Sunday, March 21, 2010

Meadowbrook Mall/Bama Mall: Tuscaloosa, AL

Blink and you would miss Meadowbrook Mall.  That is because it was one of those strange "community" malls of the 70's that were typically the first to join the ranks of dead malls.  Meadowbrook Mall, when opened, was anchored by Kroger and Murphy's Mart, a division of GC Murphy.  Kroger was on the top of the L-shaped mall while Murphy's formed the bottom.  Revco Drugs and a six screen theater later known as Bama 6 also anchored the mall.  In all, it was probably not much different than the Richway malls found in the Carolinas except for the discount store.  The mall featured 171,000 square feet and was constructed by Arlan Shopping Centers.  It opened in October 1977 and housed 30 total stores.  Morrison's Cafeteria, previously located at McFarland Mall, also relocated to the mall after it opened, and the mall was initially successful.  Unfortunately, that "success" was mostly local shops that were hardly a major draw.  Problems arose right away when the owners defaulted in 1979.  From then on, the mall would have a troubled history.

In 1982, Meadowbrook Mall went under new ownership and was then renamed Bama Mall.  This would just be the first of several changes through the decade as community malls nationwide quickly fell out of favor.  The next was the sale of Murphy's to Ames.  Ames obviously was disinterested in the store and put it up for sale in 1985, closing the store.  Soon after, Wal-Mart made its entry into the mall opening in the former Murphy's in 1987.  Wal-Mart had previously been located at Wood Square Shopping Center in an old Kuhn's Big K.  While the mall was in decline at that point, the traffic generated from Wal-Mart kept the mall marginally viable.  This changed drastically, however, when Wal-Mart decided to relocate their store to Skyland Blvd in 1993 after operating there a mere six years.

Aerial shot of the mall looking south with Murphy's on the left, the mall in the center and Kroger on the right.  The first image shows a map of how the mall was originally configured.  Note that part of the original mall corridor remains in front of Bama 6 Theaters.

Drawing of the Murphy's store at the mall.

Ad with logo and list of tenants at original Meadowbrook Mall.  Morrison's Cafeteria did not open at the mall initially.

Photo from 1982 at the renaming ceremony of Meadowbrook Mall to Bama Mall.

McFarland Plaza sign today.  It looks like it is supported on the same poles as the original sign.

Bama Mall died a slow death up into the early 90's.  However, the departure of Wal-Mart was the final blow to the enclosed portion of the mall.  In 1995, the last tenant in the mall left known as Alrenco.  Kroger had also left as well, replaced by Delchamps in 1994 and Bruno's later in 1998, which has also apparently since closed.  At that point, the mall owners felt the best course of action was to let the existing tenants fronting the mall expand their stores lengthwise through the mall corridor.  Two had already done so, Cato and Big "B" Drugs, thus the owners felt that the best use of the dead mall was to do the same for the rest of it.  At that point, the Bama 6 theaters were all that was left requiring mall access, and they continue to operate at the mall into the late 00's.  As a result, since the mid-1990's the original mall never really disappeared, it was simply filled in to appear like a regular strip mall.  By 2001, all of the mall was gone except for the portion immediately in front of Bama 6 Theaters.

A look at the Kroger wing of the mall, which today is subdivided into smaller tenants including Cato and Stein Mart.  Old Navy was on the left.

A look at the Murphy's/Wal-Mart wing.  The wing was subdivided into Toys 'R' Us, Office Max and Circuit City (closed, in the foreground).

Entrance to Bama 6 Theaters in the center, which was previously the only direct entrance to the mall before it was demolished.  This is all that remains of the original mall today.

Since 1995, the Wal-Mart was subdivided completely into smaller tenants.  Campo Electronics (today Office Max) and Toys "R" Us were included in the original redeveloped store.  When the rest of the mall was gutted into individual front-facing shops, the front was renovated and the name changed to McFarland Plaza after McFarland Blvd.  Tenants a few years ago included Circuit City, OfficeMax, Old Navy, Shoe Carnival, SteinMart, Toys R Us and Bama 6 Cinema.  Both Circuit City and Bama 6 Cinemas have since closed, but the redeveloped strip mall continues to do fairly well, but is showing signs that it is beginning to struggle.  The main problems are that Circuit City planned to move in 2007 and is now out-of-business, and Bama 6 Cinemas also closed in 2007.  Old Navy also left the center for a new lifestyle center constructed across from University Mall recently as well.   If not for the vacant Bama 6, however, there would be no way to tell this was ever a mall.  The subdividing of Kroger and Murphy's/Wal-Mart disguised its past even more.  Basically, Tuscaloosa's second mall is now long forgotten as a basic strip mall, but it formed an interesting chapter in a city that has been overmalled for over 30 years.

A dark, dirty, musty and lonely corridor leads from the parking lot to the Bama 6 Theaters.  These must have been quite seedy at the end.

Approaching the entrance to what is left of the mall corridor in front of Bama 6 Theaters.  What was that store to the right?

Oddly, where the mall continued on each side of the theater entrance was replaced with doors to the outside in lieu of just walling it off.  These doors enter to what is now the back of the strip.  It is rather spooky.

Looking straight on at the box office fronted with a hideous shade of purple carpet.


  1. Thanks for researching this place. I knew it had been called "Bama Mall" at some point, but I had no idea it was an actual mall at some point in the past. Lots of shopping centers used the word "Mall" in their name even though they weren't, so I figured this was the case here. When I checked this place out, the Bama 6 was still there, but the place appeared to be a plain old strip shopping center.

    The Bama 6 (Consolidated Theatres) began operating on June 10, 1982 to an invited audience and to the public on June 11, 1982. On June 10, the Fox Twin 9Cobb Theatres) had just added two new screens, bringing its total to 4 screens, and admitted around 150 moviegoers for free. The Consolidated Bama 6 had 6 300-seat auditoriums and the Fox 4, after renovations, would have 3 300-seat and one 240-seat auditorium at this time.

  2. Since the mall opened in October 1977, I'm curious what was in the mall where the Bama 6 is for the five years before 1982. Were there stores there that were demolished for the theatre complex? Another junior anchor that was partially or totally converted into the theatre? I'm curious.

  3. Either this was just regular mall space or this was where the Morrison's Cafeteria was. Remember that Morrison's was only there from 1978-1980.

  4. There was a Fantastic Sams hair salon in the mall and a Living Well Fitness Center or Rivera Fitness Center and a Radio Shack.

  5. There also used to be a locally owned pet store in the space to the left of the theater entrance, as well as a Pizza Hutt to the right of the theater.

  6. I had NO idea this used to be an actual enclosed mall! I always wondered why you had to walk through that corridor to get to the theatre. It didn't used to be so dingy. For a while it was still operating very well. My dad still goes to see a movie at least twice a week and became good friends with the managers here and we frequented right up to the end. For the last maybe 7 or 8 months it was in operation, it acted as a dollar theater, taking the movies that had just left the regular theater and showing them for 2.50 a pop. I LOVED that and wish it had worked! It did get very sketchy at the end. However, for most of what I remember, the corridor to the entrance wasn't the same. They walled it in at some point and it got infinitely creepier. I think it was that same red brick before and so not quite so weird and dingy.

  7. All I have to say is that corridor was creepy and only less so because it was mid-day when I was there. I wouldn't have known about this mall either, but I happened to stumble on it doing research in the newspaper archives on McFarland Mall. I wish I could have seen it myself.

  8. I used to poke to this place a lot when I was attending UA. I was lucky enough to look through the windows of the Bama 6 (this was late Fall of 2010 I believe). I visited once more a few weeks later and they had boarded up the entrance to the theater (perhaps because they saw me snooping around?). It was a very intriguing place to say the least.

    I almost didn't realize the theater was there. I visited the mall several times to check out the stores (there was an awesome seasonal Halloween store the year before I graduated in what I think is the former Old Navy... that place was covered with people and cool stuff). I was driving past the corner portion of the mall and I said to myself "Is that a marquee?" I turned right around to check it out. Made my day to say the least. I drove around to the back and noticed the doors. It was very creepy, indeed. I can't imagine myself leaving through those doors if the theater was still in operation, but I guess it is either that or the corridor. Just have to decide where to take your chances I guess... I was very confused by their existence so thanks for shedding light on that.

  9. I went to a lot of movies here in the early 1990's, as this was the closest theater to my house. I'm pretty sure those doors leading to the outside to the right and left of the theater entrance were always there, and you could park out back and head right into the theater through them. The area behind the doors in your pictures (in front of the box office) was actually part of the theater, and not the mall common area, it contained arcade games, which in essence provided the mall with an arcade since you didn't need a ticket to get in there. Your picutres were from the only mall entrance to the theater, the mall didn't continue to the left and the right of those other doors.
    As someone mentined there was a Pizza Hut, along with a drug store and pet store (these last 2 closed around the time I was going there) these were off to the right of the theater, and I seem to think you would walk down a hallway to the left of the theater with little or no stores and you would reach Walmart.

  10. I totally forgot about the arcade games in the Bama 6 lobby (Galaga, Centipede...all the classics!).

    When I was a teenager in the early 90s, my parents would drop us off there. We'd eat dinner at Pizza Hut, look around the Pet Store, go to Oz Records (which had a location inside the mall interior for a while), play the arcade games and then catch a movie. I distinctly remember sneaking into see "Sliver" starring Sharon Stone in '93.

    Someone mentioned that they couldn't believe anyone would park in the back. I remember back in the day, that's where everyone parked for the movies. And, yes, back in the day you could to Wal-Mart from the mall's interior hallway.

    Tuscaloosa was (and is) a great place to be a kid. But like every city, it's growing and changing. Places like the Bama/Meadowbrook Mall are disappearing. Thanks for posting the photos. They bring up great memories!

  11. Wow! This brought back some memories. I worked at Murphy's Mart when it was there from 1978 to 1982 while in high school and Alabama. I left for the Air Force in July 1982 and I only went back periodically through the changes. I remember when the theater was built. And I remember Morrisons. A girlfriend and I went there for lunch and dinner occasionally when we worked at Murphy's Mart.

  12. There used to be a pretty awesome software store in the late 80s / potentially 1990 that sold dos games I used to play, also a decent bookstore, but I can't recall the name of either shop.

  13. There was also a TCBY's and a waterbed store. There was also a small bookstore, but I don't remember the name of it.. Walden, perhaps? And yes, many people parked in the back to go to the theater (and the mall).

  14. I remember when this property was a make-shift motocross/test driving track used by Smith's sport cycle which sat on the front corner.