Friday, July 17, 2009

Westgate Shopping Center: Macon, GA

KA Turner alerted me and sent me all the information for this post, so everything here is quoting or rephrasing what he already sent me. After an almost three year delay, I am finally doing a post on this place, which was a very significant yet overlooked piece of Georgia retail history. The information below was submitted to me by him on September 27, 2006, and I have rewritten and paraphrased much of the information for clarity purposes. The last paragraph is my addendum to what he said.


This photo is from the 1971 Southwest High School annual (KA Turner: image).

Westgate Shopping Center (aka Westgate Mall) was the first fully enclosed shopping mall in Georgia. It opened in 1961, which was a year after Eastwood opened in Birmingham. Like Eastwood, Westgate had no department store anchors, though the mall was prominently anchored by JJ Newberry's (much like Eastwood). Like most of the earliest malls, they did not affect downtown shopping since they had few anchors and a smaller selection of choices. They were essentially strip malls turned facing each other with a central corridor. Downtown actually continued to thrive throughout the 1960's until Macon Mall came later on.


This photo is from the 1971 Southwest High School annual (KA Turner: image).

Like Eastwood Mall, Westgate was anchored by two grocery stores in addition to Newberry's. In the early 70's Piggly Wiggly, Newberry's, and Colonial Stores were the anchors. Woolworth's and Gilberg's cloth store, both replaced by Cloth World, took up the Colonial court. Fickling and Walker operated for years in the center. Also, a locksmith was located next to Newberry's in a large kiosk. Next to this were, not in order, a clothing store, Sherwin-Williams, and a sweet store. Westgate Triple Cinemas set up shop in an outparcel. Finally, Eckerd Drugs and a few other stores, including Household Finance and a Coin and Trick Shop, sat in the north court by Piggly Wiggly.


Back when EVERY mall had a cafeteria, apparently Westgate's was G&M. They were supposedly in Atlanta, too. I have never heard of them, assuming S&S must have bought them out (KA Turner: image).

Macon Mall killed Westgate Mall in 1975, which caused it to become a ghetto mall. This likely would not have happened if the mall had been able to attract any downtown department stores beforehand. According to the Macon Telegraph, the mall was completely empty by 1978. When this happened, an attempt was first made to make it an outlet mall. Later, Wal-Mart was tacked onto the side in 1988 and a pedestrian hall made onto the side of the old Colonial store. Scotty's Home Improvement Center, a now-defunct Florida staple, replaced the Piggly Wiggly on the north side. Burlington Coat Factory replaced Key Wholesale Distributors where Newberry's originally stood. All of these efforts proved futile to save a mall with no real department store anchors just down the street from huge Macon Mall. In 1994, the wrecking ball hit all but Wal-Mart and Home Depot with work completed the following year. Later, the theater was dozed.

The strip mall that replaced Westgate Mall included, in addition to Burlington and Wal-Mart, Media Play, Petsmart, Stacy's and Home Depot, which apparently replaced Scotty's. Today, Westgate Mall is dying again. The strip mall that replaced it is now emptied out as the area around it declines and retail chains that came into the redeveloped center failed from bankruptcy. Now, the strip mall that was built to replace it is facing difficulties of its own. Unfortunately, it looks like that after three tries that nothing could really save the ailing fortunes of Westgate, which today has nothing left other than last chance merchant Burlington Coat Factory. This time, though, local leaders are left in a dilemma on a mall that has died three times, but the fortunes once again look bleak for Westgate. As one of the first to be built and one of the first to die in the state, the mall had a short life and rocky history.

18 comments:

  1. I'd noticed "Westgate Mall" on the 1996 Road atlas Macon inset map but the one time I drove to Macon, there was obviously no enclosed mall there at the time, so I figured it had been torn down. I went in the large Macon Mall and wondered if the JCPenney that you have to walk through was originally at the end of the mall. If so, which end was the original mall when built?

    Macon is a pretty good distance from where I live and hits the limits on how far I can drive to explore. I never got a feel for Macon's real size and which parts of town were the retail centers adn which were run down, and didn't get to check out the downtown.

    On a map, it appears that you can drive around Macon on I-75, I-16, and I-475 since they form a triangle. You can't! Having to use US 80 to get from I-475 south to I-75 north, or I-75 south to I-475 north guarantees traffic on US 80.

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  2. The original end was Sears to JCP. Everything through the other side of JCP was a part of the expansion.

    Wrt Westgate: was the original theater dozed? I thought it was just remodeled into Stacy's.

    I was in Macon yesterday (which inspired some Westgate googling) and was surprised to see that Media Play has no roof. Or half a roof. I took some pics when it was damaged by the tornado awhile back, but I don't recall the roof being ripped off. It was a very strange site. I'll have to dig up the old pics and upload the new for comparison.

    The one thing I remember about Westgate in the mid to late 80s is that it was a place the skater kids hung out. The strip of mall on the Walmart end was perfect for skateboarding and I don't really recall any security ever making anyone stop.

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  3. The only really "bad" incident at Westgate happened in 1972. The August 9, 2009 Macon Telegraph mentioned the case of a missing Southwest High School student. She was last headed to Westgate and has not been seen since. Her car was found at a doughnut store across from the mall.

    I worked at the Wal-Mart from 1992 to 1999. I saw the mall's death rattle and resurrection as a strip facility. One day I asked the maintenance man if renovations were happening outside. He said, "No, we're gonna tear it down". The mall entrance to Wal-Mart was cinderblocked as the rest toppled down. It would be just as well the "new" construction were demolished to avoid a grayfield.

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    1. can you elaborate on the missing girl? who was she? any other details?

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    2. I just came across this page so thought I would give you this link to the missing girl. http://www.websleuths.com/forums/showthread.php?154406-GA-Carlene-Tengelsen-16-Macon-21-June-1972/page2&s=0ccb34729a54817f555268c85635df2c

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    3. The missing girl's name was Carlene Tengelsen.
      http://www.charleyproject.org/cases/t/tengelsen_carlene.html This is a link to her information on The Charley Project missing persons website.

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  4. I remember when Westgate was new, back in the early '60s. It was quite a place for a 6-year-old to see. The Telegraph was wrong about it being closed by '78. I know for a fact that it was open (but pretty much at outlet mall status) in Dec. '78. I lived only a couple of blocks from there. Macon is a wasteland now.

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  5. that mall was definitely still open in the 80's, and possibly the very early 90's. i can remember accompanying my dad on trips to Boot Country and Tracks record store in '89 or thereabout. i remember the corridors being very empty and not many stores still there, but it was open, and still had the hall that led into the Walmart. Not too long after that, they closed it off and tore the mall part down, leaving the stores open to the outside. Now there's pretty much nothing there (maybe still a hair shop and a Shoe Show there).

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  6. The original westgate theatre was dozed and rebuilt into a bigger better theatre. It just didn't make it.
    Worked there back in the 80's - -had the time of my life!
    Kristin Taylor Lee

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    Replies
    1. Did a Larry Collins or Louise Hooks mgr WestGate Theatre?

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    2. Yes, Hooks was laid off, Larry took her place

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    3. What happen to Larry Collins

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  7. didn't there used to be a giant slide on the hill ,westgate shopping center where the theater was built ? you slid down it on a burlap sack....

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    1. The Super Slide was on the hill at the rear of the mall behind Piggly Wiggly. It faced Eisenhower Parkway across from the old K-Mart. We had some good times there!

      Ricky Allen

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  8. i worked at key Wholesales there and left in 1988 and it was still opened..actually we still had a lot of business there around Christmas.. i remembered to when it was opened and everyone went there.. Sears,Penneys and others were downtown when i was young too.

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  9. was just at this location this past Saturday, the only stores left are the Burlington , a dollar store, a shoe store and a nail place, oh and a small Asian resturant. The Media Play has been torn down which now leave a big gap between the Burlington Building and what use to be Home Depot. The Walmart building is still empty. They had built a Shoe Carnival store in the parking lot and it has since closed also.

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  10. Yes! There was a huge hill right beside the Westgate Theatre - on the side towards the Wendy's. I not only worked at Westgate Theatre, but for about 6 months I worked at Wendy's as my second job. So I'd walk across Pio Nono between the theatre and Wendy's. (That shows how young I was - I must have had a death wish!)

    Years later, I was attending Mercer University - and I would go to Wendy's before class (night classes - graduated class of 2001 BS; Class of 2004 MBA) - and was accosted by a drug user in the parking lot of Wendy's (Pio Nono). Just sitting there studying, with the window down - a lady came through my window - across my person and grabbed my wallet. She tried to KISS me as she slid out said thanks then ran (with my money). I was shocked, frightened. Took off to go to school and shared my story with fellow students. Everyone there knew who I was talking about - - she preyed upon women shoppers over at the Westgate Shopping Center, then KMart and Wendy's. Approaching women, asking if they needed help with their bags before she started begging for money. She always tried to start a conversation first to catch them off guard and many would give her money just for her to go away.

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  11. Until the crime is cleaned up in that area of town, there will be no more shopping around there. It had gotten to the point that you WOULD be approached by someone - most likely drug users begging for money, and there was never anything done about it. You would see the cops sitting in their cars across the parking lot - but they did nothing about the people begging shoppers for money.

    Its a shame.

    The "replacement" shopping center is Presidential Parkway - - and it is not safe for a woman to shop there after dark or early morning. As long as shoppers have to worry about their safety - malls will continue to die off.

    As I'm doing right now, I will continue to do my shopping online until I can feel safe enough to go to a mall - and know that I could buy a $500 game machine and actually make it to my car without having someone watch me - follow me - make me feel like I'm in danger.

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