When South Park opened in 1970, it was a T-shaped mall with Charlotte standards Ivey's and Belk facing each other divided by the a long hallway with a fountain court in the center. This fountain court is where the longer Sears wing made a junction to form the long part of the T. The mall was far from conventional, however. Belk established its flagship store at the mall with more upscale Ivey's also donning their best. South Park was also the largest mall at that point, eclipsing all of the tiny malls dotting the city. While those older malls were more community oriented, this was the first mall to truly phase out downtown. The leading mall, Charlottetown, was no match to the center. What makes all of this strange, however, is the fact that South Park is unlike most any other mall: located nowhere near any interstate or major thoroughfare. In fact, it is rather hidden, situated at the intersection of two local roads: Tyvola Road (City 4) and Sharon Road.
Four images of South Park's famous center court fountain. It has been modified three times since it was opened, though I am unable to provide the second version. The second version took up much more of the court and was actually the most attractive, though the first version was the most elegant. The first photo of the original fountain comes via Malls of America/Keith Milford.
Early South Park Mall was far from dumpy. It brought a certain level of elegance that only Charlottetown ever approached. A huge champagne glass fountain flanked the center court, stylish late-60's decor was found throughout and all of the best stores located there. Considering the similarities of Charlotte to Atlanta, South Park was essentially an enclosed Lenox Square that came 11 years later. Like Lenox, it also had some years where it fell briefly out of prominence as well. The opening of Eastland Mall in 1975 stole some of the mall's thunder, but time proved that South Park was the one with the lasting power. While Eastland will be closing forever in a week from this post, South Park is the only mall in the state to offer two luxury department stores.
Court area outside of Nordstrom. This portion of the mall was built after 2003, but architecturally matches the rest of the center. The escalators connect to the parking deck and is not mall space.
A view of the Nordstrom mall entrance. This photo looks like a canyon...something malls used to capitalize more on.
Another view of the Nordstrom court.
The morphing of South Park into North Carolina's top mall came slowly. The first big change came in the late 1980's with a full scale renovation in 1986. While the hourglass fountain was replaced, the surrounding mall received a more elegant treatment than its original minimalist design offered, though much of that has again been stripped away. Along with this, the mall also gained a new anchor: Thalhimer's of Richmond, VA. Thalhimer's formed a new wing off the north side of the Sears wing bringing the anchor count to four. Four years later, Ivey's was converted to Dillard's. This was the first original anchor to leave when that occurred. Thalhimer's opening was the first time the chain opened in Charlotte, but it would prove to be short-lived as Hecht's took over that spot in 1992.
The mall's skylights are done in a style I have never seen before, but they look like this throughout the entire mall. It is not that I don't like it, because I do. It's just that there is too much of it. The best way I can describe it is like being on the lower level of a double-deck viaduct. This is along the newer Belk wing...not the original. Belk has two entrances.
Belk mall entrance on the newer wing, which comes off of the Nordstrom wing. These courts maintain a late 60's/early 70's feel to them.
This court area is found at the junction of the Nordstrom wing and the long T part of the mall that used to end in Sears.
The 90's would prove to be a relatively stagnant period of growth for the mall. Eastland was still going strong, and the mall would face increased competition with Carolina Place Mall drawing south side customers. However, Charlotte was also seeing a period of boom with significant growth, which helped to increase the wealth and prominence of the area. Since 1990, the city has nearly doubled in population. While this has led to continued expansion of retail across the city, this also led to major changes to the mall itself starting in 2002. These changes have resulted in a mall significantly different from the original mall, and they have also turned South Park into a major destination for shoppers in the Carolinas.
Along the base of the T (old Sears wing) headed toward the center "fountain" court.
More detail along the same area.
Dillard's mall entrance, which forms the north wing from fountain court. This opened as Ivey's originally, and is original to the mall despite the fact that there is no resemblance to the original store.
The first change to occur was the closure of Sears. It is not clear why Sears left the mall, but they closed their store there by the end of 2002. After it closed, the store was demolished and replaced with a small outdoor wing. In this wing, a Galyan's (now Dick's) Sporting Goods as well as Joseph-Beth Bookstore flanked a new outdoor courtyard on the west end of the mall. About the same time, the first major expansion since the 80's also commenced as the mall was expanded to include a new Nordstrom. This new store coupled with a new wing and new parking deck upscaled the mall significantly. On top of this work, the mall was again renovated...this time, in the typical Simon fashion which has resulted in a mall that is really too basic to be as upscale as it is. Simon similarly did this with Lenox in Atlanta.
The mall extends briefly east of fountain court, and an open air wing was added just outside featuring trendy restaurants. While very nice, it was hot out here. Smokers took advantage of the spot.
Here is the original Belk mall entrance, which I believe was done this way in the 1986 renovation. As Belk's flagship, elegance was paramount.
Macy's forms the northwest wing catty-corner to the Nordstrom wing. This wing is the least elegant. The store here opened as Thalhimer's in 1986 later operating as Hecht's from then to 2006. Rich's considered once opening in Charlotte, possibly at this mall, so Macy's fits.
The next change to come to South Park would place the mall on par with Atlanta's finest. This was when construction began on a new Neiman Marcus store. Completed in late 2006, this addition converted the Queen City's first major mall into not only the most upscale, but also the state's largest mall, though that was actually achieved when Nordstrom was added. A free-standing huge two-level Crate & Barrel (not pictured) was also built across from the mall on an outlot during this time. The unfortunate part of this process was that the owners were apparently ashamed of having any 1970's elements remaining at the mall. This meant that the distinctly designed Dillard's, which opened as Ivey's, was gutted and replaced with a conventional Dillard's. Belk likewise renovated its appearance to modernize its flagship. It also appears that the Macy's (then Hecht's) was re-faced to modernize the appearance. In fact, shoppers that visited the mall 20 years ago would recognize very little.
The food court was very nice. It is situated in front of where Sears mall entrance used to be. It is now an entrance to a second outdoor portion of the mall.
I am unsure if this is outside of Macy's or if this is part of the old Sears wing.
Dick's Sporting Goods outside of the food court, which opened in 2003 as Galyan's Sporting Goods. Galyan's was sold to Dick's in 2005.
South Park Mall had a tragedy in 2007 when a woman drove into one of the new parking deck supports. The collision caused part of the parking deck to collapse destroying two cars and killing the driver. Issues were made about the construction of the deck especially after a major collapse occured at a similar designed deck in Atlanta in 2009. The deck has since been repaired.
In the same fountain as the last photo with Dick's, I am looking back at the mall entrance. Eight years ago, I would be standing inside Sears. California Pizza Kitchen, one of the many restaurants attached to the mall, is on the left.
Joseph-Beth Bookstore is situated to the left of Dick's. I have never heard of this store before...is it local?
In so many ways, Charlotte reminded me of Atlanta in my childhood: about where it was in the late 1980's. It has big buildings in the core, a big city attitude but is still small enough to be bearable size and trafficwise. This is definitely the appeal of it, and is probably why the area has attracted enough wealth to create a mall like South Park. Still, I am a bit disappointed about the way South Park looks. I think despite what it has to offer, it could be far more elegant like Phipps Plaza.
Neiman Marcus is absolutely unparalleled in their elegant modernist design they used here. This is possibly one of the most beautiful department stores I have ever seen. Too bad Dillard's ripped off their original facade, because it would have fit in well with this store.
Note the original Dillard's, which opened here as Ivey's. It is distinct, and while outlandish was elegant for the 70's. Photo is by cantnot via LiveMalls.
Dillard's today. Aside from the very unusual (for 2006) mansard roof, this is a boring Dillard's clone.
In terms of upgrading the mall, I tend to think two areas need attention: adding a second level to part of the mall and upgrading the court areas. I think posh courts with elegant touches, flowers and distinct skylights in front of Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom with escalators climbing to a second level mall entrance would make access easier and improve the appearance of both. Likewise, I believe part of the original mall should become two levels with subdued but unique skylights connecting Dillard's and Belk complete with a reconfiguring of the signature fountain so that it shoots to the new second level. Perhaps multi-colored glass in the skylights in the main court would make it really stand out. Maybe the skylights along each part of the mall could be a different color. It seems to me that the mall needs these changes to make it more distinctive, because no part of the mall really has any focal points or presence. I also think that these improvements should look entirely different from the rest of the mall much in the way Mall of Georgia has different themes for different parts of the mall. How could this be done to represent the culture of Charlotte and North Carolina?
I wonder how this store originally looked, because clearly this Macy's store looks newer than 1986.
Nordstrom from the parking deck. Sadly, I somehow forgot to get pics of the Belk from the outside. South Park was actually not my priority in this trip, but I did have to see it. What I liked about it, though, was that it was like Lenox without the level of pretension.
Overall, the South outside of Florida and Washington DC lacks truly quality malls. South Park is one of only five malls offering true upscale shopping anywhere in the South. The only others are in Atlanta, Birmingham and (soon) Nashville. It is truly impressive how much South Park has improved and expanded over the years, and this is even more true considering that no other mall this successful has been so far removed from major highways. It was pretty obvious when I visited that shoppers arrived from miles around to shop at stores unavailable elsewhere. Nevertheless, I think that this mall could stand out more. Between the generic remodels of the original anchors and the simple design on the inside, without Neiman Marcus the mall looks very basic. Still, malls like this prove when a city's progress has reached a certain level, and this mall is an effective symbol on Charlotte's progress toward becoming a major city.
MORE: Much, MUCH more on South Park can be found on Steven Swain's Live Malls blog.