Drawing from grand opening ad showing the front of the store with the open-air mall to the left.
A map I made from a 1993 aerial photo. Please feel free to help me make corrections or additions to this map. I am not positive of the location of Saul's, and if this was not Saul's where Kessler's was, what was that originally?
Cobb Center Mall was a major childhood haunt and a place that is still of great fascination to me today. I've posted information about the mall on both Wikipedia and Deadmalls.com about the history of the second oldest mall in Georgia, which completely died in early 2004 when the Rich's there was closed for good. The Rich's there was the fourth in the chain in what would be a major suburban expansion during the 1960's and 1970's. The story of the mall will be told here on the best of my memory as well as what others have told me.
Drawing from grand opening ad showing the base of one of the escalators. The escalators seemed to disappear into the wall going up. The pharmacy in the background is very curious: I never remember one at Rich's
What I do know about Cobb Center aside from its opening on August 15, 1963 is that it was originally an open-air mall built around the Rich's. It had upon opening about 50 planned shops in it, opening with about 35 stores including anchors Woolworth's, Saul's department store and a Colonial Stores supermarket. Davis House Restaurant, later Davis Brothers Cafeteria, would open soon after fronting the mall adjacent to Rich's. Most of the original tenants were originally stores found in downtown Marietta and not chain stores. From the amount of ads in that era, the opening of this mall was a very big deal. It was the first mall in the suburbs outside of Atlanta proper. For the first time, shoppers on the fast-growing northern suburbs were offered an option besides downtown Atlanta or Lenox for better shopping. The problem was, this was the undoing of long-established retail in downtown Marietta.
Looking at the front of the grand Rich's store. The store was built too small for the sheer demand, and was expanded on a one-story addition to the right not long after it was built. The first photo was from November 2003 before it closed and the second was from early 2004.
The early 1970's were the beginning of trouble for Cobb Center. When Cumberland opened in 1973, the mall rushed out to enclose the mall. The enclosure and renovation was completed on November 15, 1973 including a "wonderfall". The original Japanese water garden, however, remained outside surrounded by windows. Grant City, a division of W.T. Grant, would also replace Saul's with a new store at the mall where Saul's had been previously. After W.T. Grant's liquidated in 1976, Kessler's would replace that location. Kessler's was a downtown Atlanta store close to Rich's, and this was the only mall anchor they ever had. The enclosed mall was not hugely successful after Cumberland opened, but maintained a modest amount of A-list tenants throughout the 70's and 80's.
View of the east (main) entrance both with detail of the brickwork and up close. Note the similarities to North DeKalb.
Here are the northeast and north entrances along the one story addition. The bakery was located on the sealed off north entrance.
In 1987, Cobb Center was renovated again for it's 25th anniversary with work completed in early 1988. This time, it got the full 80's treatment and some interest in the mall. The long-closed Davis Brothers Cafeteria (originally Davis House Restaurant) reopened as Howard's restaurant. Originally a bar and grill across from the mall, the restaurant became a full line family restaurant and was initially quite successful. It seemed all through the history of the mall that an outdoor area was maintained in the center court that had been a garden area, but my memories of this are vague. It was located at the southwest corner of Rich's next to the Woolworth's where the south wing went off. That south wing had a Turtle's Records and opened outside to the side of the long-closed Colonial store. The renovation also supposedly included a food court, but I never recall seeing one. The renovation also resulted in a new name: Four Seasons Mall, officially "Four Seasons at Cobb Centre".
The northeast and north entrances as they appeared in November 2003 before the signs were removed.
The problem with the 1987-88 renovation was that the mall was in a very bad position. First, it had never been upgraded enough to become a major shopping mall. Had any major anchor been attracted to the mall during the period after 1972, the mall would have been in a better position. The problem was two-fold: the decline of the neighborhood around it and the opening of Town Center at Cobb to the north. At that point, you had two huge beautiful malls with an enormous amount of stores, all the popular department stores and easy access in the best sides of towns competing with an old, smaller mall nowhere near the interstates in a not-so-nice side of town. There was no hope for Cobb Center.
This sign was put on all the doors right after it closed. These may still be there.
During the early 1990's, Cobb Center slowly withered away. Rich's was converted in that time into a clearance store and the mall began to empty out of tenants. Kessler's closed in the early 1990's (the chain folded in 1995) and the mall had maybe 10 stores left in it. Howard's had moved down to Concord Road by then and the mall had maybe 10 stores including Eckerd (in the old Dunaway Drugs), Friedman's Jewelry, Florsheim Shoes and of course dear old Woolworth's. In 1995, the mall was purchased for redevelopment, and that was the end of Cobb Center.
An overview here of the entire Rich's structure with the one-story addition.
By the spring of 1996, the mall was promptly demolished and redeveloped. Unlike most redevelopments, though, the Rich's was strangely retained and converted into part of the strip mall. All entrances except the front two entrances were sealed off and the stores was completely a clearance center by that time. Publix anchored the new center, built precisely across where the original main mall entrance and Howard's was located. A strip mall was also added to the other side of Rich's, concealing its north entrance. The movie theater withered away and closed during that time as well as the neighborhood began to further deteriorate. The new development was sadly named "Cobb Center".
Last but far from least, a couple interior shots of the store. The first is of the main store, while the other is of the one-story wing. The lights were shut out soon after, and the store became a target of vandals.
In 2004, the Rich's finally closed at Cobb Center. It was the second Rich's to close in the entire history of the chain after Belvedere closed in 1986 and it closed at the same time as Century Plaza in Birmingham. Since 2004, the store has sat vacant and deteriorated awaiting redevelopment. A couple years after it was closed, the store was sold and proposals have been outlandish. Wal-Mart, of course, has this banked as a second site if the Belmont Hills redevelopment failed. Since that is apparently a done deal, the latest plan was to convert the Rich's into a private school. After five years of vacancy, I hope something good happens to it. The site is too sad, and a really depressing tribute to one of the earliest and most uniquely designed malls in Atlanta.
* Updated post from July 1, 2006 *