For the first time, photos are now available of "The Mall". As one of the lost malls of Huntsville, this mall was a living time capsule. It is the creepiest mall I have ever seen, and it was in a very decrepit state when these photos were taken. The Mall was just one of a treasure trove of mid-century architectural gems (depending on how you look at it) along US 231 aka The Parkway. The Parkway was the original suburban strip in Huntsville, and it included all of Huntsville's original malls also including Heart of Huntsville, Dunnavant's Mall and Parkway City Mall. Only the last today continues to operate as a mall, today a newly reconstructed Parkway Place Mall. The photos in this article, taken by Evans Criswell on January 12, 1998, show the mall in its sad last days prior to demolition.
Some outside views of the front of the mall. The front actually got a new coat of paint and mostly functioned as a pseudo strip mall in its final days. Most of the stores had outside entrances.
What is obvious about The Mall is that it does not appear to have ever been renovated at any point in its entire existance. Like the earliest malls, it looks as if the original downtown stores that moved to the mall in the 1960's stayed there until their death with nobody there to replace them. The mall was only three years newer than Cobb Center that I used to know, and it reminds me in many ways, including the extremely dark interior. For me, this is a real treat as dark malls like this are so very rare. The place was an eyesore, but I wish somehow it could have stayed at least long enough for me to find it.
Entering the mall from the Penney's wing headed toward the center court. This mall is so very dark and scary. This shiny brass awning overhead blocks most of the light from the skylights. In some of the photos, it is obvious the skylights match those in the original Apache Mall in Minnesota. Note the long-gone local stores that probably started downtown including Newsom's Music, Budd's and Lorch's.
Evans Criswell, who submitted all of the photos of the mall prior to demolition, also posted on deadmalls.com a complete description of the mall. He did it much better than I ever could:
"The Mall" (the actual name of it) opened on March 24,1966 at 10:00 AM at the northwest corner of Memorial Parkway (US 231 and 431) and University Drive (US 72 west). It had Loveman's (which actually opened March 4, 1966) and JCPenney as its original anchors, and was a 425000 square-foot facility. Loveman's was the fourth store in the chain at the time, with locations in Birmingham, Bessemer, and Montgomery, AL. Loveman's was built with escalator wells and expansion to 2 stories in mind, but that expansion never occurred. The 126000 square foot JCPenney was the first in Alabama to have a catalog sales desk and contained a snack shop that could handle 40 customers. Both JCPenney and Loveman's had auto centers.
What is really amazing about this fountain is that they actually preserved the sculpture from it in the redevelopment. It is scary, meaningless brutalism that brings to mind "1984" more than it does fine art. While the fountain itself is attractive, it is not particularly outstanding. Nevertheless, it was a gimmick that effectively sold a mall with no real name. Of course, Loveman's and Penney's presence also helped.
A movie theater, the Alabama Theatre, built by the Martin chain (based in Columbus, GA), was actually the first business to open at the mall site as an outparcel on January 21, 1966 with "My Fair Lady" (in Super Panavision 70) as their first movie. The theatre's decorations were tangerine and gold and Griggs push-back chairs were used. The theatre was made into a twin cinema, completed on March 20, 1981 with "Cheaper To Keep Her" and "The Final Conflict" shown that night. The theater's last day of business as a regular movie theatre seems to be July 25, 1985. It reopened briefly as the "Alabama Pitcher Show" on January 29, 1986 with beer, wine, and food being sold in addition to movies being shown. On March 9, 1988, a "closed for remodeling" as was placed in the paper, and I believe that was the end of that theater's use. The mall's name was somewhat problematic, especially after other malls opened, so "The Mall" had the nicknames "The Loveman's Mall", "The Penney's Mall", and was also called the "Four Balls Mall" by some because at each entrance were posts with lighted spheres at the top. The Mall's sign also had that feature. Unlike most enclosed malls, many of the inline stores had doors to the outside, giving the front of the mall as "strip mall" appearance. The first time I saw it driving my on Memorial Parkway on March 3, 1988, I didn't think it was an enclosed mall. The JCPenney sign wasn't the current JCPenney logo, but the older 60's style logo that just said "Penney's" that was kept until the place was demolished.
The mall directory shows a mall void of life. Note the subdivided anchor on the left, which was Loveman's. Today, that is still standing as Books-A-Million & Toys 'R' Us.
Random shots of inline stores and a specific very funky 70's style store. I have no clue what that might have been, but it definitely brings to mind the disco era.
The bathrooms were on a second level above the mall offices. Why this part of the mall was up on two levels is beyond me, but this was on the west wing of the mall according to the map.
This was the main mall in Huntsville until it got competition when the Parkway City shopping center was enclosed around 1975 after being damaged by the 1974 tornadoes. The two malls did well together since they had different anchor stores (Montgomery Ward, Pizitz, and Parisian were at Parkway City). The Loveman's closed in either 1980 or 1981 and their stock was bought out by The Mary Shoppe. However, the largest blow to the mall occurred when the two-level Madison Square Mall opened out west on US 72 at Rideout Road in 1984. "The Mall" was by far the most seriously affected and it went down very quickly. By the time I'd moved to Huntsville in 1988, the Loveman's space was half-occupied by Toys R Us, and the rest of it was soon to be a Books-a-Million. The JCPenney closed in mid-to-late 1988. The mall already had many empty stores then.
Southeast entrance to the mall heading to the Loveman's mall entrance. The entrance in 1998 was split between Toys 'R' Us & Books-A-Million, but the Books-A-Million entrance was by then sealed off.
In the early 1990s, a good section of the southwestern internal part of the mall was being used my Calhoun Community College (called the "mall-ege" by many students), which drew enough people into the place for a few places to be open. After that moved out, there wasn't much going on. Art some point, Toys R Us and Books-a-Million closed off their entrances to the mall, and the mall interior hung on in that dead state until around 1998 when the mall was demolished (along with the Alabama Theatre) and replaced by a new development called "The Fountain" later on. "The Fountain" got its name because in the center court of the mall was a fountain that was preserved and placed in a traffic roundabout at the new development.
Whatever was done to the outside of the old Penney's looked very rough. It made it look like the whole side of the building was a big hulk of rust. The classic "Penney's" with the Blue P logo graced this building before it closed in 1988. The abandoned Alabama Theater is in the background.
A look inside the old Penney's, which I understand was used for a college for awhile.
A look at Penney's and the rest of the backside of the mall. Apparently Penney's had a single level extension in the back for services. Loveman's is in the background. The mall itself only had one back entrance, but three on the front.
For many years before its demolition, I'd occasionally go in that mall to look at all of the stores and the label scars. Many stores were vacated, leaving their old signs up for years, or if removed, were not repainted to hide the scars from the signs. The mall was a bit spooky at times, since I'd often be the only one around, except for maybe a senior citizen or two using the place to walk for exercise. I'd try to imagine how the mall would have been if I could have seen it in its original late 60s and 1970s glory. It was a relatively dark place.
Front side of the mall with all three entrances clearly in view. I can't think of any other mall with entrances like this that survived past the 70's.
A couple views from the back side.
A view of the back entrance. Apparently new paint and a fresh appearance were only reserved for views from the Parkway. The back looks very run down and abandoned.
The only thing left of the original mall today in 2008 is the old Loveman's building, which still houses the Toys R Us and Books-a-Million! A Home Depot was built right behind it, taking most of the space formerly occupied by the mall, and a Costco was added to the north. A Bennigan's and Zaxby's opened facing Memorial Parkway, and the Bennigan's is no longer open, and became Beauregard's. The theatre was demolished along with the rest of the mall before the new development took place. In the new development, there is a small traffic circle with the fountain from the original mall in the center.
Next to the mall, visible in the previous Penney's photo, is this Alabama Theater location. It was long since closed when this picture was taken. All photos above were from Evans Criswell. A special thanks to him for his generosity and for this rare opportunity.
YOU TUBE VIDEO CLIP
This video on YouTube shows the fountain in action. The fountain in this video still exists: now located in a traffic circle. Russell Wells first alerted me of this long lost shopping center, but it still lives today in this YouTube video! Also check out a couple pics below in the other images that he gave me.
What is left of the fountain in The Mall today is in the middle of a traffic circle:
OTHER IMAGES OF THE MALL
1967 image of fountain with the actual logo (Russell Wells: photo)
Russell Wells created this amusing interpretation of what the sign on US 431 looked like for The Mall. I wonder if all doubleknit polyester was on sale at Penney's that day.