Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gadsden Mall Opening Day - July 29, 1974: Gadsden, AL

My last post showed how Gadsden Mall looks today.  While still a lively mall, it was quite a different mall in 1974 than it is today.  It had different stores, different skylights and a different look though the structure is still the same aside from the front anchor.  Given the continued popularity of a mall that has otherwise expanded minimally, it is actually curious to me if the mall would still be successful maintaining its 1974 look.  Clipping ads, logos and somewhat crusty images out of the local paper, I have put together a post that looks backwards to the mall as it first looked.


What stands out the most with early Gadsden Mall is that it had a very distinct logo, fake stone planters and seating areas, tile floors in lieu of carpet and there was no department store in the front.  What also changed tenant-wise was pretty significant.  Original anchors to the mall on opening day included Pizitz, Belk Hudson, Sears, Morrison's Cafeteria, Elliott Drugs and Rifkin Theater.  Most of the inline tenants were also regional chains that had no locations outside of the state.  Compare today where American Eagle and Gap are must-haves for an A-list mall, which it has both.  Of those original major tenants I listed, only Sears and Belk are still there.  Curiously, the mall never had a five and dime store.

 

This was taken in the court area in front of Pizitz looking north toward Sears.  Hickory Farms was the other restaurant in the mall at the time besides Morrison's.  Chick-Fil-A did not come until later.

 

This photo speaks volumes of the early mall.  It looks like the mall was actually pretty bright and the ceiling treatment is considerably different (no exposed trusses).  Those fake stone seats look a bit uncomfortable as well.  This is in center court looking south toward Pizitz.  The store on the left is called John Simmons.

Today, a visitor to the mall brought here in a time machine would not recognize much.  The anchor changes were confusing and the turnover has been substantial.  Pizitz is now Belk, Belk Hudson is now a theater, JCPenney fronts the mall, the original theaters are gone, Morrison's Cafeteria is gone, Elliott Drugs was converted into a food court and the mall was fully renovated at least once.  In addition, the original mall was owned by Colonial Properties while today it is PREIT (Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust).  While there are recognizable points, it was like all malls built in the second generation.  Like those built before 1985, they were forced to eventually evolve and change.  In that, it is obviously working as the mall is still packed all the time.  This means much of the original shoppers may have been there from the beginning, so they will also likewise enjoy this trip down memory lane.

 

  

Mall directory of the original mall including a list of stores.  Strangely, the area around Sears was the slowest to fill and still seems to have vacancy problems today.

With Gadsden Mall and future mall posts, it is nice that I can occassionally find pictures, ads and information that allow me to press rewind (sounds better than skip back) and show these places in their original form, which in many cases was also their prime.  I can tell from these pics there was a lot to like about the original mall even though it was no Atlanta or Birmingham mega mall.  Until I can find some decent photos, I have a pretty decent set of newspaper clips to give a visual of the early days of a mall that will soon be 36 years old.

 

Another view of the original mall and fountain in center court.


Apparently at Belk Hudson, Urban Cowboy was already in full swing in Summer 1974.


1974 cutting edge technology...it's all there at Pizitz!  While Pizitz was not known outside of Alabama, it was a big deal.  It was similar to Rich's of Atlanta and had 13 stores statewide before selling out to McRae's in 1986.  McRae's immediately took over that location after the sale.

 

Budd's...another long gone local Alabama chain.  They are photographed (abandoned) on my post about The Mall in Huntsville.  I believe they were the upscale men's store in the period even though the name makes you think of beer on the back of a pickup truck bass fishing on Lake Henry, which you could probably do right behind the mall!

  

Hagedorn's looked to be Gadsden-exclusive.  I wonder how long they lasted after the mall opened.


 Elliott's Drugs had both outside and interior entrances forming the original junior anchor of the mall.  Large chain drug stores were probably another reason for the demise of five and dimes, which Gadsden Mall never had.  The food court is now located where this was.


Belk Hudson's mall entrance looking pure 70's.  Today, a 16 screen cinema fills the void of the former Belk, but it functioned as a department store up until 2000 when JCPenney finally left downtown for the mall in 1994.

 

Coosa Federal Savings, named for the Coosa River...a prominent feature in the city.  I rarely ever see Savings & Loans places anymore, but there are plenty of loan sharks and title pawn places today sadly.

 

A visual of the "tuning fork" style mall sign posted on Rainbow Drive (US 411).  It is also barely visible in the arial photo.  The interior mall logo is actually very neat looking...kind of reminds me of Superman.


An overview of the mall with Sears in the foreground, Pizitz in the background, Belk Hudson on the far right and the faint view of the mall sign in the middle left.  Note that Belk Hudson is built up on the sides like it is two stories even though it is one level.  Why?

 

A full grand opening flyer, but the scan could not be done in the level of detail necessary to show it only like this.

  

An architectural drawing of Belk Hudson, which shared a look used on several Parks-Belk stores in east Tennessee.  I imagine this was probably removed when JCPenney arrived, and it is definitely not like this now.  Today, you can still make out the Belk Hudson labelscar, however.


If this was supposed to be a drawing of the new Pizitz store in the ad, it doesn't actually look like it at all.  What store is this anyway in the picture?

6 comments:

  1. I really wish I could go back in time and visit malls like this during the 1970s, with the knowledge I have now, and do a comparison of stores and malls then vs. now and find out if I'd really have liked stores from then vs. now in terms of selection of things I like.

    First time I went to Gadsden Mall by myself (without being with my parents limiting where I could go and what I could look at (usually they only went in Sears)) was in spring 1987.

    I remember spending over 3 hours of my 19th birthday at this mall waiting for Sears to fix a flat tire on my Honda Civic.

    Women from Cherokee County used to go to this mall and spend much of a day in there. For me, there was never enough to keep me in there more than an hour or hour and a half.

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  2. Actually, I believe Belk and Sears had an upstairs that contained offices. I used to ride the elevator when I was young.

    JIM B

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  3. Thanks for the jet back in time. How easy we forget.

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  4. Hagedorn's clothing store was exclusive to Gadsden. My mother worked for four generations of that family, both downtown and in the mall. The mall store probably closed around 1984-85, if memory serves, though it had been purchased just a few years before by another company. Thanks for the memories, left Gadsden many decades ago.

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  5. Wow, thanks for posting all that stuff. Neato. I was a kid in the late 80s and the mall had become a popular hangout for Gadsden teens. There were some rough elements to that as well as there were regular fist fights in the rear parking lot where the old cinemas used to be. I tried to avoid that area to keep from being a target. I remember buying copies of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Phil Collins No Jacket Required on vinyl from Record Bar. I forgot that place until I saw it listed in the mall directory you posted.

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  6. There was an elevator in belk hudson that would take you to an office upstairs to buy concert tickets. It was ticketmaster before the internet. You would hear a commercial on the radio advertising a concert at the BJCC in birmingham and you'd cruise down to the mall to buy your tickets.

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