24 May 2013

Enduring Anamolies - Crossroads Mall, Albertville, AL

It seemed that during the height of the mall building boom of the seventies and the eighties, every little speck of a population center was endowed with the gift of its own enclosed retail facility. This factor would explain the existence of gems like Southgate Mall in Muscle Shoals, Alabama as well as the Town Center at Lake Forest Park in Lake Forest Park, Washington. Hell, even miniscule Corinth, Mississippi got its Harper Square. But when a rural community of only about 15,000 residents situated on the summit of the Sand Mountain plateau an hour's drive away from Huntsville gets its own indoor complex, it becomes glaringly obvious that one day the bubble will burst and the boom will implode into a bust. And bust is exactly what the market ended up doing.

 
L- The strip of exterior facing shops. R- Under the entryway portico.

We had passed the rather insignificant strip style shopping center in the unassuming town of Albertville countless times on our way from Huntsville to Atlanta. I had always taken note of the over-sized and azure roofed portico fronting the facility, on the face of which the words The Crossroads were prominently displayed in ample red letters. I had always suspected and hoped that there was a small enclosure hidden behind this feature. So on one particular afternoon, instead of flying by with our eyes and minds fixed on the big city, I finally took that left turn off of US 431 and entered the largely barren car park of the commercial complex. My partner at the time was always great about going along with me on these little diversions. I think my interest of old shopping malls one was of those peculiarities that appealed to him. Sure as hell couldn't have been my personality.


The layout of Crossroads Mall as of this writing.

The enclosed portion of Crossroads Mall is quite diminutive, but what it lacked in size it more than made up for in sheer cleanliness. There wasn't a single spot within entire enclosure that showed evidence of not being strictly maintained. Even the restrooms were some of the most immaculate public facilities that I've ever seen. The common area was illuminated brightly under the heavy glow of numerous fluorescent fixtures while the burnt sienna tile floors, in a style reminiscent of the bygone disco decade, lay pristine and brilliantly reflected the abundant lighting within the building's wide hallways. The entire foundation glimmered under our feet in its excessively shiny state. The humble center court at the intersection of the two perpendicular corridors was highlighted by a violet tile encased structure accommodating a single tree. It sprouted healthy green leaves as it basked in the sunlight penetrating the glass of the mall's only skylight. There was a small number of patrons sharing the corridor with us, but not a whole lot else was going on.

 
 
TL- A tree grows near the Sears entryway just beyond center court. TR- The sealed Peebles access point. BL- The lone skylight high above the glittery floors. BR- A shot looking down the corridor toward the flanking end of Crossroads.

Sears, one of Crossroad Mall's two main anchors, operated a modest outlet, focusing mainly on outdoor supplies, appliances and hardware. In fact, the Chicago based retailer continues to maintain a direct entryway to the enclosed portion of the shopping center. The other anchor, Peebles department store, had long ago sealed their access to the structure's east wing. Though not completely deserted, this area is the darkest and least utilized portion of the mall.

At the very rear of the main corridor was where the two of us made our most significant discovery- the long forgotten third anchor, the double screen Mall Garden Theaters. Through the sealed doors which once allowed patrons through to view first run showings of classic motion pictures like Star Wars and Airplane, we could see that all of the requisite equipment needed to operate a cineplex was still laid about as if prepared for the upcoming matinee. Just the sight of this was fairly surreal, and it was undoubtedly the most serendipitous anomaly that Crossroads Mall offered.

 
 
TL- The view from the back of the mall toward the front. TR- One of the many ramps as the walkway rises the further back it goes. BL- Center court in a blur. BR- The mall from the front.

But an elderly southern lady who we happened upon, after inquiring about our purpose for chronicling the place, informed us that the theater was, in fact, no longer in operation. It had been closed for quite a while, she told us in her thick Southern-Appalachian drawl, though she couldn't remember exactly how long it had been since those seats were filled with backsides. After we exchanged good-byes and dispatched with the pleasantries, my partner and I took a closer look through the frosting glass and we were able to visually confirm that the business was undeniably abandoned.

A quick visit to the backside of the mall only confirmed what we had been told and had seen with our own eyes. There, we discovered the white cinder block walls that once hosted hours of entertainment for the Sand Mountain populace. The green trim under the cineplex's exterior access, though rusted and in disrepair, was classic seventies styling. The word MALL in all capital letters that glowed a radiating amber when the complex was at its zenith, was like the cherry topping on the proverbial cake, even in it's forgotten and neglected state. The decayed markings on the auditorium formerly designated Theater One helpfully pointed out "Additional Parking" that hasn't been necessary for years.

 
 
TL- The Crossroads Mall directory. TR- The doors leading from the enclosed portion of the mall to the theaters. BL- The main exterior access point to the cineplex. BR- The deteriorating condition of the facility is quite apparent.

During our earlier conversation with the talkative yet cordial southern lady, I asked her if she had any idea how long Crossroads Mall had been open for business. She hazarded a guess, after some careful thought, that it was constructed sometime during the early seventies. At that point, I attempted to explain in more detail my motivation for taking photographs of the aging facility. "I want to document this place, and others like it, before they're gone," I said. She seemed just shy of offended by my statement. "This place will never be gone," she said with a crack in her aged accent before acknowledging my partner and me one last time with a gentle smile and a God bless before going about her business. I sighed, hoping she was correct. But I had seen this tale play out before. Time and the booming development between Albertville and the county seat of Guntersville, not nostalgia, will be the factor that decides the Crossroads Mall's future viability.

Crossroads Mall information at BVBelk Properties

3 comments:

  1. The Mall Garden Theatres opened December 25, 1974 with The Longest Yard and The Trial of Billy Jack. The theatre operated until late 2001.

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    1. Thanks for the info, chris21718. Did the mall open at the same time as the theaters?

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  2. The mall opened in 1973 according to my notes.

    I have Bruno's->flea market->Save-a-Lot/Sears/etc. and Grant's->Woolworth->Heilig Meyers->Peebles/etc. for the anchors. I also have the mall as being closed 1982-1989 before reopening.

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