Sunday, May 30, 2010

Richland Fashion Mall with Bonwit Teller, JB White and Parisian

Richland Mall [link to earlier post] is nothing short of sad these days with a lonely Belk, a few chain restaurants and an oddly located Barnes & Noble which keep the plywood away from the door.  Nevertheless, through a stroke of luck, three different contributors came forward to give me pics of the anchors at the beleaguered mall back when they were original and still mattered.  Those pics are of the Bonwit Teller, JB White and Parisian.  I couldn't be more pleased that someone else thought to preserve such places before I was old enough or smart enough to realize my camera needed to be there snapping pics of these places.  I am very grateful for their efforts, and I am proud to showcase these here for the first time.

In my previous post on Richland Mall, I discussed the short-lived Bonwit Teller at Richland Mall, then known as Richland Fashion Mall.  A very high-end store, Bonwit Teller was by no means an appropriate fit for a market like Columbia likewise lasting no time at the mall.  The store opened in 1989 and closed by 1993 where it was then replaced with Dillard's and finally Blacklion before going dark along with much of the mall.  I would never have thought any photos of any quality existed of the store, but Michael Lisicky kindly sent me these pics of both the exterior and mall entrances of the short-lived store.  He discussed how he made a special trip to Columbia in May 1990 when he got the news that Bonwit Teller was going under.

Yessir, you just saw Bonwit Teller at Richland Mall.  This deceased luxury department store was unwisely placed in this mall, and it lasted only a couple years.  Michael Lisicky took these two pics in May 1990.

The whole problem with Bonwit Teller was that the store was being inappropriately marketed by its then-owners LJ Hooker.  Bonwit Teller was from New York selling luxury merchandise similar to Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor.  Clearly not tailored for the market in any way, the weight of stores like this led to the liquidation of the company not long after along with Sakowitz and B. Altman.  Some recent efforts have been made to revive the company, but the poor economy has halted those indefinitely.

JB White from the parking deck on top of the mall.  This photo was taken by Sandy Lewis in the 1990's.

A closer view of the sign from the same photo.

JB White was the rock of the mall.  If not for White's, the mall would not only never have been redeveloped, but it would have never succeeded at all.  After all, this is the state's oldest mall-based department store anchor and its popularity well into the 1980's was the catalyst to the monstrous redevelopment it received.  While White's faded into the dustbin of history in 1998, the Belk that took its place is obviously successful enough to justify showing the photo I have here of the original store.  This store is also unique in that a movie theater is actually built on top of it.  Near to this theater is a photo of the JB White captured by Sandy Lewis as part of the incredible complete collection of White's photos he sent me.

These two photos of the outside and mall entrance of Parisian were taken in 2005 by Jarrett Edwards right as the store was closing for good.

The Parisian at Richland Mall was a Southern upper-middle department store.  While it never was as successful as White's it was definitely more successful than the classy Bonwit Teller.  It lasted over 15 years and its closing highlighted the trouble the mall was having far more than Bonwit Teller closing.  The closing of Parisian there came in 2005 with the chain leaving the market completely.  This included closing their store at Columbiana Centre as well.  The photos here are courtesy of Jarrett Edwards and were taken just before the store closed for good.  Jarrett also sent me photos and information about stores in Augusta, GA.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Shoppes at River Crossing: Macon, GA

"Lifestyle Centers" are not something I like to cover on this blog.  Yes, they are retail "now" and pertinent, but I absolutely despise them.  The reason I despise them is partly due to the fact they are killing the malls, but I hate them more for the fact that they do not provide a real destination either.  In these places, there is no covered walkway to protect you from the elements, no plaza area to actually hang out and meet people and no central focal points.  I can't even photograph these places well because all they are is a strip mall with the two sides turned to face each other.  Of course, these places are the latest trend but why can't we just build a nice open air mall instead?  The possibilities are endless for an awesome open-air mall but we get this instead complete with the elegant "e".

Belk has a two level store with plentiful back parking, but no mall attached to it.  This would be the mall entrance in a mall.  The design looks kinda nice, but it is another stucco creation.

One thing for sure is the yuppie crowd of Macon digs this place.  On my visit, it was crowded as it could be, but I could see right away what makes these places a disaster.  The lifestyle center is precisely why downtown was replaced by the mall to start with.  Parking is impossible with pedestrians and children darting out in front of you at every turn.  The pedestrian-unfriendly design makes traffic like musical chairs with cars circling constantly fighting for the parking place in front of their store of choice.  The only decent parking to be found is at the department stores, but unlike the malls if you leave that store you are out in the cars, traffic and elements if you wish to actually browse the stores.  Places like this also lack the history, architecture or charm of downtown as well.  Why was this done to us?

I think Dillard's invented stucco, though, considering how nearly every store they have has it.  At least this newer design looks classy compared to the hideous design on the Macon Mall store. 

Peering around a corner of the "mall".  I can't sunbathe here?  You're serious?  Well it's too hot to do anything else here!

In my personal opinion, the success of River Crossing is that it is the anti-Macon Mall in a better side of town.  It is new, fresh and you are far less likely to get mugged.  If Macon Mall had been built in this side of town, this place would never have existed.  Design wise, however, I cannot say much for it.  To me, it just looks likes like a typical upscale strip mall, but unlike another lifestyle center I am yet to cover, there is no focal point such as a gazebo, elaborate fountain or outdoor plaza.  It is all so very plain, really.  The high points, though, are the department stores.  Dillard's was nice and so was Belk.  Both stores are two levels, which shows that they are definitely serious for the long term.  However, Belk maintains its store at Macon Mall while Dillard's did not hesitate to abandon its store there.  Other anchor tenants include Dick's Sporting Goods, Barnes & Noble and your obligatory chain restaurants.

A view along the "mall".  Yay, let's go for a stroll so we can get run over today and struck by lightning mid-June!  Oh, never mind...I've circled three @%#!ing times trying to get a parking place in front of Chico's!

Just drop me off here at Barnes & Noble while you keep fighting for a parking place.  At least in here I have air-conditioning and something to see since I have no mall to browse in.

In all, instead of building this place they could have just fixed downtown.  It would be nice if Belk had reclaimed its original location, a new Dillard's opened in an old building and upscale shops lined up on Broadway.  If people want downtown back, then bring downtown back.  If people want a strip mall, then just build a strip mall.  Downtown has character, this place has faux-traditional architecture mixed with stucco.  Even five years ago, this place would have been an enclosed mall.  I might cut them some slack if they at least built a small open-air mall wing in a future expansion.  Nevertheless, I can definitely say that those looking for a complete mall-like shopping experience have found it.  It has nice stores, and it looks fresh and clean but I must say it is pretty boring and will be less than pleasant when the August sauna arrives.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Westgate Shopping Center Revisited: Macon, GA

Westgate Shopping Center, also known as Westgate Mall [see older post], was redeveloped in 1994.  Sadly, it seems so many redevelopments of old malls in the 90's now call for another redevelopment.  In the case of Westgate, it is really in a bad spot.  The mall was ailing for years when it was finally torn down, and initially the redevelopment was wildly successful.  The only original anchor to carry over from the original mall was Burlington Coat Factory, but the new strip shopping center brought with it Home Depot and Media Play, both winners in that time period.  Wal-Mart had been added previously, which came itself in the 1980's and did not appear to connect to the mall itself.  The redeveloped center, which replaced the oldest enclosed mall in Georgia, did well for a decade but then seemed to finally fail due to a myriad of problems.

The original mall itself was not very big.  Aside from the fact it never actually had a department store anchor, the number of shops numbered only 30.  It was this compact design which probably led to the many attempts to re-tenant the center into something that Macon Mall did not have.  These days it would have been a perfect center for medical, professional or county offices, but the owners apparently instead preferred the higher dollar option of razing the mall for a traditional strip mall.  It did indeed work for awhile, but looking at where it is today, was this really the best idea?

When Westgate opened, I-75 was not completed and Eisenhower was not yet built, but it was close to downtown.  You think it would have taken advantage of the location.  The first photo shows a drawing of what the inside of the mall looked like.  Early enclosed malls instead of advertising the stores were advertising climate control!  If only today's lifestyle center builders would take a little tiny hint that this isn't California.

A listing of all the original tenants in the mall.  Note the lack of department stores.  No department store ever came to the mall, though Wal-Mart served as a pseudo-anchor in the later years.

Aside from Westgate, the only other mall I have known not to have a department store was Innsbruck in Asheville.  What the mall did have originally, however, was two grocery stores, two five and dime stores, a drug store and an auto parts store.  It was a novelty indeed, but definitely not an all-in-one shopping extravaganza.  Grocery shoppers could choose Big Apple (precursor to Food Giant and later Cub Foods) or Colonial.  Those looking for five and dime could choose between Woolworth's or Newberry's.  The Auto Parts store appeared to be a local affair, and it eventually became Otasco.  After a day of shopping, shoppers could dine at G&M Cafeteria and then get desert at Hefner's Bakery or Betty Ann's Candies.  While real shopping remained downtown at that point, it is undeniable that this was a period when malls were fun and had something for everyone.  Why did that ever have to change?

This is a corrected Westgate Mall map showing a 1993 aerial, but detailing all of the previous stores operating in the mall as well as modifications.  The first name on all the stores listed is the original tenant when the mall first opened.

The problem with redeveloping a dead mall with more retail is that the luster tends to fade quickly.  I can think of no older shopping mall that was redeveloped into a strip mall that turned out to be successful long term.  Part of that is that the owners did not take into account that the surrounding area would eventually pull it down.  This was what was there when the strip was first redeveloped in 1994.  Small shops were placed between Burlington and Wal-Mart.

The factors that killed Westgate could be summarized as crime, bankruptcy of one of its major tenants and a new shopping center down the road.  Obviously, the center would have successfully redeveloped if the neighborhood was prime for new retail.  However, nobody was interested in moving in the dying strip whose cheap stucco remodel looked hopelessly dated by 2005 and its core of shoppers shifting elsewhere.  Second, the bankruptcy of the Media Play chain was obviously a difficult void to fill along with Wal-Mart, which left the center by the middle of the last decade.  Third, Home Depot was lured away to a huge strip further west on the opposite side of Macon Mall.  The end result of this is that the once thriving strip mall is now largely empty making it twice dead much like what happened with Roswell Mall near Atlanta.

This scene looks like the apocalyse (or post-dollar crash) showing a virtually empty strip mall with major chain stores.  If not for Burlington Coat Factory there would be no car in sight.

Media Play was one of my very favorite stores in the 90's, but its all-in-one concept fell apart after the 90's as its competition became more numerous and stronger against the chain.  This is one of the few with the sign still up.  Note the light inside, though...this is a really big surprise coming in the next two pics.

Aside from the light, this damage to the building shows something severe happened.  Apparently a tornado made a direct hit on this building in 2008, which was the same one that hit Macon Mall.

...and severe it was!  The tornado apparently tore off part of the roof leaving a sizable portion of the abandoned store completely open to the elements. 

After nearly 50 years, it apparently is finally too late for Westgate.  This sign looks to predate the demolition of the enclosed mall.

It is unfortunate that the original mall did not find new use, but I wonder if it would have been thriving today re-purposed if they had not torn it down to start with.  It seems Houston Mall is doing better as a spliced up mess of medical, government and professional services than Westgate did as a strip, so maybe the owners of Houston Mall were pretty savvy not giving into the de-malling craze of the past 15 years.  Since this mall is years too late for that, I am guessing Burlington Coat Factory will probably end up at Macon Mall eventually.  Perhaps they should just tear down what is left and let it go back to nature.  It is derelict overall as it is, and it is also a victim of its own age combined with years of poor planning.  Westgate could have succeeded had it been built larger and had department stores, but the circumstances just did not work either time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Houston County Galleria: Centerville, GA

My previous post discussed Houston Mall, the little hybrid strip mall/enclosed mall that eventually emptied out when another mall opened.  That other mall responsible for this exodus was Houston County Galleria, which opened to the west in the suburban town of Centerville.  Centerville is much like Warner-Robins in that it lacks a downtown, and part of that was that the city itself was not even established until the 1950's.  It is also similar in that it caters to the military crowd, thus displacing much of the businesses in Warner-Robins in the process.  Centerville is also an extremely fast growing area.  In fact, surrounding Houston County is one of the fastest growing places in the state.  Since the city has no central business district, the mall has essentially established itself as the downtown of the city since it opened in 1994.

Houston County Galleria is not clearly named at all.  The sign on Watson Blvd reads simply "Galleria" and it is also referred to by others as "The Mall at Centerville" and "Houston Galleria".  The vague nature of the name is reflected in the owners, Zamias Realty.  The Pennsylvania-based company seems to be having difficulty managing its portfolio.  Despite the fact the mall is in a red hot retail corridor, the mall has enough vacancies that shoppers are genuinely concerned that it may, too, be a dying mall.  Personally, I'm wondering why it is having the trouble it is.  The only obvious answer I see is that it is a bit poorly located, situated a couple miles east of I-75 at the intersection of Watson Blvd (GA 247 Connector) and Houston Lake Road.  It is a reasonably attractive mall, and it has three solid anchors with Belk, JCPenney, Sears and a movie theater.  Of course, the same can be said for a mall I covered in Cleveland, TN that seems to be having issues of its own.  Perhaps it is just the curse of the 90's mall?

The first photo shows the east court, which is the most attractive part of the mall.  Inside is a tropical planter with this rather unusual fountain with water exiting an elephant's trunk shown in the second pic.

A stroll down the east wing from Belk.  The design of the ceiling reminds me of the inside of an airplane hangar.  Is this deliberate to pay tribute to Robins ARB?

A look at the mall just outside of Sears.  Note the hit and miss open stores.

The center of the mall features a pseudo food court, but only one national chain restaurant can be found in it...Chick-Fil-A.  In the background is a sunken area with planters that apparently is just there for is fenced off.

Looking down into part of the sunken area.  Very nice, but what purpose does it serve?

What really stands out to me is why is this mall not thriving or at least improving considering what is going on at Macon Mall.  For years, the mall has played second fiddle to the monstrosity to the north but Macon Mall is indeed a troubled mall.  It seems that the lost business from there would translate into bigger business for the Galleria.  They could even lure Macy's to the mall if Macon Mall continues to struggle like it has been.  I guess the main problem, though, is that being a military town it is likely more difficult to attract the upscale shops.  Most of those have gone to North Macon along with all the money since The Shoppes at River Crossing opened.  It is not that Galleria lacks chain has stores such as American Eagle and Victoria's Secret...but it could definitely offer a lot more in the trendy chain store department.  I also thought the mall could have had far better lighting.  It seemed a bit dreary.

Another look in the center area with the "food court" on the left.  This is definitely not an award-winning shot with that pole in view.

Here, I am walking back toward Belk. 

A side entrance corridor comes off to the side past the east court.  Not much of interest here really.

The mall does have an interesting layout, which resulted in there being two JCPenney mall entrances.  I did not photograph the lower one.  Note the top empty anchor.  There is nothing there other than an outside entrance, because that is a planned future anchor.  Goody's was between that and Belk.

The mall also seemed to have problems from the beginning.  According to KA Turner, construction was started as early as 1990, but the site sat idle due to Zamias being unable to finance completion of the mall.  A steel skeleton was beginning to rust in the middle of Centerville for quite awhile until funds were finally secured to complete the finish the mall a couple years later.  Regardless, the mall was still far more attractive than Houston Mall with its detailed vaulted ceilings, elaborate court areas and completely contemporary 90's design.  I wonder if perhaps the local shoppers were not pleased about what this mall did to Houston Mall.

The main JCPenney mall entrance from the center of the mall.  Note "Le Nails" on the left...the only business to also have a location at Houston Mall.

The Sears mall entrance is quite different.  I like it!

Belk mall entrance.  You can make out where the holes were covered up where this previously read Belk Matthews. 

Goody's former mall entrance flanks the most dead corner of the mall.  I think the big banner is there more to remind you something is there, because I doesn't look to be accessible from the inside.

The website says "Houston County Galleria".  The sign on the highway, however, just says Galleria.  Personally, I'd rather it just be called "The Mall at Centerville".

Galleria was built with room for six anchors despite the fact the mall is not particularly large.  Four anchors opened with the mall, however, including Belk Matthews, Sears, JCPenney and Goody's...all but JCPenney stolen from Houston Mall.  A 15 screen movie theater took the fifth anchor leaving one empty spot in the back side of the mall that is yet to be filled.  Goody's has also since left the mall after closing in 2009 with the chain, and Stage Stores has not shown interest in replacing that location.  The owners instead made the Goody's into a new conference center.  It seems doubtful the sixth anchor will ever be filled, though anything is possible.  For any expansion, though, the mall will need to become a better regional draw.

When Belk Matthews became Belk, only the Matthews part was removed.  The sign was not repositioned or changed otherwise.  This is really kind of a neat looking store inside and out.

JCPenney is the keystone anchor dead center.  It is obviously a very successful location.

The Sears is a one-level clone of the store at North Point Mall in Alpharetta, GA.  It is also equally nice inside.

The theater complex looks very 90's.  Unfortunately, it is configured outside the mall so it adds no traffic to the interior despite the fact a sign is inside at what would be the mall entrance reminding people it is there.

A look here at the former Goody's.  Maybe this should be converted to mall space.

Today, the strength of Galleria seems to be in the anchors.  Belk was very busy when I visited as well as JCPenney, both filling much of the parking lot.  A stroll through the mall, however, revealed somewhat of a dearth of shoppers.  If nothing else, I feel the mall could use somewhat of an update as well as different owners who could market this place better.  I know some of the criticism could be placed on the fact that the whole Macon region is simply over-retailed, but a mall has been on Watson Blvd since 1971 so the location is well established otherwise.  However, it should be noted that Houston Mall was much smaller and built before the retail explosion along the corridor.  Overall, this was a decent looking mall, and I felt this mall had much going for it.  This is why I want to know why the mall itself is not thriving. 

A look at the front of the mall from Belk to Sears.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Houston Mall: Warner-Robins, GA

Once in awhile, I run across a mall so completely dead I wonder how it keeps the doors open. Malls like this tend to be creepy, run down, moldy and void of any reason anybody would want to go there unless they are, of course, a modern history photographer like myself. Houston Mall (pronounced "How-ston") is indeed a textbook example of a dead mall in one of Georgia's military towns. It is small, old, somewhat run down and creepy, but actually was not moldy at all and quite clean despite the fact it barely functions as a retail center in any form anymore. At 364,000 square feet, it was never much of a mall...a small, simple center with all of the trappings of a typical late 60's/early 70's mall. Nevertheless, finding malls of this vintage tend to be very difficult since those of this style in that period are centering on 40 years of business meaning they are either demolished, extensively renovated or expanded. The fact that the owners discovered that it could handle a myriad of uses is why the doors stay open and the air conditioner running in the sweltering Middle Georgia heat.

When the actual mall opened in 1971, it was more than just an enclosed mall. It was actually appended onto an existing strip mall that had opened in 1968, which made it a rare hybrid strip mall and enclosed shopping mall. The mall portion included anchors Belk Matthews and Sears with an existing Grant's tying onto the mall as the north anchor. Also previously existing in the strip mall portion was A&P grocery store, which was in a separate portion of the strip detached from the mall. In addition there was Elmore's, obviously a five-and-dime operation, that fronted the mall but had no mall access and may not have predated the mall. Eckerd Drugs was included in the mall with an old-fashioned soda counter [1]. Grant's was the first closure at the mall when it liquidated with the chain in 1976. After closing, Key Wholesalers Showroom took over the spot until it closed in the mid-1980's [1]. The former Elmore's location also saw new life operating as Goody's until it joined Belk and Sears at the new mall in 1994. It is curious as to why neither Burlington Coat Factory nor JCPenney ever considered that location. For the time it was built, Warner-Robins was a small town whose growth largely centered on Robins AFB (now Robins ARB), so the mall at that time was just right. Because it was a hybrid of the enclosed mall and strip mall, it also was one of the few true all-in-one shopping plazas where, as John Belushi said in Blues Brothers, "This mall has everything!".

Upon entering the mall, a few shops remain close to the outside entrance. Le Nails is the shop with the neon sign to the left. The first photo is of the mall sign, which is about as plain and old-fashioned as you can get.

Walking from center court towards the former Sears. The kiosk is original. It intermittently functions as a hot dog stand, but originally it was an Orange Julius.

Continuing toward what was Sears, no stores to be found here on the right. I wonder what the store was with the wood trim.

Approaching ahead is the former Sears. Medical billing offices took over the former Eckerd Drugs location on the left. Straight ahead is the Houston Medical Pavillion, which operated as Sears until 1994.

Looking back from the former Sears, this photo attempts to capture the entire length of the mall.

Inside, the mall is a basic t-shape with a non-functioning fountain in the center, a few planters, high windows, a few small skylights and flooring that looks original. About the only renovations that appear to have ever been done is the bizarre and depressing blue color painted on all the ceiling tiles and the addition of some new painting and trim. This mall has every reason to be boarded up or demolished, and the fact it hangs on 16 years after it was replaced is very odd. The only reason it is even open today is primarily due to the creative non-retail reuse. The old Sears is now Houston Health Pavilion, an outpatient center. Belk Matthews now houses the Air Force Reserve Command. Warner Robins Municipal Court uses one of the spaces in the mall in what was previously a book store. Also in the mall is a law firm, doctors office, tax service and janitorial service. The only actual retail left in the mall is near the front featuring a nail salon and a beauty supply store. Evelyn's, an upscale dress shop, obviously gave up before I arrived. Penny Pinchers Home Decor took over the former north anchor at some point once held by Grant's, but appeared to be either closed or out of business when I was there. In other words, with a few exceptions there is no real reason to go there. I did, however, observe two mall walkers while I was there so it still serves that purpose.

On the left is the former Belk Matthews mall entrance, which reminds me of a prop on The Price Is Right. The old fountain is visible to the right, which was completely dry.

Another view of the former Belk Matthews mall entrance. Were those doors there it or was some stuff plastered over with sheetrock?

Directly across from the Belk Matthews entrance is the opening to the main entrance corridor shown in the second photo.

A map I made of Houston Mall the way it was laid out when it opened.

The strip portion of the mall does not appear to be faring much better, but it is not empty. Tenants outside appeared to be those that were attracted to the low rents offered meaning all non-government were small mom 'n' pop businesses. One of those, a new/used office furniture store is located in the old Winn-Dixie, but did not appear to be open. A Disabled Veterans Services office is next door is there as well along with a hair salon, alterations shop and a local ministry in the corner. A local furniture store looks to be in what was either the Elmore's or the former Eckerd Drugs. In all, the mall inside and out reminds me of The Mall in Huntsville just before it was demolished except for the cheap stucco early 90's renovation.

I am now headed toward the former Grant's, which did not appear to operate as anything since then. On the right is the Warner Robins Municipal Court where those in the town treated to blue light specials often wind up.

This brick-fronted store piqued my curiosity as to what it was.

This is possibly one of my favorite shots of the mall. It reminds me of photos I've seen of Dixie Square Mall when it was still in business. A law office sits in the store with the faux arches.

The mall entrance to Penny Pinchers Home Decor, originally Grant's, obviously is not functioning as such anymore. It looked creepy with this brick entrance and Persian rugs piled up everywhere inside.

Houston Mall as it is was built in a strange location. It is situated on top of a hill at the intersection of Watson Blvd (SR 247 Connector) and Houston Road (Old SR 11). It is situated both away from the interstate and away from SR 247 (US 129), the major north-south highway connecting Macon to Hawkinsville through Warner-Robins. It was clearly built largely to serve the military families, and by and large it was a community mall since at that time the better shopping was found at Westgate Mall and in Macon. Since the area was largely undeveloped before the 1990's, the mall thrived for over 20 years.

A back entrance is found next to the old Grant's entrance. Apparently the entrance opposite to this one was sealed off years ago.

This shop next to that entrance was sitting empty. Was this where Evelyn's was?

Another view of the dead store, which looks 60's with its main-street style entryway.

By the time the 90's rolled around, Houston Mall was not adequately serving the needs of the area. With substantial growth taking place pulling away stores from the strip combined with a very basic mall, Zamias realty planned and constructed a new mall closer to I-75 in the Centerville community. Called the Galleria, the new mall was subpar by big city standards, but it was spectacular in comparison to the dreary Houston Mall. The new mall would also have far more anchor space as well, and in the process would easily lure away Belk Matthews and Sears. Both stores were joined by JCPenney and Goody's at the new mall, and in all it seemed that Houston Mall would have simply died and been demolished overnight. Many older malls were meeting the wrecking ball the year that Houston was essentially replaced in 1994, but Houston Mall's offbeat location close to the center of Warner Robins is probably why the mall found new uses in the years since.

Now, I am standing in front of the old Grant's looking back toward Sears on the opposite end of the mall. Here, I showed some detail of one of the four planters I noticed in the mall. The planters are located under the largest overhead skylights, which are a simple domed design.

Here, I am walking back toward the main entrance from the main mall. That seating area looks very odd.

Here, I am looking just inside the main entrance doors. The ceiling through here looks like shiny brass. From this angle, the mall looks lively and the parking lot outside was not exactly empty.

Other than that, I can only speculate as to why Houston Mall holds on. It is partly a strip mall, and for its size it could easily be transformed into a myriad of other uses besides a mall. The over-retailed environment along Watson Blvd has done little to make the mall appealing. Even worse, it is not facing Watson Blvd, and it is mostly removed from the bulk of the shopping that has sprung up around the Galleria. Despite the 3-4 stores that still operate in the mall, the medical center and government offices the fact that the lights are still on and anybody is even there is something to behold. The strip mall part outside is also just as dead as the mall itself, and the gray stucco retrofit only made the mall look worse.

"Penny Pinchers Home Decor", formerly Grant's, from the outside, which looks to be very much out of business. There is a small store on the end, which I understand was a Radio Shack. There is a small gap that separates the mall from the old Winn-Dixie strip portion just to the right.

The Winn-Dixie portion of the strip with the former Winn-Dixie in the center.

Looking back along the rest of the Winn-Dixie strip toward the mall. The old Grant's store is visible on the left. To all appearances, this is still fully tenanted.

Houston Mall's main entrance from the outside. A store called "Furniture Express" next door I believe was either where Eckerd's was, but I cannot confirm this.

One thing I pondered on was to whether Houston Mall could be revived through an expansion. That would basically mean that on at least one side of the mall, a new two-level portion was constructed luring in JCPenney and subsequently luring back Sears and Belk. This would, of course, mean buying adjacent property and would also mean the death of the mall that killed Houston Mall, but this is pure harmless fantasy. Obviously, Belk and Sears would both have to be reconstructed, possibly as two level stores, to accommodate the addition. I see a couple scenarios on how this could be built. One would be purchasing the lot next to the southwest corner of the mall and expanding the mall over that area extending from the southwest entrance. This would give a new JCPenney high visibility, and the new mall addition would essentially have escalators drop down to the lower level portion since the adjacent lot is on a lower grade. The new wing would make the mall far more appealing from the road.

While not the best angle of Sears, it is the one I had to use because the sun was making photos of the mall from the east side near impossible.

Here is a side view of the Sears, which I should have taken from the opposite angle but for some reason didn't. This was obviously the old customer pick-up area.

Another idea to fix this dead mall would be to expand the mall through the former Grant's location and turn it back east toward the parking lot where the old Winn-Dixie and strip is. The strip would be demolished and replaced with the same JCPenney store. In the first scenario, the old Grant's would either be converted to mall space or a junior anchor such as Books-A-Million or Barnes & Noble could fill the spot. The second scenario could replace the old Winn-Dixie strip mall portion with the same bookstore connected to the mall. Any way it was done, though, the original mall would have to be extensively renovated inside and out to make it more appealing. Would anybody want this, though? Such drastic measures saved previously dumpy Oglethorpe Mall in the 90's.

A Belk Matthews labelscar is barely noticeable on the side of this building. While the logo is not there, you can tell by the holes in the side of the building.

I never remember Belk entrances looking like this, but I also never remember a Belk from 1972. Obviously no arches were put at this store, and the design is completely brutalist.

A side view of the store with the sun casting an eerie glow on the side of the building. Where was the sign from this side? I couldn't make any labelscars from this side anywhere.

In all, Houston Mall is one of many second generation malls that still litter the landscape. Way past its prime and no longer a retail destination, the mall has avoided redevelopment. This is most likely due to the huge amount of sprawl to the west and easily available land in the area that the mall found new life despite complete failure as a retail shopping mall. Its plain and dark design is probably the reason that nobody ever tried to remake the center, but there is still an outside possibility that one day someone might try to revive it such as what I suggested if they had enough cash to do it. The most likely scenario, though, is that the enclosed mall will eventually be sealed off with different parts reverting to various non-retail uses. Still, as the mall in its state approaches 40 years old it is amazing that it is still around and open to the public.

ALSO: Check out this video link above on You-Tube created by KA Turner of the mall. The video entitled "Ill Mall Housto" was designed as a parody of never-released Paw Filmworks DVD about Dixie Square Mall.

[1] Turner, KA. (2010, May 14). Houston Mall. [Electronic mail message].