Monday, July 10, 2006

Columbia/Avondale Mall: Decatur, GA


Georgia Retail Memories was the second site to bring you detailed online information about the then-abandoned Columbia Mall, known in later years as Avondale Mall as well as a few interesting pics not available previously. After my post, a few other people took pics after I did. One person actually managed to get inside to get a few angles I couldn't. Perhaps I should have tipped the security guard that day to get an "inside" tour that had been free only a couple years before I got those pics. "Discovered" abandoned malls tend to become viral on the web these days.


A short version of the history of that center was that the mall was opened in 1964 soon after its anchors were opened. Story is that the anchors were built with just an open area of dirt inbetween which was later filled by the one-story center with only one entrance. The original anchors to the mall were Davison's and Sears and it was the first enclosed mall in Georgia. General decline of the area enhanced by white flight and competition from other malls killed the center and it started faltering in the late 1970's. Sears first left in 1984 with the store serving as a Sears Budget Store for a short while after. Davison's also operated a clearance center in the mall in that time.

In 1985, Columbia Mall was renovated. Following this, the mall was given its new name it would have the remainder of its life: Avondale Mall. Unfortunately, the renovation did absolutely nothing to save the mall. The problem with Columbia Mall was not as much the neighborhood as it was just too close to the other malls and too far from the interstates. Columbia had never fully recovered from the opening of Northlake Mall, and Rich's across the street left Belvedere Plaza on January 15th of the following year as the neighborhood declined just enough to remove justification of having three Rich's stores that close together. Later on, Davison's closed there as a Macy's Clearance store in early 1992. By that time, the mall struggled, reinvented itself and languished until it finally died quietly in December 2001.


With no anchors, the mall struggled the best it could. A 16 screen movie theater was added into the old Davison's. The mall itself was expanded into the old Sears, including a short-lived Goody's. The mall's outside entrances of all of its front facing stores kept the mall viable as a semi-strip mall until the end. Then it sat vacant: until Wal-Mart was interested in the site. Wal-Mart had bought and planned demolition as early as 2004, but the project was delayed due to community opposition being planned on the site of the mall. Local residents saw better uses for the place then another smiley-faced monstrocity that in time would leave something much more unsightly vacant than an empty mall standing as a curious monument to 1960's architecture combined with some 90's uglification.

In spring of 2007, Columbia/Avondale Mall was torn apart with cranes and wrecking balls to be replaced with a forgettable box. County leaders hailed the project as a success, because no community wants to be stuck with a rotting, abandoned mall. While the Wal-Mart was good for the short term revitalization efforts of the area, a discount store is hardly a realistic tool for neighborhood revitalization. Nevertheless, the store was badly needed as the neighborhood had a huge shortage of discount stores as well as other retail. It is hoped that at least the store will have a positive effect on Belvedere Plaza.



The photos here feature the inside of the main mall entrance, Avondale Cinema sign (which opened in the old Davison's), looking inside the old Sears (part of the mall later), overall view with Davison's in the background and lastly the old Sears.

17 comments:

  1. What a waste. I do remember vividly passing by that mall in 1986 and seeing that funky Macy's

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  2. Those interior pictures are awesome.

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  3. Ah, I can remember going there as a kid in the early 70s with my granddad, who lived just behind there in Avondale Estates. They had the only ice cream shoppe around.

    I agree with the locals. Another stupidcenter just won't do.

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  4. Story in todays Atlanta Journal about the ensuing demolition of the five-year-abandoned Avondale Mall. Residents in the nearby Avondale Estates neighborhood are concerned about the potential mass scurrying of rats from the oncoming wreckage into their neighborhood.

    The real sad news is the fact that Wal-Mart is tearing down the mall in order to build ...yep, a Smiley-face SuperCenter.

    I never shopped at Avondale Mall (Perimeter, Northlake and later Gwinnett were the malls of my youth, with Mall of GA and NorthPoint my malls of the present) but I always hate to see the abandonment and destruction of old malls and theatres that were once filled with life.

    Here's are a couple of links to recent articles about the demolition of Avondale mall.

    http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2007/02/20/0221metrats.html

    http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2007/02/12/0213metavondale.html

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  5. I can't believe it's finally gone and just a pile of rubble remains in its wake. I have a fascination with dead malls, and your interior pictures sent a shiver up my spine. Good work!

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  6. I actually live dirctly to the left of the mall site. I see the side of the new WalMart from my kitchen window and we have watched it come down bit by bit/day by day.
    It was a pitiful site.

    I hate to admit it but, It looks better now than it did. At night,
    the lights from the parking lot add a bit of safety that we didn't have before.
    Ie: Like when my back fence was jumped, my shed was broken into, and my lawnmower and Mountain bike were stolen. GROWL!

    Also, Alot of the drug dealers that we normally see "conducting buisness" behind the smaller surrounding buisnesses have started to vanish.

    So, as much as I am not a fan of WalMart, I do hope that it lures better buisness to this area. I have my fingers crossed. Thanks for the great pics and memories.

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  7. When this mall opened, I was a young child living nearby on the corner of Midway and Oldfield. I have some vague memories of shopping there and *really* enjoyed the memory jog these photos gave me.

    I have recently moved back to the area, and am very glad there's a WalMart there - I can't see why there was opposition to it opening here. I would certainly like to hear from the former opponents - what of their fears have materialized???

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  8. It wasn't that it was Wal-Mart that they opposed so much as having Wal-Mart THERE. They wanted something nicer there...something either like a small lifestyle center, upscale housing or something else upscale built on the architectural design of Avondale Estates. Remember that was before the real estate crash during the peak of the gentrification era. Considering how this all went, this is unfortunately the best use of the property.

    However, unlike the mall that stood there 42 years, Wal-Mart offers nothing unique and has no distinct character to bring to the area. People also fear that the store will ultimately be abandoned in the future, bringing far greater blight to the area than a classic mid-century mall. I only wish I could have seen it when Belvedere had Rich's and Columbia Mall was vibrant featuring a big blue sign on Davison's.

    Overall, just like downtowns, I think the remaining first generation classic shopping centers should be saved and preferably maintained to some historic standard that still exist. Many are small enough that they could be viable through careful and proper management. So funny how a call center, outlet mall or community mall were never really considered even though malls of that vintage have done this successfully. That is why I was not happy to see it go despite its grim reality as a mall that nobody liked anymore.

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  9. I well remember going to Belvedere Mall with my family in 1972- when we first arrived in GA. The Sears electronics dept. allowed me the very first glimpse of a video tape recorder! And camera! In 1972 for heaven's sake! Called 'Cartrivision' system and sold by Sears, it offered Hollywood movies for rent by mail and you could make your own home videos- almost 40 yrs ago! http://www.angelfire.com/alt/cartrivision/index.html It was still the tail end of the 'Jetson's' era of moonflights and the grocery stores and malls of the time had that 'mod' look to them. Fond memories of Belvedere Mall.

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  10. I also mourn the loss of 1960s architecture (my personal favorites are the extremely distinctive fast-food restaurants of that decade: McDonald's, Arby's, Burger King, etc.), but as of May 2011, it's hard to argue with the commercial success of Wal*Mart in a location that had languished for 20 years and had been closed and vacant for seven. A living, active shopping mall, peripheral retail shops and the ensuing tax revenue have helped improve the area drastically.

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  11. They shouldn't have torn down this mall. It was an important part of retail history.

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  12. Wasn't there some sort of mosuleum out in the front parking lot? What happened to that?

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  13. It's the Crowley family's Mausoleum and yes it's still there in the parking lot!

    You can read more about it @
    http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/CROLEY/2007-01/1168226222

    Interesting family, interesting property.

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  14. does anyone remember what store was in the Columbia Mall around 1967? I am thinking it was either walgreens or maybe woolworths. I worked there one summer

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  15. I visited this site on November 6, 2011 and the Crowley Mausoleum is GONE!!! I grew up in Belvedere and riding my bicycle to Columbia Mall in the late 60's was such a treat. It makes me angry that Wal-Mart has erased the Mausoleum - this is just wrong!

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    1. The mausoleum is still there as of Sept. of 2013, it is hidden behind an auto parts store and surrounded by many trees.

      Stan Hill

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  16. that store was called Drug Emporium .. I grew up in dekalb county in 1976 and went to Towers High.. I remember the richs in belverdere and also the Belvedere dollar Theatre. it was wonderful back then to grow up in dekalb county, but now, I wouldnt want to be in that area. times have change and people have no respect as they do not teach there kids.

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