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.


  1. This is my favorite mall in the world and I really feel sorry for cbl properties

  2. this mall is closed sears is gone jcpenney is in the process of closing it will be demolished in the next few months