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.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eastland Mall (Farewell Part 1): Charlotte, NC

On June 30, 2010 one of Charlotte's largest and very first large two-level malls will be closing possibly forever and definitely forever as a traditional mall.  Much like Century Plaza in Birmingham, the mall has faded extremely fast from when it was fully successful a mere four years ago.  It is certain that the neighborhood has played a big part in its demise...a lower income neighborhood with very real crime.  This is evidenced today with the plethora of seedy apartments, trashy shops and check cashing places found a block or so away on Central Avenue.  Nevertheless, it is a sad turn of events for a mall that was once the top place to shop in the city and at one point largest in the state.  Myself, I almost missed the opportunity to catch this historic mall at its very end, but encouragement from several people led to me making the 250 mile journey to the Queen City.  I did this partly to document the faded hopes of a mall whose offbeat location in a declining inner ring suburb combined with insurmountable competition to finally bring it to its knees.

When the mall opened in 1975, it was a first for the city.  It was the first to have four anchors, the first with two levels and the first to have its own indoor ice skating rink.  Luring in Charlotte's own Belk and Ivey's, the mall was also joined by JCPenney and junior anchor Miller and Rhoads.  In 1979, Sears would also join the mall on the back side.  With so much to offer, the mall was an instant hit.  In fact, it was so popular that it even surpassed South Park Mall for nearly two decades.  The mall, however, was in a strange place.  Like South Park, it was situated far away from major interstates.  Just that alone would have made the mall easy to replace, but the city grew relatively slowly up until the 1990's and none of the malls located near freeways offered anything comparable. 

Belk here closed in 2006.  No store in the mall had a more dated mall entrance and exterior, but it was dated in a good way...I really liked both.  The first photo is of the road sign, which thanks the hoards of area residents who frequented the mall over the years. 

JCPenney, however, wrote the book on bland.  This last operated as Burlington Coat Factory, which closed early in the year.

A look at the mall outside of Belk.  

Part of the mall on the JCPenney wing.

Looking from JCPenney court.  An old Foot Locker is on the right.

Eastland Mall was a typical swanky 70's mall with fountains and trees in the smaller courts in addition to the memorable center court.  Eventually, a couple renovations stripped much of that away exposing the inadequacies of an otherwise pretty basic two-level mall.  The first renovation around 1989, however, would bring in updated fountains and a new food court.  The mall also saw two anchor changes in that period.  The first was due to Ivey's being bought out by Dillard's in 1990.  Miller and Rhoads would also depart later in the 1990's, converting to regular mall space.  However, the mall at that point also competed only with similarly remote South Park and Carolina Place Malls, which helped the mall maintain a competitive edge by being the most convenient mall in the city .  Even then, half the anchor stores at Eastland overlapped with South Park: both had Belk and Dillard's.  This would all change in 2005 with the opening of Northlake Mall, which I believe had as much of an effect in Eastland's failure as the neighborhood around it.

Northeast entrance wing from the upper level near JCPenney.  The same closed Foot Locker is on the right.  Miller & Rhoads used to be on the left.

In the same wing as above, what was this store?  I am told this was Morrison's Cafeteria.

Disney Store?

Sad.  This is on the same entrance wing as above.

Skylight detail in the adjacent court.  This was only possible due to the big thunderstorm that erupted while I was in here.

Whether anybody realizes it, probably the reason the mall lasted as long as it did was due to a rather limited selection of malls and even anchors such as Sears or JCPenney for a fast growing city.  Before Eastland Mall, the previous community type malls typically had one local department store often with a discounter such as Woolco as the other anchor.  It was hardly a proper shopping experience, and much of that was fueled by the tremendous influence of the Belk and Ivey families.  Charlotte's first mall was not even enough to lure either one: it was originally anchored by Bon Marche from Asheville.  While malls like Eastland eventually killed those centers, a better shopping experience was strongly desired, and Eastland provided that.

View from second level of center court with Dillard's/Ivey's in the background.  The "Ice Capades" are now an indoor soccer field, and the blue looks very garish next to the rest of the court.

Almost the same angle from 1989 with Ivey's in the background.  Photo by Pat Richardson.

Looking toward Sears in the center court with a better view of the skylights.

Detail of the skylights.  This is definitely an older style.  One of the nation's oldest malls has this, and another mall in Charlotte also used this style.  I like it, though.

The sun finally pops out here as I cover an angle with the east wing on the right.

Northlake pulled shoppers away from the mall right away when the new mall opened in 2006.  Not only was it in a better area, but it offered a far more attractive shopping experience with far less of a crime risk involved.  Other developments such as the stalled Bridges at Mint Hill also threatened the mall, but Northlake was the only one to actually materialize.  Northlake also has the advantage of direct interstate access, which Eastland never had.  The writing was on the wall and the changes came fast.  The first sign of trouble came in the 1990's, though, when the theaters in the mall shuttered in 1996.  Glimcher Realty bought the mall in 1998, but seemed to take no interest in the property.  By 1999, JCPenney converted their full-line store into an outlet.  Trouble was in the air as the area was declining with rents dropping on nearby apartments with the bad element settling in.  Even worse, no real investment had been made in the mall since it was built.  In fact, it appears the last renovation was done in 1989 with no other changes since it was built aside from removal of the fountains.  Not only were no anchors added, but on the outside the mall pretty much looked the same as the day it opened.

A nice shot of both levels from a smaller court area.  I believe that is the former Belk in the background.

On the lower level is a northwest entrance wing.  On the right is the entrance to the food court.  I have a closer shot, but it did not come out as well.  Was this where the theater used to be?

One of two shots of the food court area.

More of the food court.  The main mall is on the left.

1989 photo of the food court from Pat Richardson.  Note the stairs on the right down to the ice skating rink.

By 2002, the biggest sign of trouble happened when the JCPenney Outlet closed.  Burlington Coat Factory, which is typically a death sentence for most malls, took over the spot by 2005, but it too would not last.  This gave Belk and Dillard's a chance to get out of their own leases since the mall had allowed a non-traditional anchor in a department store space.  Belk closed their store in 2006, helped along by the opening of the store at Northlake just prior.  Dillard's also converted their store to an outlet.  That same year, the signature ice rink would close, though it appears to have since been used for indoor soccer since then.  The interior of the mall was also in decline as much of the big name tenants including stores like American Eagle and Hollister opted out.  Seeing the writing on the wall, Charlotte was interested in buying the mall and tearing it down, but apparently the city has made no action on doing so.

Looking northwest here with the food court entrance in the middle and the main mall on the left.

Approximate photo with one of the big chandaliers.  WHY did these have to go?

Vacant Sears is in the background from this angle.

Sears is in the background here, too...21 years ago.  Photo by Pat Richardson.

Over the next couple years, the mall would go from bad to worse.  Dillard's closed it store in late 2008, Sears departed in June 2009 and the mall's last anchor, Burlington Coat Factory, closed this year.  Anchorless and hopeless, Glimcher found it was unable to sell the giant rock in the middle of a run down area, so it decided instead to let the entire mall be foreclosed on.  On my visit, the remaining tenants were packing out and the air conditioner was shut off making a visit to the mall highly uncomfortable.  The owners made no secret the game was over.  This is why the mall will be closing down next Wednesday ending a once much happier chapter in Charlotte history.

Former Champs's Sporting Goods

What was this?

An old Athlete's Foot.

A view from the second level shows these crossbeams with plants on top.  It would be bad news if someone knocks one of those over with someone below.

With the mall dead, interest in the center still exists.  A Houston-based company known as Boxer Realty wants to buy the center converting it into a mixed-use site catering to the multicultural aspects of the neighborhood.  Boxer currently runs a place known as Plaza Fiesta Carolinas.  With this, it seems possible that the mall could become something akin to the wildly popular Plaza Fiesta Mall in Atlanta...except this would be a much larger project.  I had actually suggested such a project on an earlier post for fading Asian Corner/Tryon Mall.  Boxer's plans, however, are modeled after a dead mall they revived in Fort Worth, TX  into a Hispanic-themed center.  The company is citing its success in reviving Fort Worth Town Center into La Gran Plaza as to why they could do the same for Eastland.  Hopefully, this is genuine so that this mall does not become for the consolidated city of Charlotte/Mecklenburg County another enormous rotting corpse of a mall like Regency Mall became for consolidated Augusta/Richmond County, GA.

An original court area under reconstruction in 1989.  It looks naked without those trees today.  Photo by Pat Richardson.

An earlier view of probably the same court from 1980.  They don't make 'em like this anymore.  Photo by Pat Richardson.

I sure miss the shops with the Bavarian themes.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Inside Lerner Shops.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

Inside Radio Shack.  Photo by Pat Richardson from 1989.

While I am hardly the first to cover it, I am glad to be able to post on Eastland Mall showing you some of my photos combined with photos of the mall at various times in its history from Pat Richardson.  Many, many people are sad about this mall departing as it was once the premier shopping destination for Charlotte.  35 years is not really long enough for a mall of this size to go from boom to bust.  It reminds me of so many malls from my childhood including a few that have gone away, so I fully understand this must be hard for many people to see how a place of their youth has come to this.  It looks as though Eastland could find new life, but never again as the way that people remember it.  However, many have come along over the years capturing photos of it in its various points in history, so unlike many other malls it will be remembered well with images preserved for years to come.