Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eastland Mall (Farewell Part 2): Charlotte, NC

Doing a series on Eastland Mall is a little strange for me.  The reason for this is because the photos I took were the very first time I had ever seen the mall.  I never remembered its prime or when it was new, but with my blog focusing on retail history in the Southeast, it would have been sinful for me to have ignored this.  It was funny how if this had happened 20 years ago it would not have gotten so much attention.  Quite a few "firsts" have departed with fewer tears shed.  Charlottetown Mall, which had faded and changed names twice finally fell into the dustbin of history four years before...likely with far less fanfare despite the fact it was the oldest enclosed mall in the Southeast.  Charlottetown, however, never became a superstar like Eastland.  It was pretty much sidelined for better malls within 11 years of opening.

With Eastland, I felt the need to present memories of a faded retail palace much in the way I have many other lost malls.  I am actually impressed and quite pleased at the amount of attention this place is getting as its era has come to an end.  When the giants fall, it always comes as a shock to people even if they saw it coming for years.  I only wish that so many of the other historic centers had garnered this much interest as its future prepares to be very different from the past 35 years.  To me, upon visiting the place it was difficult to grasp that despite the condition it was in that it was truly the end.  I felt much the same way as I saw other malls of my youth fade, vanish or morph into something unfamiliar.  Unfortunately in the volatile world of retail, change is far more drastic than any other.

Directory of Eastland Mall from 1975.  Scans from Pat Richardson.  The first photo is a road sign pointing to the mall with the mall's logo on it.

A custom map from 2007 made by Bobby Peacock.  I had forgotten about Freds and Prime Time in the last post.

Ad for Belk grand opening at Eastland.  Scan from Pat Richardson.

Ivey's grand opening ad.  Scan from Pat Richardson.

I guess that many of us do not realize the effect malls have on us.  It sounds corny, I know, but as I've said before malls were the downtowns of two generations.  So many of us spent our childhood and teenage years in them, and I remember when they were as a whole far more exciting than today.  The dead mall phenomenon is not just the area, the economy or a change in fashion: they just are not what they used to be.  They started out as an "all in one" shopping experience when today you do well to find anything besides marked-up clothing and bad Chinese food.   Eastland is also an example of the shift of interest from the mall "experience" that Eastland presented.  The fountains and trees are gone.  No Eckerd drug store with a soda fountain is to be found.  The ice skating rink became a costly liability.  Kiosks replaced nice seating areas to help pay the air conditioner bill before they, too, left.

What is preposterous to me is how the original mall entrances have remained in place from day one, but even more so how they really do not look dated at all.

More detail of "Entrance A".

Burlington Coat Factory labelscar on the hideous old JCPenney.  Ivey's and Belk were attractive and distinct, but I cannot say the same for JCPenney.

Nondescript Sears, which opened in 1979 and closed in 2009.

Dillard's stripped away all of the old Ivey's and made it ugly.  It was classy looking before.

Now, look back in time.  Imagine your mom dragging you through the mall at five years old as you tugged her toward the toy store, candy store or pet store.  Imagine spending half-a-day as a preteen milling around the mall to see and be seen while you slurped on Orange Julius.  Imagine you might have had your first job at the mall.  Now, you're looking and seeing how much of your life was spent there.  That may not have mattered at the "always dead" mall, but in a "place to be" like Eastland that really mattered.  In no way can it not be sad, because it is an old friend.  I am a bit unusual in this because I have just felt that way about more than one of such places.  I realize that every one I have been to has a distinct feel and personality even if it looks much like another one.

Some would call this Belk ugly, but designs like this really had an outlandish mystique to them.  This is my favorite store outside by far, and the inside looked spectacular in the late 80's remodel.  All photos of that remodel can be found on LiveMalls.

Belk and Entrance A.

The redevelopment of Eastland, in my opinion, will be very tough.  Eastland had so much working against it at the end.  I think what works against it the most is the lack of a hinterland.  The mall used to have that, but that was largely lost due to the US 74/Independence freeway project, which killed off much of the nearby retail.  Malls need stores like Best Buy nearby.  With that, keeping the mall as a mall likely would only work as what Boxer has planned, because in reality I do not see this site as retail anymore: especially not as a mall.  As much as I hate to say it, I think it would probably be best to just demolish most of the mall and convert what is left to offices and condos.  While a "downtown" type project would be nice, I do not think the neighborhood is quite ready to support it.  In fact, this would have probably been a good place for Charlotte/Mecklenburg offices, but because they chose Freedom Mall for that first, this negates that option.  Honestly, I would love to hear what others would think would work best on this site putting their wishes aside that it could be a mall forever.  I know the feeling, because I never want to see a mall die.

A view from the ice rink level.  Cutlery World is in the background.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Another store at side of ice rink area/center court.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Another view inside the Radio Shack from the previous post.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Outside Lerner Shops.  This is very old school looking.  The Lerner I remember had a more elegant logo but in the same blue neon.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Eastland was a big mall that captured the love of the populace, so included here are more photos from its past along with more of my own parting photos.  This post captures more historic images of the mall from its first 15 years.  I am glad most of you liked my first post, and I have more to come with Charlotte.  Much more can be found on Eastland Mall at LiveMalls

Pat Richardson provided these architectural drawings showing how the 1989 renovation would look when completed.

Renovation work here underway.  What did this look like before?  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

One of the upper level entrance courts with work underway.  I think I liked the original mall better.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

A corner shop with barren floors.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Random location.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Florsheim Shoes and part of chandelier at center court.  They were once a standard in nearly every mall back then.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Upper floor view.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Waldenbooks and JCPenney mall entrance in the background.  The original fountains were already gone.  Too bad they weren't allowed to remain unlike those at Century Plaza.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

This is a scan from Pat Richardson from 1973 showing how the then-proposed mall would look.

Pat Richardson also sent this photo he took in 1979 or 1980 showing JCPenney with Ivey's on the left.


  1. Continuation of prior post....

    The problem with malls is that once they die, they don't come back. You can refresh or enlarge a basically functional mall with decent demographics. You can have a mall that limps along with non-national stores (which often have a different clientele than the anchors). But a dead mall needs a new purpose in life and so do many of the "limp alongs" because the local stores won't generate enough revenue to justify upgrades. Eastland sounds like it it's truly dead and will be difficult to repurpose. Perhaps some of the space could be a church or a clinic. Maybe some govt offices, although that probably just hurts downtown and any non-private, profitmalking owner will be bad for the taxbase. The location sounds like it has no future in retail. Ethnic malls are a gamble and tend to need a very large population base or a small mall to work. The site would need significant demolition to be something viable and useful to the taxbase like light industry or an office park. The advantage of old, pre-mall retail forms is that they easily could become something else--there are dead downtowns that manage okay as office-oriented employment centers with some nightlife and restaurants in spots. The original retail center of NYC was along Broadway and 6th Avenue from about 14th to 23rd--the 6th Ave part was known as the Ladies' Mile. When the department stores moved to Midtown, much of it reverted to loft manufacturing and various other uses like publishing and wholesaling. The retail that remained was low end and sometimes innovative, including early discounters like S Klein and the big ABC Carpet & Furniture store (no longer discount), but for about 80 years, no one really went there to shop unless they thought they could get a real bargain. Now, it's filled with big boxes, home furnishings, and on the side streets some quirky, interesting stores and things have come full circle. It's doubtful you could do that with a mall. Malls were built with one purpose in mind and that purpose requires a lot of money to be changed. For all the knocking of lifestyle centers, I've noticed that they do movie nights (outdoors), band concerts, etc.--things that wouldn't work in a mall and which create more community than malls ever really did. There will be a new generation of memories and they will belong to a type of development that probably will be a lot easier to repurpose when it dies.

  2. You capture the initial appeal of malls (one stop shopping) and the pull of even terminally bland malls on people (the "hang out" for their generation). Although I spent enough of my formative years in malls, I'm more Darwinian than most posters. Even fairly early in the development of malls, it was obvious that they were overcome with sameness and blandness. I also spent time working in downtown retail and experiencing the last really good years of that where I lived. Downtown/neighborhood forms were always more interesting and the ability of neighborhood shopping districts to recreate themsleves is something that malls can't replicate.

    You indirectly hit on a big factor in the ultimate decline of malls, which was their ever narrowing focus. First, it was non-apparrel that was elbowed out. Then it was less expensive stores that left--many of them via bankruptcy. they were replaced with stores that generally were more expensive and less utilitarian in what they sold. It's important to remember that malls originally were populated by a lot of respectable but basically low-end stores that sold cheap fashionable clothing for women (Lerner, the Petrie chains) or basic and somewhat dressy clothing for men (Bond's Richman's, National Shirt) and shoe stores that fell along the same lines (Thom McAn, Kinney and regional chains like Nobil). In addition, the department stores often had "budget" or basement stores that provided a lot of volume. Variety stores were common, too, even in upscale malls although they became less welcome as the 70s wore on. The low end stuff disappeared through the 80s and malls became much less affordable to many of their regular shoppers. This made mid-market malls more vulnerable to the effects of better competition, demographic change, etc. This became apparent esp. in the last 10-15 years in most places. Apparel, esp. the upscale variety, provides better rents than other categories and the short-term push for higher rent tenants gave those stores an upper hand. The public areas, except for food courts disappeared and were filled with kiosks. Video game arcades went quickly as they attracted teenagers who didn't spend much money and were viewed as problematic. The lower end stuff is now what you'd find at a big box or off-price retailers and those places usually aren't in a mall (except maybe Burlington Coat Factory).

    The irony is that if you go to an upscale mall like Lenox or a somewhat upscale regional megamall like Tysons Corner, there's a very diverse store base--you can buy furniture, kitchen stuff, candy, etc. and perhaps find a nice sitdown restaurant. It's all much more expensive than the non-apparel stuff in malls of old, but the diversity is sustained in those places (and also in many lifestyle centers).

  3. I'd have to respectfully disagree about the entrances- with that sun logo above them, mold growing all over the brick walls and the dinky doors, I was always pretty turned off. And I remember driving up to the Belk store right before it closed, and seeing the yellow glow through the glass at the entrances. Eastland, I felt sorry for you in your dying days, but especially after that Dillard's closed, there was no reason to go to you.

  4. Great, very thorough post--I see now why you split it in two! Thanks also to Mr. Richardson for the photos and renderings; it's obvious the mall holds a special place in your heart. My only question is why those awesome chandeliers are lit up in most of the pics. Was that much natural light coming in above the ice rink most of the time?

  5. You've got to give credit to Eastland for keeping the ice rink open so long, though.

  6. 3 thoughts:

    * I miss the Eastland Christmas ornaments in the mid-2000s- above the ice rink (which by then was covered in brown sand, which became brown mud when it somehow got wet), there were 3 large ornaments hanging from the ceiling- one a gift box and 2 round ones (I think). They weren't fully inflated and so they were kind of like half-filled balloons, just hanging there. That's all the mall seemed to have for Christmas decorations. It was pitiful.

    * Eastland never seemed to have a shortage of customers. The problem just seemed to be that the customers were short of funds.

    * Northlake Mall is the next Eastland.

  7. They've demolished the J.C. Penney store at Eastland, and are in the process of demolishing the rest of the mall as well. Heartbreaking, to say the least.