, they survive downtown as a specialty department store emphasizing customer service as well as stocking hard-to-find sizes and styles. 

Coles books morphed into what we know today as Barnes & Noble in the late 1990's.  Along with B. Dalton, both had a location at the mall in the prosperous years.  Once again, the owners are lying about just how safe this mall is.  Apparently they already realized they had put the mall in the wrong spot and were attempting to reassure people that it would not be an issue.

Disco fever was still pumping out funky beats when the mall opened.  Silverman's was there to outfit you for the club.  However, "Stayin' Alive" was what mall patrons ended up doing instead of 20 somethings in the disco.

Since writing the first two posts, the interest in this mall has led to a generous helping of submissions to me of various photos and artifacts from the mall's history.  Unlike the last two posts, this post focuses more on the historical aspects of the mall.  Items submitted are old newspaper scans, directories, architectural photos and a few photos of the mall.  For me personally, I would rather see pictures and information about the mall when it looks clean and new, is full of stores and full of happy shoppers, so this is one of the more enjoyable posts of the series presenting the mall when it was part of a big dream instead of a depressing reality.  While this post was never originally planned, it is being added because of the huge interest, efforts and requests of so many of you.  I would appreciate any further images that show this mall when it was open and still viable, and if submitted I will add them to this post.  Popular demand is why I am adding this addendum to my two part series about one of the most infamous dead malls in the United States.

These are some of the photos taken by Virginia K Cailleteau showing a much more grim scene as the owners were in the process of gutting the entire mall in order to bring it to fire code.  The first shows the Belk center court, which looks far less glamorous than the prior image.

Two photos of the main mall being gutted leaving nothing recognizable except for the stage and skylights.

Time stood still for over a decade, but it seems that the clock was again changed by some demolition worker.

A dry fountain sits free of garbage and debris.

Images of the theater, which no longer give an indication of its past as a three-screen movie house other than the oddly-placed steps.

Montgomery Ward escalators, lower level.

Montgomery Ward escalators, lower level.  

JB White lower level and escalators

JB White lower level escalators.

Wards has been stripped of its signature burnt orange tiles leaving nothing but a vague impression.  Since the completing of the interior demolition, the exterior entrances to the department stores and mall have been walled off with cinder blocks making entry and escape impossible.  Time will tell if this steel and concrete tomb gets demolished for good or turned into something useful.  With the movie studio idea obviously killed, I guess the only hope now is mixed use or industrial.


(1) Sorrells, John. "Montgomery Ward to lead mall opening".  Augusta Chronicle.  July 20, 1978
(2) Stanfield, Frank.  "Cullum's will locate store in Regency Mall".  Augusta Chronicle.  March 3, 1978.
(3) Sorrells, John. "Belk to close 2 stores, build new one in mall".  Augusta Chronicle.  January 14, 1978.
(4) Eckenrode, Vicky. "Mall purchase stirs hope".  Augusta Chronicle.  July 31, 2002.


Links to the first two Regency Mall posts: Part 1 Part 2
If you would like to submit additional images for these posts, please contact me at
Fans of Regency Mall can join the discussion in the Facebook group.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fairfield Commons Mall/Eastgate Mall: Richmond, VA

Eastgate Mall, now Fairfield Commons Mall, opened on the east side of Richmond in unincorporated Henrico County in 1967.  Recently, it became Richmond's oldest enclosed mall since Willow Lawn shopping center demolished what remained of their mall part in 2011.  Unfortunately, this is a dubious distinction since the mall itself is barely hanging on as a retail center with much of the property in disrepair.  In fact, it is probably one of the most run down malls I have seen to keep as many inline tenants as it has and remain open to the public.  Unfortunately, the small size and condition of the mall is not leading to any plans to keep it open, renovate or expand on it in its current form.  Instead, it was announced in June 2012 that an Arizona developer named Bromont Investments was planning to demolish the mall and replace it with a strip including an unmentioned 90,000 square feet tenant (1).

Eastgate Mall when it opened was not a showy mall.  It was a basic one-level T-shaped mall anchored on the east end by regional chain Thalhimer's and on the west end by Sears.  In the middle was junior anchor G.C. Murphy's.  The mall also appeared to have a People's Drug, which is currently the Citi Trends space and a cafeteria, likely a Morrison's or local chain.  Both have outside entrances with the former next to the former Sears and the latter near what was Thalhimer's.  G.C. Murphy's was also designed with an outside entrance to the back of the mall.  The mall was never expanded at any point in its history, and near the mall on the east end is the remains of what appears to be a grocery store built as part of the development.  It is not known what store it was, however.

By far, the most interesting aspect of the mall is the Maxway, which originally opened as G.C. Murphy's and still retains the "M" from when it was Murphy's.  A find like this, especially in a mall, this recent is rare indeed and proves that the days of the mall are definitely numbered.

Here are a couple other angles of the Murphy's turned McCrory's turned Maxway (keeping with the M theme).  The last close-up shot of the "M" and tile was taken by Mike Kalasnik, who was touring with us that day.

More shots of the vintage Murphy's including some inside detail by Mike Kalasnik 

Murphy's also included an outside entrance on the back side of the mall.  As this and the following shots will show, the outside of the mall is extremely weathered and looks almost abandoned.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

The ability of Fairfield Commons Mall to survive as long as it has is really what is remarkable.  It was renamed Fairfield Commons from the more generic Eastgate name in 1989, and its last remodel was in 1990 (1).  Across the city, far more appealing options have since replaced the aging center, and the mall was largely supplanted in 1991 by the now struggling Virginia Center Commons to the west.  Fairfield Commons lost Sears to the newer mall, and a year later Thalhimer's closed at the mall when the chain was bought out by May Company with most stores becoming Hecht's.  However, Peeble's took over the former Thalhimer's the following year keeping at least one department store operating in the mall.  This move by Peeble's essentially saved the mall from closure along with the continued operation of long-time tenant G.C. Murphy, which remained in the center until 2001.  G.C. Murphy became a division of McCrory's, but apparently the location keep the name on the door through acquisitions by Ames in 1988 and McCrory's in 1989 up until the liquidation of the McCrory's corporation.  It has since operated as Maxway, a division of Variety Wholesalers who also owns the Rose's chain.  Essentially, the mall has shifted in the past two decades from a  small regional shopping mall to a struggling community mall in a lower-income neighborhood.

A look down the straight-shot mall corridor.  Evidence of water damage is plentiful throughout the mall.  This is a problem with enclosed malls is that high rents are needed to maintain the building.  A mall can appear to be doing okay tenant-wise, but when the rents are too low to maintain the building a decision must be made whether to close the mall, take a risk on massive renovations or raise rents, which in a mall like this will cause the mall to die anyway.  Absent public funding, renovating an enclosed mall in a low income neighborhood is typically not practical.  A massive renovation is planned: it just doesn't include a mall.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Front entrance wing looking towards the main mall with Maxway in the background.

More detail of the front entrance wing.

Peebles, originally Thalhimers, mall entrance.  Here is how it looked originally.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Another view of the Peebles mall entrance with what appears to be an old cafeteria on the left.  The space has since been subdivided.

The mall as it stands has been owned since 1996 by local developer Albert Chiocca, who originally acquired the mall for $2.9 million (1).  While the interior of the mall is very clean, the fact that the owners of the mall have given up on the property as an enclosed mall is apparent.  On the exterior, paint is peeling everywhere and signs are falling apart.  Only the Peebles still looks nice, and the building there is in excellent condition inside and out.  Inside, water damage is visible in many places notably in center court and next to Sears.  While it appears the leaks that caused the damage were repaired, the interior damage has not.  The main entrance stucco is also crumbling and buckled, and the parking lot is in poor condition with weeds, overgrown shrubbery and broken pavement.  In some ways, the mall looks abandoned even though it is still viable.

Looking towards the former Sears with Maxway on the left

What was this obvious original cafeteria space?  Morrison's?

A nice view of the mall with fellow photographer Mike K walking on the left :)

Former Sears mall entrance now hidden because of the storage facility that took its place.  Wouldn't it help business though to have a mall entrance to the front office for it?  The door to the right was another entrance corridor that was apparently sealed off.

A view of the skylights and water damage.

The mall inside contains many elements reminiscent of its age.  Many storefronts still maintain a 1970's appearance, and what is most striking is the Maxway, which has wood paneling and the oddly appropriate "M" left over from when the chain was G.C. Murphy.  This is an extremely vintage trapping that is rarely found today in any retail center.  The mall is also on a slight incline with a ramp and steps down to Peeble's and a ramp and steps up to the former Sears, which now operates as "Ample Storage".  Ample Storage has no access to the mall.  Curiously, the outside doors of what was Sears have been replaced with large garage doors.  The former Sears auto center now operates as a charity.  Across the street, the last Kmart in Richmond still serves shoppers in the declining area that was still a hot corridor in the 1980's.  Probably the newest building in the area is the Bojangles located on an outlot of the mall.

Doors at rear entrance wing next to Sears with a remainder of the original Sears wall still visible.

A look back at the mall from Sears.  There is a ramp up in front of Sears and a ramp down in front of Peeble's/Thalhimer's.

In all, I wish there was a way that this whole property could be redeveloped while keeping the mall, but realistically the mall has survived way past its usefulness and purpose.  No retail anchor has come to fill the Sears void in over two decades, and Peeble's rarely anchors or complements malls.  Maxway is typically viewed by residents of urban neighborhoods in a similar fashion to Family Dollar and Dollar General as blight, and it hardly provides the draw that G.C. Murphy once did.  The mall still has moderately high vacancies, though clearly it is doing far better than many similar malls of this size and vintage.

A shot of the pegboard wall inside Maxway that clearly dates to when the store opened.

Inside, the store contained these gems: McCrory's shopping baskets!  Apparently Maxway saw no need to hide what they were before.  Ironically, this store did not appear to ever be actually signed as McCrory's.

Does anybody know what this used to be?  It looks classy.

A step up outside of Peeble's.  A step down from what it used to be.

A blurry shot of the entrance wing next to Peeble's featuring Kmart's #1 Fan.

The push to redevelop the mall is also part of a plan to redevelop the whole Nine Mile Road (VA 33) corridor, which the mall is situated on.  In 2008, a nearby huge development known as White Oak Village opened attracting big name tenants like JCPenney, Ukrop's (now Martin's), Target and Lowe's.  A similar smaller plan is envisioned for the mall, except that the redevelopment will keep successful mall tenants such as Peeble's, Citi Trends, Foot Locker and GNC.  However, no mention was made if Maxway will also join the new development.  The mall itself is plain and unattractive architecturally on the outside, and the entire property is dragging down the rest of the area.  In addition, the success rate of keeping enclosed mall portions as part of redevelopments has also been poor as evidenced by Willow Lawn removing the remaining enclosed mall portion a few years after the first redevelopment of the center.  Considering all of this, I hope that the redevelopment works out well and helps to improve the neighborhood although I do hate to see another vintage retail mall get demolished.

Rear entrance next to what was Sears.  Does anybody have any idea what that store was to the right?  It doesn't appear that it ever had mall access.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Peeble's, formerly Thalhimer's.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Closed-off back entrance of Peeble's/Thalhimer's.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Ample Storage in an ample-sized old Sears.  Apparently the old entrances weren't ample, though, considering they replaced them with garage doors.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.

Intact Sears entrance followed by side view of Sears Auto Center.  This store bears a striking resemblance to the Sears at Houston Mall in Warner Robins, GA.  Photos by Mike Kalasnik.

Front of the Sears Auto Center, now a thrift store.  Yes, this street has seen better days.

Citi Trends on what was likely Peoples or Dart Drug has both a mall and outside entrance.  The old Sears is in the background.  Photo by Mike Kalasnik.  

Outside of narrow mall entrance corridor next to Peeble's.

I really can't tell what this grocery store is, but I tend to wonder if it was either Giant or Safeway considered both were in the market during the time the mall was built.

The main entrance got a teal green and stucco update in 1989.  If you look closely in the photo, the stucco is pretty damaged.  

Fairfield Commons Mall sign from the road.  The owners are looking at this and saying "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Mall)" thinking it's too Funkadelic.

1.  Llovia, L. (2012, June 14).  Henrico's Fairfield Commons could be razed for center.  Richmond Times-Dispatch.