14 November 2011

Old School Shops - Southdale Center, Edina, MN

Let me say, first of all, that I love Minnesota. I adore how those million or so lakes reflect the bright blue Midwestern sky. The people are some of the friendliest that I’ve ever met and exemplify the spirit of “Minnesota Nice.” And the drivers… Well, that’s another story. But I digress. I love Minnesota; in particular the Twin Cities. Let me qualify that. I love the Twin Cities between April and September.

Those upper Midwestern winters can be quite the killer, especially to a southern boy like me. The extreme weather can be as harsh as it is beautiful. And don’t even get me started on the temperatures… Oy, vey. The first time I stepped outside in Minnesota was on a January afternoon. I learned something new that day- nose hairs can freeze. (And perhaps that mine needed a trim.)

Southdale Center Mallmanac ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here.

What better place to be the birthplace of the modern indoor, climate controlled shopping mall as we know it today? Southdale Center in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina is popularly known as the one to fill that role. Sure, indoor urban arcades had been around for decades. But this was the world’s first shopping mall to be built entirely enclosed from the very beginning and to feature competing anchors.

Southdale Center in the late 1990s.

The mall, a design of Victor Gruen, opened in 1956 just to the south of Minneapolis. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of retail history knows the tale as far as its creator goes. Gruen envisioned a self contained village, with retail, residential and office zones in a pedestrian friendly environment. He was heartbroken to see that it developed no further than its retail origins. The expansive asphalt parking lot, originally intended to be available tracts for construction of his vision, remained just that- parking- and his utopic vision of live-work-shop never came to fruition.

Southdale Center in the mid 2000s.

Amazingly, this oldest of US shopping malls has survived and thrived over the decades. Its biggest challenge came in 1992 when the behemoth Mall of America opened in nearby Bloomington. But with the same visionary spirit that brought Southdale into existence in the first place, Southdale was proactive in regards to the new threat. They updated the entire facility and added stores on the third level tailored to the younger demographic called Urban Trendz. They even added a small outdoor element of restaurants and entertainment, years before it became the thing to do at seemingly every other shopping center in the nation. Then they marketed themselves as the mall of the local population while the Mall of America would surely be a huge tourist draw.

Southdale Center as of this writing.

As a result, Southdale, the granddaddy of themall (them all or the mall, however you want to look at it) soldiers on to this day. Not having visited the mall since 2004, I was devastated to hear that the mill has hit hard times. The vacancies are growing and the mall’s current owners seen not to have that proactive spirit that their predecessors had. These are difficult facts to face as I have always thought of it as a great place. It is by far my favorite in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. There’s just something so fabulously old school about these first generation malls. There’s always something new to see, from darkened empty basements to mysterious staircases. In a society where everything, even million square foot shopping fortresses are considered disposable, I hope that what should be venerated as the beginning of an era never meets its demise. Southdale seems to have made its own permanent mark in the retail landscape and hopefully it’ll stay that way.

Southdale Center's official website

All Mallmanac – Greenville Mall, Greenville, SC

Over the years, I’ve collected mallmanacs from places that I really don’t have much of a connection to. However, the main point of this blog is to share these old mall maps as a record of the way things once were. I won’t have much to say about these facilities (which some may see as a positive) but still am more than happy to share them. These posts will be prefixed with the phrase All Mallmanac.

I visited the city of Greenville only one time in 1997. We stayed for a week at an uncle’s house who had been living there for a few years. We may have gone to Greenville Mall only once; I only remember it as the small place we passed to get to the area’s dominant center, Haywood Mall. As we drove past, I remember that my uncle always seemed to comment, “That theater is supposed to be the largest in the south,” referring to the on-site Hollywood 20 Cinema. Whether this was true or not, I don’t know.

Greenville Mall Mallmanac ca. 1997. View the full PDF version here.

Truthfully, I don’t recall much about the mall. It was bright inside and pretty standard for the nineties interior. I remember just thinking how rare it was to see an up-market Parisian and a lower mid-market Montgomery Ward right next to each other. Other than that, it was a pretty unremarkable place. I could definitely see how Haywood Mall became top dog in Greenville.

I do know that the mall opened in 1978 and coexisted happily with Haywood until the latter expanded to the size that it is now. In the mid 90’s (when this mallmanac is dated), they retenented with more upscale stores hoping to capture a niche market. This didn’t work out well and today, the mall seems to be pretty much dead.

Greenville Mall at Deadmalls.com
Greenville Mall at Sky City

13 November 2011

Emerging Marketplaces – Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong, Philippines

The Philippines is a place of extremes. Right next to the gleaming glass towers of Makati’s central business district are blocks of “informal settlements,” also known as squatters’ villages. The weather is basically half a year of non-stop rain and half a year of bone dry skies. Even their shopping is extreme. While the vast majority of the population do their shopping at their local market or at the closest sari-sari store, the privileged few get to shop in some of the largest and most extravagant shopping malls in the world.

As of this writing, three of the world’s seven largest malls are located in Metro Manila. And they are huge. They’re all encompassing as well; Victor Gruen would be happy to see how they have developed in this archipelago. More often than not, they contain supermarkets, doctors’ offices, cinemas, countless restaurants, residential space and more. This being said, of all the malls in Manila, Shangri-La Plaza is my favorite.

The Shang

Affectionately known as "the Shang," the seven level center is a paltry million square feet of gross leasable area. It is dwarfed by its next door neighbor, the 4.2 million square foot SM Megamall. However, I find it to be the much more impressive of the two. It is anchored by Rustan’s, considered to be the Philippines’ most upmarket department store, there is a massive food court in the basement level, and the Grand Atrium at Center Court, with it’s many unaligned escalators, mezzanines and staircases, is reminiscent of an M.C. Escher painting.

L- The main entrance on Shaw Boulevard. C- The Grand Atrium above center court. R- The view of Shangri-La Plaza from my condominium.

Each of the levels has its own theme. From the basement to the sixth level, they are respectively known as Food and Fun, home of the food court and the electronics sector, City Streets, a hodge-podge of different stores and an outdoor strip of nightclubs and restaurants, Casual Lifestyle, focusing on fashion, Indulgences, offering upscale accessories, My Family, My Home with domestic design, child and baby stores, Urban Lifestyle, with fashion and accessories marketed to the younger crowd and Pleasures of Life on the top level, home of the cinemas and another selection of restaurants. Shangri-La caters to people of most demographics with stores ranging from the upscale Coach and Tiffany’s to mid-market Marks and Spencer.

The extensive layout of the seven tiered Shangri-La Plaza.

When I moved to Manila, I specifically sought out a condominium in the Ortigas Center, a business district straddling the line between Pasig and Mandaluyong cities in which Shangri-La is located. Within walking distance are seven other malls including Saint Francis Square, the Podium, the SM Megamall and Robinson’s Galleria. I did most of my grocery shopping at Rustan’s supermarket and got prescriptions filled at Mercury Drug. I got my hair cut at a barber shop in the basement area, and there was a great little natural foods store that had one of the best selections of wine that I’ve seen in the country. It was perfect. Everything that I needed was just a few steps outside of my building.

L- Shangri-La Plaza with Star Mall on the opposite side of the street. R- An MRT train pulls into the Shaw Boulevard Station right next to Rustan's.

The MRT (Manila’s light rail system) has a station directly connected to the mall that I used daily to commute to and from work. There are a series of skyways and bridges that connected Shangri-La to two other malls, EDSA Central and Star Mall. I’ve always wanted to live in an urban environment where a car isn’t a necessity, and living right next to Shangri-La allowed me to do that.

L- Shangri-La Plaza with my former residence building in the background. C- The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place twin residential towers. R- A fire that started in the mall's basement viewed from my condo window. No major damage occured, but Rustan's Supermarket was closed for a few months.

Like most Philippine malls, it is pretty unremarkable from the outside. It is an unassuming concrete block washed in dull yellow paint. It is surrounded by scores of high-rise building, further diminishing its presence. There are no surface lots, just several parking decks and rooftop spaces. Finding a place in the carpark can be quite the hassle, and I would merely smile at all of the cars in the queue for entry as I walked right past them and to my own condominium just a few meters away.

More shots of The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place tower complex.

Without a doubt, the most impressive part of the facility is its residential portion. The seven levels of shopping are punctuated by the 60 story tall twin towers, The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place. At just under 700 feet tall each, they are the tallest residential buildings in the entire country, as well as the tallest skyscrapers of any kind in the Ortigas Center.

Shangri-La Plaza may not be the largest mall in the area, but I found it to be the best by far proving, once again, that bigger may not always be better.

Shangri-La Plaza's official Website.

Malls of My Own – Hillside Mall/The Top of the Cumberland

From an early age, I didn’t just love to look at the glory of the suburban shopping mall, I also wanted to create them. Through the years, I’ve devised a number of different shopping facilities, but this one is where it all began. The genesis of all of my other designs was Hillside Mall.

I was ten years old and we were spending Christmas at my grandparent’s house in Florida when I picked up a few markers and some colored pencils and created Hillside Mall. We had driven all the way down from Virginia, and through my window seat in the back of our station wagon, I would press my face up against the glass to see the skylines of cities like Winston-Salem, Atlanta, Knoxville and others we passed along the way. (We made a few side trips.) I also loved it when we would go rushing past those interstate abutting malls. I remember as we drove past Northgate Mall in Durham, Four Season Town Center in Greensboro and West Town Mall in Knoxville. My first mall was kind of an amalgamation of these three places.

Hillside Mall, side one.

As the name implies, it would be built into the side of a mountain. It would be four levels with the same number of anchors. Due to space limitations, it would have both surface and rooftop parking. The part of the mall facing the base of the hill would feature a two level vertical atrium situated directly above two further levels of leasable area.

Hillside Mall, side two.

Why I chose the anchors that I did, I’m not really sure. Thalhimers was a favorite store of mine even though we rarely shopped there. Many of their stores seemed to feature what I had dubbed the “Thalhimers Turret,” an area of the façade, usually to the left, that was raised a few feet higher than the rest of the roof and came a few feet forward from the rest of the footprint. Interestingly enough, however, I didn’t incorporate the turret into this building.

Hechts at Colisuem Mall in Hampton, Virgina, originally a Thalhimers, sports an example of what I call the "Thalhimers Turret."

Hillside Mall was crude in design, but I knew exactly what I was going for in my own mind. Years later, I would revisit this theme of non-aligned multiple tiers on a mall built into a slope. The result was a facility I called The Top of the Cumberland.

Hillside Mall was reinvented as The Top of the Cumberland nearly 20 years later.

The name was chosen because I was living in Huntsville on the southern extreme of the Cumberland Plateau. I loved the plateau scenery, especially in the vicinity of Crossville, Tennessee, so I figured what way to improve upon it than by plopping a regional mall right on top of it. Profitt’s was chosen because, at the time, it was east Tennessee’s hometown store.

I realized when I finished designing The Top of the Cumberland that the curved corridors and circular center court combine to create the appearance of, well, little swimmers. Don’t read too much into that. I decided never to change it because, what the hell, it makes it just a little more interesting.

12 November 2011

Malls of My Youth – Madison Square, Huntsville, AL

Age fifteen was a time of major changes for me. I was beginning high school, my father had just retired from the Navy, and we moved from the big city of Virginia Beach to the largely rural exurbs of Huntsville, Alabama. In this town, nicknamed The Rocket City, was the third of the Malls of My Youth- Madison Square.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 1994. View the full PDF version here.

We had actually spent a bit of time in the area years before. We had family in Decatur with whom we stayed with during the summer of 1985 as we made our way from Florida to our new home in Virginia. We spent plenty of time at Decatur’s Beltline Mall but really wanted to cross the river to the brand new shiny facility affectionately dubbed The Supermall. But to my own heartbreak and disappointment, that visit never materialized.

Madison Square Mall and vicinity from my window seat 10,000 feet up. As oldsters would say, "I remember when you couldn't spit without hitting a cotton field 'round thar."

Madison Square, on my first seeing it, was quite the impressive structure. The two tiered building loomed on the horizon for quite a distance along University Drive. The entire mall, anchors and all, was covered in dirty, sandy colored brick. It was an elongated khaki slab that stretched as far as the eye could see. (Or as they would say in the south, all the way past yonder.) Like Lynnhaven Mall, this monotony was only interrupted by the occasional dark glass entrance element. Unlike Lynnhaven, however, there was no focal point like The Atrium. Each mall entrance was only marked by a triangular stucco wedge of dull bronze, with the name madison square, all in lowercase letters, raised from the wedge surface. It was about as inviting as a Pyongyang prison.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 1999. View the full PDF version here.

The interior seemed to suffer from design schizophrenia. The lower level floor was covered in earthy toned ceramic tile, while the upper concourse was blanketed by wood in a parquet pattern. Absolute madness, it was! The skylights were a translucent manila color, giving all of the natural light that filtered downward an apocalyptic yellowish glow. The ceilings were layered around the skylights and seemed a bit dusty and dirty for a mall that was only coming up on its sixth birthday. It seemed that the walkways were a tad narrow, especially considering Alabama's placement on national obesity rate rankings. But all things considered, it was an absolute beauty.

L- Madison Square's original layout and anchor lineup. R- Early nineties layout.

Few changes occurred throughout the years. There were never any expansions, just some anchor shuffling. They did reconfigure the food court, one of the best features of mall, and actually created a dead corner that only interrupted the natural flow of the space.

This was the first Mall of My Youth that I was able to access on my own, so we went there quite a bit. We weren’t the most gracious guests (I got kicked out of Tape World one time. For what reason, I don’t remember.) I even worked at the mall’s Waldenbooks for a few months but had to leave after they got on me one too many times for being rubbish at selling those damned Preferred Reader Cards.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 2003. View the full PDF version here.

In a city notorious for not having a whole lot to offer young people, Madison Square was the place to go. It ruled the retail scene for years, unchallenged in its trade area dominance. But changes were coming that, while good for the city’s retail scene as a whole, presented more than a few challenges for Huntsville’s oldest extant mall.

Only a few years separate these two CBL maps, but the changes are obvious and distressing.

Between 2002 and 2007, two new malls opened locally- the upper mid-market Parkway Place and the open-air Bridge Street. (I realize that Bridge Street’s developers refer to it as a “lifestyle center,” but, by definition, its having a non-vehicular, pedestrian only common area makes it a shopping mall.) These days, the mall once called Super has one anchor darkened and another downgraded to a clearance center.

L- A rendering I made of Madison Square at age 15 completely from memory after only one visit. A few things are off, but I think it turned out to be fairly accurate. R- Madison Square from above. (Source)

Besides a few cosmetic changes, the mall mostly remains just as it was when it opened in 1984, and CBL doesn’t seem to be too interested in investing in the old blonde building. The changes needed to keep the aging beige monolith relevant in today’s retail environment would be massive in scope and dollars, so I’m afraid that the guys in Chattanooga may just let this one go.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 2014. Three anchors are dark, one is probably on its way out and the other two represent conmapies in the process of failure. View the full PDF version here.

7 January 2015

Madison Square's official website.

Malls of My Youth - Lynnhaven Mall, Virginia Beach, VA

At age ten, our six year stint in paradise had ended. The Navy was transferring us across the nation all the way to the East Coast- Virginia Beach, Virginia, to be exact.

After spending less than a year in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, Florida, we moved into our new house in the Princess Anne area of the city. One of our first reconnaissance missions was to find ourselves a new place to shop for our school clothes, dad’s tools and mom’s sewing equipment. It wasn’t long before we found that place in the second of the Malls of my Youth- Lynnhaven Mall.

Lynnhaven Mall Mallmanac ca. 1985. View the full PDF version here.

Lynnhaven Mall, from the exterior, could not contrast more severely from its pleasant and airy sounding name. The mall was a straight up, dark brown, brutalist as Leningrad in the 50s, monolith. It was a wall of large mud colored bricks with sharp angles and unforgiving monotony. This sea of bricks was only interrupted by the occasional black tinted glass element over the anchor and the main mall entrances. And what a main mall entrance it was; the two main corridors were at a right angle to each other and at the inner crux of where they met was the mall’s two level, bulging black glass focal point- The Atrium. It was an imposing half cube of dull, lifeless mirrors. I loved it. This mall had personality.

Lynnhaven Mall as I remember. L- From the front. (Source) R- From the rear. (Source)

The interior of Lynnhaven carried on the motif of earth tone extremism displayed prominently on the exterior. The floor tiles alternated between dark beige and dark brown; the small box skylights located in the wide corridors were accented in bronze and wooden tones, counteracting the already limited natural light filtering in. There were large seating areas just outside each of the main anchors that were almost maze-like and obscured enough by their high walls and abundant greenery to encourage engagement in any number of deviant activities. It was the perfect place for an eighties teen to hang out.

Lynnhaven Mall Leasing Pamphlet ca. 1984. View the full PDF version here.

The facility was mostly one level except for the center court area running from the Atrium, through center court, to Leggett. And what a center court it was. It was very large in area and underneath an expansive glass canopy that flooded the area with direct sunlight. It was the only bright place in the mall. The court’s base was sunken a few feet below the rest of the mall with a wide walkway traversing it diagonally. On one side was the obligatory fountain while the opposite half was home to a stepped area perfect for loitering and a unique piece of modern art (?) sculpture.

L- A photo of Lynnhaven Mall's center court mezzanine that was clipped from The Virginia Pilot. I don't know who the subject is or his significance, but it does provide a good view of the sculpture thing. R- The famous atrium main entrance. R.I.P. (Source)

I don’t remember much about the fountain, but that sculpture sure was unforgettable. It was like a piece of stretched white Laffy Taffy twisted into something of a loose figure eight. Like so much of the mall, it far surpassed normal human scale. Somehow, though, it seemed appropriate for the place.

L- The mall's configuration throughout the eighties. R- Lynnhaven in the mid-nineties.

The food court took up almost the entire second level. It surrounded a mezzanine overlooking center court and had about twenty or so different places to waste your money on fattening, nearly inedible but tasty slop. The seating area overlooked that sculpture and made a good vantage point for people watching below (we threw more than a few French fries from up there.) Upstairs were also the two best places to hang out- Mother’s Records and Aladdin’s Castle.

One of Lynnhaven Mall's final configurations under Simon management.

Lynnhaven Mall also had the best Christmas decorations during the mid eighties. They had what must have been a forty foot tree in center court with mechanized elves and reindeer in every corner. I particularly remember one highlight to the main tree. There was a ladder reaching to the top of the artificial spruce with an elf hanging precariously to the top rung. The ladder swung back and forth as if it were losing its stability, and that poor elf just hung there, all Christmas season, never able to regain his balance. Unfortunately, by the late eighties, those automated harbingers of the coming Christmas madness had been replaced by predictable strings of hanging white lights and oversized floating ribbons, decor that seems to follow the basic mall holiday template to the smallest conforming detail.

Lynnhaven Mall Mallmanac ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here.

The mall remained essentially unchanged during my entire time in Virginia Beach. When I left the area at age 15, though, many changes were already in the works. Miller and Rhoads, Thalhimers and Leggett would soon be gone. Specialists in modern 90s interiors couldn’t wait to get their hands on the earthy slab and pastel-ize all personality out of the place. It was more than a decade before I visited the mall again, and I didn’t even recognize the place; I didn’t want to. It went from being a cool, leather clad morose character to a pre millennium Stepford mall. Gone were the wood and copper; the seating areas and the sculpture. Gone was everything that made Lynnhaven, well, Lynnhaven.

Lynnhaven Mall as of 2011.

The exterior wasn’t spared this treatment. Only JCPenney, the last remaining original anchor, retains its original outward appearance. Miller and Rhoads, later Hects then Lord and Taylor (now vacant) was whitewashed into invisibility while the old Thalhimers, with it’s signature “turret” on the left side, was replicated into a tedious Dillard’s stucco clone. Leggett had been demolished and replaced with an outdoor plaza called The Inlet containing two restaurants and an AMC cineplex. This is one of the few changes that I really do like.

L- A drawing of Lynnhaven Mall that I created at age 17. As I was no longer in Virginia, it was done almost completely by memory. R- Lynnhaven Mall from above, 2013. (Source)

Lynnhaven remains extremely popular and relevant thirty years after its opening, and I still think of it as THE main Mall of my Youth. Its design elements shaped and defined so many of my future architectural staples. But no matter how many shades of white that they indiscriminately slap on the floors and the walls, Lynnhaven will always be that dark and brooding place that I fell in love with so long ago.

Lynnhaven Mall Lease Plan ca. 2014. Notice that there is no longer a second level indicated and the food court is now at the back of the mall, near The Inlet. View the full PDF version here.

7 January 2015

Lynnhaven Mall's official website.