Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Village Mall: Cleveland, TN (2nd Update 09/07/09)

On July 4, 2005, I was driving through Cleveland, TN and discovered what was obviously the most well-preserved specimen of a mid-1960's open-air mall that I had found. Obviously I was excited, because I did not believe any 1960's open-air malls even still existed. I soon found that was far from the truth, but Village Mall was the first I have seen that actually functioned as a major shopping mall even though it had long since retired that function by the time I had arrived.

Noticing how spectacular this little mall was, I came back to take generous photographs of this beautiful place, which I most recently did in September 2009, almost three years from when I took the original photos. While somewhat modified today with contemporary stucco touches, I realized that the mall overall was a literal living museum of 1960's architecture with numerous strips and stores surrounding the mall that also were never updated. This seems to be typical in East Tennessee while it has become extremely rare in Georgia. The remarkable amount of unaltered mid-century architecture is one of the things that really makes driving in East Tennessee enjoyable, especially Cleveland.

This store was 100% original. What was it?

Looking south along the mall towards Watson's former location. The former Parks-Belk entrance and the Swiss Alley come off to the left there somewhere. Exploring this will require another trip since I was pressed for time.

A little further down and closer to former Watson's, today the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce.

The entrance with the swiss-like roof is just before the entrance to Swiss Alley. An identical entrance to this is found in the alley, and that is also being used as office space as I found when curious workers watched me go by, camera in hand.

The mall entrance to Watson's, today the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce. It is rather fitting that they are a tenant in the mall that they undoubtably helped save.

From what I understood, Village Mall opened in the mid-1960's with anchors Miller's, Parks-Belk, SS Kresge, Watson's grocery store and an underground bowling alley located in the center of the mall. The mall features a main covered, but open-air corridor and one enclosed side wing off the east side of the mall. Parks-Belk took up one side of that wing and also part of the main mall. The mall held its own serving the small city until the late 1970's when Cleveland Mall opened with anchors Sears, JCPenney and Rose's. While the two malls competed, they also complimented each other. This was similar to what happened in Huntsville during the 1970's where small malls in the city had different anchors and different offerings to compliment each other. Both Village Mall and Clevaland Mall remained successful in the 70's and 80's, but this all came crashing to a halt when Bradley Square opened in 1991.

Former Miller's/Hess's mall entrance. Now an entrance to Jones Finance.

Former Parks-Belk entrance from main mall. This entrance made up the entire side of the mall between Miller's and the Swiss Alley entrance.

Entrance to the Swiss Alley. This portion of the mall is enclosed, but it is not known if this was always the case.

Bradley Square offered what neither could offer fully: all favorite department stores in one mall, a contemporary design, better location, climate control that Village Mall did not offer and amenities such as a food court. Village Mall had absolutely no hope of competing as 1960's architecture was drastically out-of-style in the 1990's. After Bradley Square opened, they stole all the anchors from both Cleveland and Village Malls except Rose's (Cleveland) and Parks-Belk (Village). Cleveland Mall eventually closed and became Life Care Centers of America. Village Mall, however, limped on anchorless until it was recently partially redeveloped into an office-type specialty mall. Parks-Belk held out until they were bought out in 1995, and Hess's, which bought out Miller's in 1987, quickly vacated the mall when Bradley Square opened. I'm sure Cleveland natives were not particularly happy to lose two malls to one. Ironically, Bradley Square was found recently to be in danger of failure itself. Karma?

Looking along the Swiss Alley towards the east entrance. Parks-Belk once had an entrance on the left, and today it is all part of Check Into Cash!.

The tenant on the right in Swiss Alley looks to now offer holistic medicine. This is also looking towards the east entrance.

An overview of the remaining "Swiss" facades in the corridor. Note the peaked roof entrance, which is identical to the one in the main mall previously mentioned. What did this used to be?

This was apparently a barber shop at one point, but what was last there was definitely not that. It is now vacant. I can't help but love these attempts at classic Bavarian architecture they did in the 60's and 70's.

Today, the mall hardly functions as a traditional shopping mall. The center today is part strip mall, part office space. The presence of outside entrances to all of the stores facing US 11 (Lee Highway) made it possible for some of the mall to viably function as a strip center. What didn't work is now full of white collar employees with headsets, dress shirts and monitors. It was rather uncanny looking into a "store" and having an office staff look back at me with an amused WTF look.

This closed store sits in the southwest corner in front of Watson's/C of C. It apparently had a loft or second level of some sort, which was very interesting. It looked to be the last actual clothing store in the mall. Does anybody know what it was?

This time I really looked for the bowling alley entrance, and I really do not know how I missed this before. This creepy staircase descends down to a pair of double doors, which did not look to have been used in quite a long time. When was the last time this bowling alley operated? I'd give anything to see inside of it.

The redevelopment of a lost mall was one of the most clever I have encountered. In almost any other circumstance, the mall would be demolished, but for some reason the new owners thought it was just fine the way it is. I wish they had thought of this at Cobb Center before they took a wrecking ball to it. Today, a call center known as Check Into Cash! occupies the former Parks-Belk, the Miller's is today a Jones Finance and the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce occupies the former Watson's grocery store. More office space now occupies the old Kresge, which was vacant when I visited in 2005. A gym now takes up much of the mall space on the west side, and the stores fronting US 11 are fully leased, including a Firehouse Subs. An upscale local restaurant, Bald Headed Bistro, is a popular eatery next to Jones Finance and was renovated with a log cabin facade. However, there is absolutely nothing traditional about this mall, and I very much wish I could go back in time to 1990 when the mall was alive and kicking with two two-level department stores.

Northeast corner of the mall. Note the fence like structure hiding the central power plant.

Front entrance to Miller's Department Store.

Old Parks-Belk under renovation for a call center.

This is the newly renovated back entrance to the mall. In the previous photo I took of Parks-Belk, a door was sitting in mid-air into the side of the store. Now, a staircase leads in the new entry up to the door. What was there before?

Here is a look at the front side of the mall, now fully leased and featuring some tenants otherwise not connected. The gym that is there now has windows into the mall, but no entrance.

When I first wrote about this mall, I said it had been altered very little from when it opened. That is not as much the case today as new stucco-faced entryways were placed over all the mall entrances and the Swiss Alley was largely renovated with very little actual mall feel except for a few remaining swiss-themed restaurants. The main mall itself has no real inline stores left, but still survives altered little from when it opened except along the side facing U.S. 11 (Lee Highway). There, the mall added many strip mall tenants and a more modern stucco facade with tenants including a Firehouse Subs. Despite these changes, the mall is a remarkable display of mostly unaltered 1960's architecture that make this mall very enjoyable. Thanks to your comments, I have been able to correct this post to give an accurate history of the mall.

More shots taken around the south entrance. The first shot has the mall on the left, the next is of the former Watson's on the left approaching the entrance and the last is directly underneath. The first photo on this page is looking just to the right of this into the main mall corridor.

Corner at southeastern side of mall. The vacant store was probably the Kresge.

Southeast corner looking southwest at former Kresge.

View of northeastern corner of the mall toward the north entrance. Miller's is on the right.

Looking back away from the southeast entrance to the mall.

Southwest corner of the mall. Note the very 1960's exterior on the right.

Side entrance to Miller's with detail of the one restaurant in the mall itself on the right known as Bald Headed Bistro. The second photo shows more detail of the restaurant.

This professional office building apparently has wings. This buildings sits on the southwest corner of the mall ot facing Lee Highway (US 11).

* This is the second update of the original post. *

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rich's Memoirs

Nearly two years, Atlanta's beloved institution finally bit the dust. Here I would like to recall some of the things that people may have forgotten about Rich's in terms of name changes, slogans, logos, etc.

Name Changes:
-M. Rich & Brothers Dry Goods Company
-M. Rich & Co.
-Rich's, Inc.
1990's Rich's shopping bag showing storied RICHSATLANTA clock

1970's Rich's brand headphones

1990's Rich's Credit Card

-Atlanta Born, Atlanta Owned, Atlanta Managed
-An Atlanta Institution Since 1867
-A Southern Institution Since 1867
-It's All About the South (last slogan prior to merger with Goldsmith's and closure of downtown store)
-Time After Time (generic slogan used with Lazarus and Goldsmith's)

(1950's-1970's logo)

(1980's-2003 logo)

On the Logos, the Rich's logo was originally non-descript prior to the 1940's when the green logo was unveiled with very thin letters in a font that looks close to what is used on the Parisian signs today. Sometime in the mid to late 1950's, the modern logo was unveiled, but with spacing between the characters. This was also green and featured on the stores with glorious green glowing neon. By around 1980, the green logo became internal while exterior stores had either a dark brown backlit or black neon sign that lit up dingy white at night. The text had also been jammed together for a more compact "modern" appearance even though the font was an antiqued font.

These photos were taken by Allen Scott in August 1962 of the multi-colored levels and under the glass bridge at the now demolished downtown store addition.

Sometimes, the Rich's logo was in a narrower version of the same font as evidenced by the original store signs on Cobb Center, Lenox Square and North Dekalb. Also, one of the more peculiar logos was the stylized "R" that was used from the 1960's until the late 1980's. These used to be placed in repeated intervals all along the glass in front of the stores for a very classy look. The "R" was placed backwards as well for a more peculiar appearance.

Looking up at the Rich's clock in the early 1990's. "All about the South" was a jingle used by Rich's in that era along with Goldsmith's.

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.