When the actual mall opened in 1971, it was more than just an enclosed mall. It was actually appended onto an existing strip mall that had opened in 1968, which made it a rare hybrid strip mall and enclosed shopping mall. The mall portion included anchors Belk Matthews and Sears with an existing Grant's tying onto the mall as the north anchor. Also previously existing in the strip mall portion was A&P grocery store, which was in a separate portion of the strip detached from the mall. In addition there was Elmore's, obviously a five-and-dime operation, that fronted the mall but had no mall access and may not have predated the mall. Eckerd Drugs was included in the mall with an old-fashioned soda counter . Grant's was the first closure at the mall when it liquidated with the chain in 1976. After closing, Key Wholesalers Showroom took over the spot until it closed in the mid-1980's . The former Elmore's location also saw new life operating as Goody's until it joined Belk and Sears at the new mall in 1994. It is curious as to why neither Burlington Coat Factory nor JCPenney ever considered that location. For the time it was built, Warner-Robins was a small town whose growth largely centered on Robins AFB (now Robins ARB), so the mall at that time was just right. Because it was a hybrid of the enclosed mall and strip mall, it also was one of the few true all-in-one shopping plazas where, as John Belushi said in Blues Brothers, "This mall has everything!".
Upon entering the mall, a few shops remain close to the outside entrance. Le Nails is the shop with the neon sign to the left. The first photo is of the mall sign, which is about as plain and old-fashioned as you can get.
Walking from center court towards the former Sears. The kiosk is original. It intermittently functions as a hot dog stand, but originally it was an Orange Julius.
Continuing toward what was Sears, no stores to be found here on the right. I wonder what the store was with the wood trim.
Approaching ahead is the former Sears. Medical billing offices took over the former Eckerd Drugs location on the left. Straight ahead is the Houston Medical Pavillion, which operated as Sears until 1994.
Looking back from the former Sears, this photo attempts to capture the entire length of the mall.
Inside, the mall is a basic t-shape with a non-functioning fountain in the center, a few planters, high windows, a few small skylights and flooring that looks original. About the only renovations that appear to have ever been done is the bizarre and depressing blue color painted on all the ceiling tiles and the addition of some new painting and trim. This mall has every reason to be boarded up or demolished, and the fact it hangs on 16 years after it was replaced is very odd. The only reason it is even open today is primarily due to the creative non-retail reuse. The old Sears is now Houston Health Pavilion, an outpatient center. Belk Matthews now houses the Air Force Reserve Command. Warner Robins Municipal Court uses one of the spaces in the mall in what was previously a book store. Also in the mall is a law firm, doctors office, tax service and janitorial service. The only actual retail left in the mall is near the front featuring a nail salon and a beauty supply store. Evelyn's, an upscale dress shop, obviously gave up before I arrived. Penny Pinchers Home Decor took over the former north anchor at some point once held by Grant's, but appeared to be either closed or out of business when I was there. In other words, with a few exceptions there is no real reason to go there. I did, however, observe two mall walkers while I was there so it still serves that purpose.
On the left is the former Belk Matthews mall entrance, which reminds me of a prop on The Price Is Right. The old fountain is visible to the right, which was completely dry.
Another view of the former Belk Matthews mall entrance. Were those doors there it or was some stuff plastered over with sheetrock?
Directly across from the Belk Matthews entrance is the opening to the main entrance corridor shown in the second photo.
A map I made of Houston Mall the way it was laid out when it opened.
The strip portion of the mall does not appear to be faring much better, but it is not empty. Tenants outside appeared to be those that were attracted to the low rents offered meaning all non-government were small mom 'n' pop businesses. One of those, a new/used office furniture store is located in the old Winn-Dixie, but did not appear to be open. A Disabled Veterans Services office is next door is there as well along with a hair salon, alterations shop and a local ministry in the corner. A local furniture store looks to be in what was either the Elmore's or the former Eckerd Drugs. In all, the mall inside and out reminds me of The Mall in Huntsville just before it was demolished except for the cheap stucco early 90's renovation.
I am now headed toward the former Grant's, which did not appear to operate as anything since then. On the right is the Warner Robins Municipal Court where those in the town treated to blue light specials often wind up.
This brick-fronted store piqued my curiosity as to what it was.
This is possibly one of my favorite shots of the mall. It reminds me of photos I've seen of Dixie Square Mall when it was still in business. A law office sits in the store with the faux arches.
The mall entrance to Penny Pinchers Home Decor, originally Grant's, obviously is not functioning as such anymore. It looked creepy with this brick entrance and Persian rugs piled up everywhere inside.
Houston Mall as it is was built in a strange location. It is situated on top of a hill at the intersection of Watson Blvd (SR 247 Connector) and Houston Road (Old SR 11). It is situated both away from the interstate and away from SR 247 (US 129), the major north-south highway connecting Macon to Hawkinsville through Warner-Robins. It was clearly built largely to serve the military families, and by and large it was a community mall since at that time the better shopping was found at Westgate Mall and in Macon. Since the area was largely undeveloped before the 1990's, the mall thrived for over 20 years.
A back entrance is found next to the old Grant's entrance. Apparently the entrance opposite to this one was sealed off years ago.
This shop next to that entrance was sitting empty. Was this where Evelyn's was?
Another view of the dead store, which looks 60's with its main-street style entryway.
By the time the 90's rolled around, Houston Mall was not adequately serving the needs of the area. With substantial growth taking place pulling away stores from the strip combined with a very basic mall, Zamias realty planned and constructed a new mall closer to I-75 in the Centerville community. Called the Galleria, the new mall was subpar by big city standards, but it was spectacular in comparison to the dreary Houston Mall. The new mall would also have far more anchor space as well, and in the process would easily lure away Belk Matthews and Sears. Both stores were joined by JCPenney and Goody's at the new mall, and in all it seemed that Houston Mall would have simply died and been demolished overnight. Many older malls were meeting the wrecking ball the year that Houston was essentially replaced in 1994, but Houston Mall's offbeat location close to the center of Warner Robins is probably why the mall found new uses in the years since.
Now, I am standing in front of the old Grant's looking back toward Sears on the opposite end of the mall. Here, I showed some detail of one of the four planters I noticed in the mall. The planters are located under the largest overhead skylights, which are a simple domed design.
Here, I am walking back toward the main entrance from the main mall. That seating area looks very odd.
Here, I am looking just inside the main entrance doors. The ceiling through here looks like shiny brass. From this angle, the mall looks lively and the parking lot outside was not exactly empty.
Other than that, I can only speculate as to why Houston Mall holds on. It is partly a strip mall, and for its size it could easily be transformed into a myriad of other uses besides a mall. The over-retailed environment along Watson Blvd has done little to make the mall appealing. Even worse, it is not facing Watson Blvd, and it is mostly removed from the bulk of the shopping that has sprung up around the Galleria. Despite the 3-4 stores that still operate in the mall, the medical center and government offices the fact that the lights are still on and anybody is even there is something to behold. The strip mall part outside is also just as dead as the mall itself, and the gray stucco retrofit only made the mall look worse.
"Penny Pinchers Home Decor", formerly Grant's, from the outside, which looks to be very much out of business. There is a small store on the end, which I understand was a Radio Shack. There is a small gap that separates the mall from the old Winn-Dixie strip portion just to the right.
The Winn-Dixie portion of the strip with the former Winn-Dixie in the center.
Looking back along the rest of the Winn-Dixie strip toward the mall. The old Grant's store is visible on the left. To all appearances, this is still fully tenanted.
Houston Mall's main entrance from the outside. A store called "Furniture Express" next door I believe was either where Eckerd's was, but I cannot confirm this.
One thing I pondered on was to whether Houston Mall could be revived through an expansion. That would basically mean that on at least one side of the mall, a new two-level portion was constructed luring in JCPenney and subsequently luring back Sears and Belk. This would, of course, mean buying adjacent property and would also mean the death of the mall that killed Houston Mall, but this is pure harmless fantasy. Obviously, Belk and Sears would both have to be reconstructed, possibly as two level stores, to accommodate the addition. I see a couple scenarios on how this could be built. One would be purchasing the lot next to the southwest corner of the mall and expanding the mall over that area extending from the southwest entrance. This would give a new JCPenney high visibility, and the new mall addition would essentially have escalators drop down to the lower level portion since the adjacent lot is on a lower grade. The new wing would make the mall far more appealing from the road.
While not the best angle of Sears, it is the one I had to use because the sun was making photos of the mall from the east side near impossible.
Here is a side view of the Sears, which I should have taken from the opposite angle but for some reason didn't. This was obviously the old customer pick-up area.
Another idea to fix this dead mall would be to expand the mall through the former Grant's location and turn it back east toward the parking lot where the old Winn-Dixie and strip is. The strip would be demolished and replaced with the same JCPenney store. In the first scenario, the old Grant's would either be converted to mall space or a junior anchor such as Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble could fill the spot. The second scenario could replace the old Winn-Dixie strip mall portion with the same bookstore connected to the mall. Any way it was done, though, the original mall would have to be extensively renovated inside and out to make it more appealing. Would anybody want this, though? Such drastic measures saved previously dumpy Oglethorpe Mall in the 90's.
A Belk Matthews labelscar is barely noticeable on the side of this building. While the logo is not there, you can tell by the holes in the side of the building.
I never remember Belk entrances looking like this, but I also never remember a Belk from 1972. Obviously no arches were put at this store, and the design is completely brutalist.
A side view of the store with the sun casting an eerie glow on the side of the building. Where was the sign from this side? I couldn't make any labelscars from this side anywhere.
In all, Houston Mall is one of many second generation malls that still litter the landscape. Way past its prime and no longer a retail destination, the mall has avoided redevelopment. This is most likely due to the huge amount of sprawl to the west and easily available land in the area that the mall found new life despite complete failure as a retail shopping mall. Its plain and dark design is probably the reason that nobody ever tried to remake the center, but there is still an outside possibility that one day someone might try to revive it such as what I suggested if they had enough cash to do it. The most likely scenario, though, is that the enclosed mall will eventually be sealed off with different parts reverting to various non-retail uses. Still, as the mall in its state approaches 40 years old it is amazing that it is still around and open to the public.
ALSO: Check out this video link above on You-Tube created by KA Turner of the mall. The video entitled "Ill Mall Housto" was designed as a parody of never-released Paw Filmworks DVD about Dixie Square Mall.
 Turner, KA. (2010, May 14). Houston Mall. [Electronic mail message].