Friday, September 1, 2006
Cumberland Mall: Smyrna, GA
(1976 center court photo looking towards Davison's with Rich's behind the photographer. Notice the humongous fountain that drops down around the elevator. Also note the maze of walkways on both levels and the saucer that was a third level balcony.)
While basically just another mall today, Cumberland Mall once was a place of greatness...of grandeur beyond all other malls. The photo above pretty much establishes this greatness. Indeed, it was once so successful that people came from other states just to shop at the four-anchor extravaganza that featured Atlanta's own Rich's and Davison's as well as Sears and JCPenney. It was the first four-anchor mall in Georgia and one of the first two-level malls. Though now long-since stripped away, the mall was a showpiece in its time and hastened the death of Cobb Center Mall as well as downtown Marietta.
(Photo above: exterior of the Davison's/Macy's in October 2004)
Cumberland Mall opened on August 8, 1973 to much fanfare. Sears had opened earlier that summer as a sneak preview of the mall. There was nothing like it. When Cumberland Mall opened, the mall was considerably outlandish and downright futuristic looking in every way. The mall featured brown tile floors and glass railing with wood trim. All through the mall were tall trees reaching to the second floor. The center court was an absolute stunning work of art with a gigantic fountain dropping down all around the elevator shaft, filling up much of the center court. Elevated walkways mazed around this on both levels with concrete pilings holding up dish-like platforms. Above the elevator (which featured a typical dark brown door) was a third-level balcony surrounded by plants and flowers. A winding staircase connected the maze of walkways with the balcony for even greater affect. This wonderland was dividing Rich's and Davison's.
(Rich's mall entrance, mall entrance close-up and exterior shot in Fall 2004)
Rich's at the mall featured the waving glass panes between the entrances with a side panel featuring the lit-up sign. This feature was one of the very last to survive in later years. Across the way, Davison's was surrounded by a solid black entrance providing stark contrast to the blue sign and lit up stylized "D" next to the door. Skylights above lit up this land of confusion in the day. Sears also was into the Kodachrome (actually a hit the year the mall opened) with a red sign in the older all-caps serif font. It was an eery, sinister kind of beauty that was only found in the 60's and 70's.
Cumberland also featured much of the popular chains of the era including some local establishments. Some of the stores in the mall included Muse's, Lerner New York, Circus World toys, Radio Shack, Jarman (still in the mall) and over 100 stores. One of the most interesting features of the mall was the German-themed Piccadilly Cafeteria whose interior design was dark, moody and downright fascinating with much elegant detail. It was one of the most popular of such cafeterias with two serving lines and an enormous amount of business. It was on the JCPenney end and featured a Baskin Robbins next door, a McDonald's across the walkway, a Magic Pan restaurant adjacent and a popular local restaurant, Cashin's, opposite. Cashin's also was on an upper level and was built above the main mall with stairs on both sides so that you could see the mall below from that level.
It is difficult to describe the ambience and experience of Cumberland Mall, because this was all largely stripped away in a 1989 renovation. The fantastic center court was dismantled (shown in a postcard here), Piccadilly was closed and replaced with an athletic shoe store, the trees were replaced with kiosks and much of the popular stores were replaced with lower end chains. It was such a loss that people who came back years later noted that the mall once seemed much bigger. By then, the mall had shifted from a superregional showplace to a more local mall that had less and less to offer with other newer, bigger, brighter malls around, and malls itself were becoming less and less appealing.
(JCPenney mall entrance and exterior shot taken in Fall 2004 and Winter 2005).
The 1990's were remarkably favorable to Cumberland, however...mostly due to the tremendous office development near it and its easily accessable location off of I-285. Aside from the change of Davison's to Macy's in 1986, the mall retained all of its original anchors and continued to prosper at a reduced level...until 2003. It was in 2003 that drastic action became obvious when the Davison's/Macy's, once nice and now looking extremely outlandish and dated, was closed in a merger with Rich's. Two years later, redevelopment plans were set. Davison's was demolished and the equally outlandish JCPenney was also closed and demolished. The former Davison's location would become a grand new mall entrance with new shops and restaurants in a "lifestyle" format while the former JCPenney would become a Costco. Similarly, the mall would see its first renovation in over 15 years. With completion scheduled in 2006, the plan is to keep a mall that has seen its better days viable and even revive a bit.
(Center court area as it looked from 1989 to the present renovation. Most of what is here has been stripped away and completely overhauled. Photo taken Fall 2004.)
Still, as the photos here show, while the changes will be good for the mall they pale in comparison to the days when Cumberland Mall was for awhile a king of Atlanta retailing.