Monday, January 6, 2014

Regency Mall (Part 3): Augusta, GA

One thing I never expected was that 10 years after my first visit to the boarded up Regency Mall that I would have somehow obtained photos of the inside of that mall.  Also, I never expected that I would not only still be discussing it, but discussing it with quite a few people that are even more passionate about it than me.  Considering that, I was not originally planning to write a third post for Regency Mall, but interest has definitely soared since the first two posts about the mall.  Since then I have been sent additional information about the mall as well as tons of images that I will be sharing here largely from happier times.  Best of all, the mall and this blog has been featured in a "Metro Spirit" article detailing how the photos that grace the first two posts made it to this site where one of the four photographers of the mall has chosen to come forward to detail his experience.  As someone who deliberately avoids the spotlight, the attention that this has gotten is a bit awkward for me, but that's why I write.  I explain things a lot better when I am hidden behind a faceless screen.  That was the case for Regency as well: a mystery hidden behind a white brick monstrosity that those photos brought to light.  The best way to discover those mysteries, though, is through clues from the beginning when Regency was a brand new mall full of possibilities instead of a depressing reminder of the blind optimism of the 70's and 80's.

Since the first two posts, I have been given additional information and images submitted to me by Alaska Jill originating from The Augusta Chronicle that was important but left out due to lack of previous knowledge.  Most of that information is about the anchor stores.  First, the first anchor to open was Montgomery Ward with 136,000 square feet of retail space (1).  Montgomery Ward was the second of only three modern mall stores to open in the state.  The chain originally had a larger presence in the state but had closed its original stores located in downtown areas across the state years before.  Next, Cullum's opened in late 1978 with 28,000 square feet apparently originally planned as an inline tenant but expanded late in the process.  It costed $1.5 million and was originally supposed to supplement, not replace the downtown store that ultimately closed for the store.  Signature features of the Cullum's were a winding staircase and greenhouse with plants with floor to ceiling, both meant to highlight its elegance.  It followed the opening of a store at Washington and Davis Roads called "Cullum's West Town" in Martinez and a store that opened at National Hills Shopping Center prior to that (2).  Last, Belk Howard relocated to the mall from two stores that subsequently closed.  These stores were in downtown and at Southgate Plaza.  Southgate is located here:   The Belk store at the mall was particularly large at over 167,000 square feet.  The downtown store actually closed prior to the completion of the location at the mall suggesting that closing the downtown store was very high priority for reasons unknown.  Daniel Village and North Augusta also had stores at the time.  Daniel Village would close later, converting to a JB White furniture store, but North Augusta remains open today as the only remaining Belk in the Augusta market.  A fourth store was also planned in Augusta, but it was never built probably due to the lack of profitability of the Regency store (3).

The first image is a rendering of the mall, which showed a far more detailed center architecturally.  Only the Cullum's remained as planned.  The image shows additional skylights, a more elaborate Wards, greenhouse entrance canopies at JB White, a rotunda at Belk and the never-built JCPenney.  I guess either the size of the mall or the decisions of the department store anchors dumbed down this design.  The second two images are of the theater.  When the General Cinema theater opened, the movies shown at the premier were "The Driver" starring Ryan O'Neal, "Foul Play" starring Goldie Haun and Chevy Chase and Disney's "The Jungle Book".  The first image was submitted by C. Lewis with the second two submitted by Alaska Jill.

Regency Mall's original logo was never updated.  It was still present in the mall long after it had closed.  Image by C. Lewis.

The DeBartolo corporation was on a mall building boom at the time that Regency opened, and Regency was unfortunately like many others they built: an ill-conceived mall that came out of arrogance more than need opening in saturated markets or sub-par locations a few years prior to a huge wave of department store closures and consolidation.  At the time it was built, Regency should have been built on the opposite side of Augusta closer to Martinez or North Augusta, but instead DeBartolo wanted to go head-to-head in an area already showing signs of decline thinking apparently that a different anchor line-up would be enough to sustain two very large malls in a relatively small city.  Most malls built in smaller cities in that time span tended to be on one level and about half the amount of square footage that Regency had.  DeBartolo malls that opened around the same time included Cutler Ridge Mall in Miami and the now-dying Century III Mall in Pittsburgh.  Even their signature Randall Park Mall closed a few years ago.

Alaska Jill kindly sent me this detailed map of the lower and upper levels of the mall when the mall opened in 1978.  The information was from an ad that included a directory of stores, but she polished it up by putting the names of the stores on the actual stores.  Thanks for your hard work!

It was noted when the photos were taken for Sky City that the mall directories were missing.  I suspect that the teenagers that got into the mall prior to this set of photos took more than pictures and left more than footprints.  This directory showed up in a flea market for sale.  The directory dates the late 90's during the final days of the mall after Belk and Upton's had left.  This dates the directory to around 1997 or 1998.  The images of it were sent to me by Jacob B.

One reason that Regency Mall fell so hard was that the mall never seemed to attract many Mom and Pop tenants.  It seems that when the chain stores got out of their leases that nobody came along to replace them.  The mall never truly became an urban mall, and much of this is that the amount of crime and the low income levels in the area were just too much for a mall this big.  If the mall had been a single story or much smaller mall it might have survived, but the rents were probably just too high. 

When the mall closed, four tenants remained.  These were most likely Foot Locker, Piccadilly Cafeteria, GNC and the Richmond County Substation (which left a couple years ago).

The woes of owning an abandoned mall is that it's very big, very plain, very creepy and really drags down the neighborhood around it.  Add decay to concrete-heavy brutalist architecture and it looks beyond apocalyptic.  That's the issue Cardinale Entities has faced as it has been threatened repeatedly by the city for keeping a giant abandoned eyesore and fire hazard standing in South Augusta.  Cardinale Entities, fronted by Mark Axler, purchased the mall in an auction in July 2002 and has owned the mall ever since (4).  Despite much of the mall being completely locked up, it was proven after these photos were taken by a local TV station that entering the mall was still possible.  This also meant that someone entering the mall could become trapped if a fire broke out.  This led to the city forcing the owners to either fix the fire code violations or strip the mall down to the point where nothing was flammable in the mall.  The owners took the latter option.  In 2013, work commenced to gut the mall.

Here is an artist rendering of the interior of the Belk with the terraced ceiling.  This was quite elegant for 1979.  Likely the delay of the store opening is why the design got changed.  This was part of a piece called "The Belk Story" that mentioned that the stores were indeed Belk-Howard.  This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

From a trade publication at the time was this rendering of the Belk store.  This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

While previously published, this is the full ad and drawing of the Cullum's featuring the two levels of plants and greenhouse.  The first image showed that this sloped greenhouse entrance was also originally planned for the JB White.  This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

Here is a rendering of the JB White showing the rather basic prototype design that Mercantile stores decided on.  This was an unfortunate design for the flagship store and replacement of the historical downtown store.  Fortunately, the store that replaced this at Augusta Mall was far more elegant and worthy of flagship status.  At least with this store closing in 1998, it kept the JB White logo on the mall entrance.  The Augusta Mall store was only JB White a short time before becoming Dillard's.  This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

Rendering of the Wards prior to opening.  Despite the troubles with the mall and the company, this store seemed to be profitable for the company nearly outlasting the mall itself.  It was more appropriate for the immediate area than JB White and Belk and it drew from a much larger trade area than the other two stores since only three Wards stores ever opened in the state.   This image was submitted by C. Lewis.

The time has indeed come...and gone.  Alaska Jill sent me this scan showing the poignant clock that went from a cheery 9:45 AM to the cynical 4:20 PM in later images.

The unfortunate aspect of gutting the mall is that the relic-filled 1978 time piece is now just be a big empty building in the shape of mall with cinder blocks horrifyingly blockading all the entrances.  At this point, there is no reason to keep the building standing since there is little potential reuse of the structure.  The problem is, the owners jacked up the price when the city offered to buy the structure in order to demolish it.  Apparently, Cardinale Entities still has some idea of what they want to do with the property, but it's unclear what that is.  The view taken by the city and most people, though, is that they want to do nothing.  Still, why would they hold onto a huge chunk of real estate like that costing them a big tax bill every year that produces exactly zero profits?  As it stands, the mall is worth considerably less than what it would cost to tear it down.  Nobody really knows, but we at Sky City are elated to have captured so much of the mall before what remained was lost.

The newspaper scans do not do justice for early interior photos, but they show a mall when it was open for business.  The first image shows a lost design element on the column in center court, the third is an architectural rendering and the fifth image shows the interior of the JB White housewares department.  The images otherwise already have captions.  All images submitted by Alaska Jill.

In all, there is absolutely no future in Regency as a retail mall.  It is not a beautiful building nor is there a need for a building this size in that area anymore with the decline of the neighborhood, poor location and overall crash of commercial real estate all over the country.  Being far from a historical area, the area is not likely to be gentrified either although some of the site may eventually be of interest to retailers (such as Wal-Mart) meaning that some of the structures may be demolished.  The structure is even too large for a mega-church, too ugly for housing, too impractical for government offices, but it could possibly function as a factory given that the U.S. was actually producing much of anything anymore.  Even if the neighborhood gentrified, this would not be enough to make stores want to repopulate to an out-of-the-way locale in a city that hasn't grown very much in years.  At this point, the best use of the property is to demolish the structure and vast parking lots and either turn it into a park or turn it back to nature.  Once this building is demolished, this will help Augusta focus on the rest of the corridor around it that has also deteriorated since the mall closed.  If Augusta needs another mall, it is definitely not here.

Cruel irony knows no bounds.  Submitted by Alaska Jill.

A collection of grand opening ads for various stores in the mall.  Most of these stores listed here are long gone.  Hardy Shoes is very appropriate considering the visible remains of one of those stores in the infamous Dixie Square Mall.  All submitted by Alaska Jill.

Yes, children, O.J. Simpson was once known for something besides a car chase in a Bronco, an ill-fitting glove and a murdered blond wife.  He was quite the sports hero in the 70's and 80's.  Submitted by Alaska Jill.

And speaking of O.J., you could find Orange Julius at Regency Mall every day in the 70's.  Submitted by Alaska Jill.

Typical of 70's malls, the downtown department stores and specialty shops moved into the mall in a desperate attempt to survive.  Most failed in this move.  Ruben's, however, did not open a full anchor-sized department store like Cullum's did instead becoming an inline tenant near Belk.  While they have long since closed their store at the mall, they survive downtown as a specialty department store emphasizing customer service as well as stocking hard-to-find sizes and styles. 

Coles books morphed into what we know today as Barnes & Noble in the late 1990's.  Along with B. Dalton, both had a location at the mall in the prosperous years.  Once again, the owners are lying about just how safe this mall is.  Apparently they already realized they had put the mall in the wrong spot and were attempting to reassure people that it would not be an issue.

Disco fever was still pumping out funky beats when the mall opened.  Silverman's was there to outfit you for the club.  However, "Stayin' Alive" was what mall patrons ended up doing instead of 20 somethings in the disco.

Since writing the first two posts, the interest in this mall has led to a generous helping of submissions to me of various photos and artifacts from the mall's history.  Unlike the last two posts, this post focuses more on the historical aspects of the mall.  Items submitted are old newspaper scans, directories, architectural photos and a few photos of the mall.  For me personally, I would rather see pictures and information about the mall when it looks clean and new, is full of stores and full of happy shoppers, so this is one of the more enjoyable posts of the series presenting the mall when it was part of a big dream instead of a depressing reality.  While this post was never originally planned, it is being added because of the huge interest, efforts and requests of so many of you.  I would appreciate any further images that show this mall when it was open and still viable, and if submitted I will add them to this post.  Popular demand is why I am adding this addendum to my two part series about one of the most infamous dead malls in the United States.

These are some of the photos taken by Virginia K Cailleteau showing a much more grim scene as the owners were in the process of gutting the entire mall in order to bring it to fire code.  The first shows the Belk center court, which looks far less glamorous than the prior image.

Two photos of the main mall being gutted leaving nothing recognizable except for the stage and skylights.

Time stood still for over a decade, but it seems that the clock was again changed by some demolition worker.

A dry fountain sits free of garbage and debris.

Images of the theater, which no longer give an indication of its past as a three-screen movie house other than the oddly-placed steps.

Montgomery Ward escalators, lower level.

Montgomery Ward escalators, lower level.  

JB White lower level and escalators

JB White lower level escalators.

Wards has been stripped of its signature burnt orange tiles leaving nothing but a vague impression.  Since the completing of the interior demolition, the exterior entrances to the department stores and mall have been walled off with cinder blocks making entry and escape impossible.  Time will tell if this steel and concrete tomb gets demolished for good or turned into something useful.  With the movie studio idea obviously killed, I guess the only hope now is mixed use or industrial.


(1) Sorrells, John. "Montgomery Ward to lead mall opening".  Augusta Chronicle.  July 20, 1978
(2) Stanfield, Frank.  "Cullum's will locate store in Regency Mall".  Augusta Chronicle.  March 3, 1978.
(3) Sorrells, John. "Belk to close 2 stores, build new one in mall".  Augusta Chronicle.  January 14, 1978.
(4) Eckenrode, Vicky. "Mall purchase stirs hope".  Augusta Chronicle.  July 31, 2002.


Links to the first two Regency Mall posts: Part 1 Part 2
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