What makes Riverchase Galleria stand apart is that it is a mall that incorporated two mid rise hotels into its design. In other words, they didn't just want it to be a mall: they wanted it to be a major tourist destination. On top of that, the mall incorporated four anchors and 1.2 million square feet...a very large mall for that time. Original anchors included Rich's, JCPenney, Pizitz and Parisian. The following year, Macy's, then part of R.H. Macy, built onto the front of the mall under the Galleria Tower as a three level store...the first in Alabama meaning previous parent Davison's of Atlanta had never had a presence in the state. Pizitz, however, was very short-lived as it was converted to McRae's the same year Macy's joined the mall. However, the Pizitz family still owned the building McRae's moved into despite selling the store operations to them. In all, this was a pretty solid lineup for a moderately upscale mall. No mall in the region had Rich's, Pizitz and Parisian all together like that before.
The first photo is a view from the small third level balcony over the center court, food court and view through the glass of the Winfrey Hotel in the background. The second photo is a typical escalator in the mall.
An ad in the mall was advertising Alpharetta, GA. That is too funny. What are they saying? You can do better than this place? Please fill me in on this!
A typical mall concourse is pretty typical mid-80's as well. Outside of center court, I wouldn't call the skylights spectacular. This reminds me a bit of Town Center at Cobb in Kennesaw, GA.
A map of how it all comes together today. The mall was definitely Belked for sure!
If not for the hotel, office tower and the amazing huge all-glass atrium throughout, this otherwise would probably be just another conventional large 80's mall. Most of the mall is on two levels, and the center is shaped overall in a simple Y fashion with a big food court on the lower level in the center. The mall does, however, contain many smaller wings including one to the Winfrey Hotel and two for Parisian. A small third level overlooking the food court also exists providing access to the office towers as well as offering an overlook. All of the anchors are multi-level, and the 1990's brought significant expansion to the mall, which was something that unfortunately negatively affected other malls in the area. 1995 would see Parisian greatly expand its store in the mall into a new flagship...an expansion that gave the store an oblong design as well as the fore mentioned two mall entrances on separate wings. In 1996, Sears would close at tiny now-demolished Todds Mall in Vestavia Hills to join the mall along with a new wing. These changes pushed the mall from four to six anchors and 1.2 to 1.9 million square feet. This would prove to be the peak of the mall's success as it firmly establish itself as not only a premier shopping destination in Alabama, but also much of the Southeast.
The skylights make the court in the center...it is impressive how this much glass is held up without a system of trusses.
Looking from center court into the more typical parts of the mall.
This is bound to look pretty scary during a severe thunderstorm. Thunderstorms had rumbled through before I took these photos. Note the third level on the left. The former Macy's mall entrance was on the two levels below that.
Looking straight on at the old Macy's/Proffitt's/Belk entrance and the lower levels of the office tower. The office tower here is accessible from the third level visible here.
Department store consolidation proved to be challenging for the mall after 2000. With six anchors, the mall found itself somewhat overbuilt for a shrinking anchor market. Macy's merger with Rich's was when things got problematic. When Macy's closed and moved into the old Rich's, apparently Dillard's was not invited to the party. Instead, of all things, Proffitt's of Maryville, TN opened up in the old Macy's in 2004 after the subsequent closure of the original 1987 Macy's. This store was there so briefly that if you blinked you would miss it much like Pizitz originally. With Saks, Inc. then owning three positions in the mall, they then conveniently closed McRae's, which was the smallest and least visible of all of the mall's anchors. This move angered the Pizitz family who still owned the building. Apparently, the McRae's had a major roof leak problem that the Pizitz family, once the head of Alabama's largest regional department store, did not address and Saks, Inc. was unwilling to deal with. The result was that Saks, Inc was smacked with a lawsuit apparently for breaking terms of their lease.
A view of the upper level entrance wing between Belk Men's (former McRae's/Pizitz) and Macy's (former Rich's).
Looking along the same entrance wing.
A view of the mall near a smaller court area from the second level.
A view from the third level balcony toward JCPenney. This was kinda cool. Third levels in mall are rare in any form.
The wing connecting the center court to Winfrey Hotel lacked the grandeur of the other parts.
When Belk came along, the lawsuit simply fell into Belk's hands. Belk opened in the former Macy's/Proffitt's with no intentions of opening in the old McRae's initially. Apparently, the agreement was settled when Belk ultimately opened a Home store in the upper level of the old Pizitz/McRae's while moving their store otherwise to the former Parisian. Belk moved again into the old Parisian since they bought them out the same year. Apparently, Belk decided that the old Parisian was a more appealing store than the old Macy's, so by 2007 the 20 year-old Macy's would finally go dark. Today, this leaves 1 1/2 anchors in the mall dark in a mall designed for far more department store anchors than are typically available today. In a reasonable scenario, Dillard's would take up the old Pizitz/McRae's spot, but so far that has obviously not been considered. The original Macy's, however, awaits a Nordstrom. It is rumored that Nordstrom plans to open in that spot, and the Nordstrom would be the first in the state. No doubt if this works out this will be a huge deal. Apparently the success of the Saks Fifth Avenue at the Summit has created the right conditions for a further upscaling of Alabama's (and one of the South's) largest mall. Whether they will use the existing Macy's building or not is unknown, however.
One of the three entrances to the main Belk store (former Parisian).
The second entrance to the main Belk store (former Parisian). This is probably the original 1986 store in lieu of the 1995 addition.
Here is the third entrance to the main Belk in the wing next to Winfrey Hotel's entrance. Behind me (not pictured) is the side entrance to Belk Men's (former McRae's/Pizitz).
Nothing too terribly unusual about JCPenney right here from the inside.
Since Sears and Macy's make up different ends of a Y-shaped split, these overhead signs are in place. These remind me of similar found all over Oglethorpe Mall in Savannah, GA.
Macy's entrance is the most elegant. It was Rich's up until 2003, and their 80's designs inside and out were elegant and very cutting edge. I couldn't say the same for their stores from the 1990's on.
In all, while not my favorite mall design-wise, it is a truly massive and impressive structure in every way. Its glass skylights are the most expansive and open I have ever encountered giving the mall an almost outdoor feel, and its massive size is almost overwhelming. The two towers over the mall also make the mall feel like it is part of a huge downtown instead of a typical suburban center...a rare and unique arrangement in malls at any point. Few malls have ever incorporated either an office tower or hotel, much less both, into its design like Riverchase has. Its array of six huge anchors, two mid-rise towers. a large food court and such an enormous amount of stores speaks of optimism and excess we may never see again. It was a time when malls seemed to be in a race to be the biggest and the best...finally culminating with a few monoliths in the 90's such as Mall of America and many leaner versions such as Mall of Georgia. It is also still a traditional mall in every sense...maintaining its size without the trendy "lifestyle" addition that flanks many malls today including later-built Mall of Georgia.
Macy's original store was...um...sunny? The huge arched design over the small doors was pretty stark indeed. This is still a pretty brutalist three-level store here I must say.
JCPenney's store here was apparently cloned for Asheville Mall. The designs are identical pretty much.
The old Parisian, now Belk, was kinda neat. Of all the anchors, this one had the most appealing and eye-catching design features while still keeping it simple. Winfrey Hotel is to the left.
Sorry this picture came out blurry. The McRae's/Pizitz here was all about arches as well.
This had to be one of the best designs for a Rich's department store ever. It is so classy looking. The Macy's logo intrigues me. It actually looks like it must have come off of its original 1987 store and was replaced on the old Rich's. It is definitely not the newer "red star" logo, and this must have been done at the request of mall owners. Was the original Rich's sign here white? I never saw this store with Rich's nor have I ever seen any photos of it.
I kinda figured Sears arrived fashionably late when I saw this store. It opened here in 1996 and is a match to the store at Arbor Place Mall in Douglasville, GA that was built in 1999.
While the mall today may seem excessive, it brought Birmingham a true big city shopping experience that most other malls in the city never offered. With exception of two-level Century Plaza and the peculiar Brookwood, all other malls in the city were not only quite small but also plain. Their success relied on the lack of competition from a major shopping destination like Riverchase. Perhaps Eastwood, West Lake, Century Plaza, Todds Mall and even the Five Points West mall addition might still be around today if this mall would never have been built, but you can be sure that local patrons would be disenchanted with what they would see as outdated, second-rate and outmoded offerings. This is a problem that would have led to Birmingham residents skipping the city altogether to go to Atlanta instead. Local developer Jim Wilson, who originally built Riverchase, was not about to let that happen.
I did manage a night shot in 2007 of the Belk store at Riverchase when it was still Parisian. I should have done more.
This older photo from 2005 I believe came from Birmingham's newspaper, but I am not positive who to credit this to. This shows McRae's at the mall after it closed.
Indeed, it seems that Birmingham has been moving full speed ahead both before and since. Even today, only Riverchase and Brookwood remain viable malls in the city as both now have to deal with another Birmingham first...the lifestyle center. Both malls today compete with tony The Summit in Mountain Brook and the newer Pinnacle at Tutwiler Farm while Western Hills Mall seems to be making the last stand in the older suburban retail scene. Even Riverchase may have to change soon to adapt to a market far different than the mall was when it opened in 1986. I would expect the future to bring a demolition of one or more anchors and possibly the creation of a lifestyle-type addition in the place of those anchors. Perhaps the mall may even be turned inside out with the roof removed and replaced with an outdoor plaza. Time will tell, but for now the mall is a stunning monument to the runaway popularity of the mall era.