Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cascade Galleria/Towne Mall: New Castle, PA

Finding old malls that retained their original design from the 60's and 70's is today very rare.  Usually malls like this are small, one-story malls found in cities too small to support them in somewhere in Appalachia.  This, of course, pretty much describes the sad and forgotten Cascade Galleria, originally known as Towne Mall.  Mostly deserted outside of office hours, at one point around 30 years ago it was the center of activity in the heart of New Castle.  Located on the southwest corner of downtown, it brought the first and only enclosed mall to Lawrence County as more of a community mall serving residents of the city which, at the time, was a city with over 40,000 residents in a county with over 100,000 residents.  Perhaps they deserved better.

Opening in August 1970, the mall featured a full-line Sears and Murphy's as its two anchors.  The mall itself is also quite small: likely only between 100,000 to 200,000 square feet.  Downtown had several department stores, but most of these ignored the mall, including Allied-owned Troutman's (later Pomeroy's).  After the mall opened, the effects of the collapse of the steel industry coupled with the major shift in retailing began to affect the mall.  First to depart was Murphy's, which closed their location at the mall in 1994.  Sears would leave the mall in 1995, relocating to a brand new standalone store on the west side of town at the junction of US 224 and the I-376 tollway.  The departure of these two anchors left the mall for dead.

Center court features wood-grained ceilings and a non-functioning fountain.  The wall on the left with the small hallway is actually what used to be the Sears wing.

On the left is what was a local pretzel shop.

A look down the east wing to center court (facing west).

North wing from center court.  The back portion is mostly walled off except for access to the north entrance.

A look down the north wing.  Murphy's was on the right.

High window skylight detail.

Next to the wall on the north wing is this staircase coming off to the side.  The aerial shows a small area that appears to include a higher roof that would thus support this second level.

The north end of the north wing is mostly blocked off except this piece of the corridor heading to exterior doors where the light is coming in.

Outside entrance from the north end of the north corridor.  Perhaps this was designed for a third anchor (Troutman's?) that never came.  If so, there was no room to add this anchor without tearing down several buildings.

Like in Meadville, Cascade Galleria was built on the edge of downtown instead of close to the interstate.  This meant that the mall was not only in an undesirable location for a mall, but also it was unable to expand.  This contributed to Sears departure.  Murphy's departure, then a part of the McCrory's chain, was expected as five and dime stores were in sharp decline by the 1990's.  When these stores left, no other stores were interested in taking over all of that anchor space.  Thus, the mall was ultimately repurposed with what few stores remained replaced with offices.  In fact, the only tenant in the mall today that serves a retail purpose is Towne Mall Pizza, an eatery that was not only an original tenant, but also popular enough that it did not need the mall to survive.  Family Dollar does occupy a portion of the Sears, but it is only accessible from the outside and does not connect to the mall.  Tenants in the mall today include Erie Business Center, AT&T, a credit union, a workers compensation office and a beauty school.  Not even a GNC or nail salon is interested in doing business in the mall.

Looking down the very dark north wing to center court with the wall ahead blocking Sears court.

Details of a few of the old shops.  The outline of an overhang is visible on one of the former shops on the right.

What is left of the Sears mall entrance is visible down this narrow hallway.  The wall to the right used to be part of the Sears wing.

Detail of the Sears entrance that is now offices.

Photo contributed to the New Castle News by David Colella showing the Sears mall entrance when it was fully intact.

Shots of the west wing walking away from center court.  The brick-clad arches on the exterior help to make the mall darker.

Walking down the west wing back toward center court.  The next photo shows more detail of the former store on the left.

Sears relocation would ultimately prove to be unsuccessful.  For one, New Castle is not large enough nor developed enough to support typically mall-based retailers.  Much better shopping options are found a mere 18 miles west in Boardman, OH including Southern Park Mall and a huge variety of big box stores surrounding it.  It seems more than anything the mall was built in hopes that people would choose to shop in New Castle rather than make the trek to the vast shopper's paradise to the west.  It did not work.  Sears in its newer location closed in 2015 after 20 years although Dunham's Sports and Lowe's still operate stores at Union Plaza.  While the city is clearly large enough to support some big box retail, it is not large enough to support the types of stores found in malls.

Former store on west wing.  Does anybody know what this was?  It has pretty distinctive architecture suggesting a junior anchor.

Walking back to center court along the west wing of the mall.

Center court looking into the east wing.

Although the sign over the mall appears to have been updated, Town Mall Pizza looks to be the only original tenant remaining in the mall.

Looking down the east wing toward the east entrance.

Note the unusual overhang of this store coupled with the rather vintage Town Mall Beauty School sign.  A photo contributed from the 1970's shows that a store called "Mr. Little's" used to be in this spot fronted by a kiosk.  The store to the right was apparently called "Rivet".  Next to that was the pretzel stand shown in previous photos.

Here is the photo from the early days of the mall contributed to the New Castle News by Anthony DiCarlo showing what was originally here.  So much has changed, but so much has remained the same.

What appears to have been the former Rivet location.

It is not clear when Towne Mall became Cascade Galleria, but what is clear is that the mall has barely been touched in over 45 years.  While clearly in good repair, almost all of the original 1970 decor is still intact even though portions of the mall have been partially walled off.  This includes, unfortunately, all but a small part of the Sears mall entrance and one side of the Murphy's wing.  A few original storefronts also remain, although many of those facades were stripped away leaving just drywall and glass.  The center of the mall contains a dark, but beautiful wood-grained ceiling with a vaulted court and high window skylights.  The mall also has planters and one fountain that has long since been turned off.  The layout is shaped like a cross with the former Sears at the top of the cross, the main entrances on each side and a smaller entrance at the bottom of the cross.

Exterior shots of the former Sears, much of what has been taken up by Erie Business Center (west side) and a portion by Family Dollar on the east side.  Part of the store appears to remain vacant.

Detail of the outside of the east entrance of the mall.  It was really quite an attractive design for 1970.

Former Murphy's location (outside entrance).  It looks like much of the right side of the north wing was taken up by Murphy's.  Today it houses what appears to be a call center for AT&T.

On the southeast outlot of the mall is this former grocery store.  Was this a former Top's or something else?

View of the west side of the mall with Sears barely visible on the right.

The name and logo appears to have been changed in the mid-1980's, but the sign itself is the same sign frame used for Towne Mall originally.

Last, but not least, is Sears replacement store located three miles to the west at the intersection of US 224 and I-376 (Pennsylvania Turnpike).  It closed in 2015.

Since Cascade Galleria is repurposed in an area that is not growing, it is realistic to assume that the mall is not going anywhere.  However, what often happens with repurposed malls is that a larger tenant ultimately takes over much of the mall such as a medical center, government offices or a call center.  Right now, that is shared among multiple businesses, but that can change at any time: especially for a mall this tiny.  When this happens, corridors are walled off and the vintage elements are stripped away making the building look like any other modern building inside.  As it is right now, two corridors are already partially walled off suggesting such a metamorphosis is already underway.  For right now, despite no longer functioning as a retail mall, another mid-century enclosed mall is still mostly intact and unmodified from its original look reminding us of the golden age of retail.

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