17 May 2013

No Supply, No Demand - Eastwood Mall, Birmingham, AL

Birmingham seemed to be going places in the years immediately following World War II. It boasted a growing economy based on the production of steel, a population close to 350,000 and was seen as a close rival to nearby Atlanta for the title of the South's most dominant metropolis. So it was no surprise that when the enclosed shopping mall fad marched like Sherman south of the Mason-Dixon line, one of the very first to open was within the Magic City. But then the sixties happened. Along with that turbulent decade came a reputation for violence and intolerance that the city can't seem to shake even to this day. The steel mills closed and people moved out in droves. Today, the central Alabama city's population is just over 210,000 and falling. And one of the symbols of it's mid-century stature, Eastwood Mall, is now replaced by a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

 
Eastwood Mall Mallmanac, ca. 1996. View the full PDF version here.

In the mid-nineties, I lived in the suburb of Irondale in close proximity to Eastwood Mall and its catty-cornered retail companion, Century Plaza. I preferred Eastwood for the simple fact that it had a Parisian. It was a flat fifties-modern box of a building with more contemporary accoutrements slapped onto various points that really made the mall look like a mish-mash of different styles and ideas; kind of a Franken-mall, if you will. There was the almost brutalist Parisian box flanking the planar facility in its two level glory while the main entrance featured a more stylish (for the nineties) shiny faux slate and concrete framed atrium. It was quite a sight.

 
L- Eastwood Mall's newish main entrance, a result of the 1989 renovation. R- One of the standard examples of Parisian was at Eastwood. Montgomery Mall's Parisian looked much the same, just with a varying color palette.

On the inside, Eastwood Mall was rather dark and uninviting with its low ceilings and stained carpets. The mallways were narrow and maze-like and all led to the food court. There, it was bright and airy with vaulted ceilings and a wall of CRT television screens. The renovation responsible for these additions was planned and implemented in the late eighties and actually drew healthy traffic to the old center for another decade. But by then, the surrounding East Birmingham neighborhood was succumbing to the changes that would lead to its eventual demise. Shoppers and vendors simultaneously departed, along with their dollars, for The Summit, a new-fangled "lifestyle" center on the outskirts of the town. I always thought of The Summit as nothing more than a glorified strip-mall, as it really doesn't follow the template of a true "lifestyle" center by definition. But, I digress. Eastwood was shuttered in 2006 and was unceremoniously and almost immediately replaced by a Wally World.


Eastwood Mall from the air. (Source)

Eastwood first opened its doors in 1960 as Alabama's first climate controlled shopping center. Its larger tenants included JJ Newberry, JCPenney, Kroger and SS Kresge. Through the years, a theater was added as well the Birmingham-based Parisian, which would remain until the mall itself closed. Eventually, a Books-A-Million, a Service Merchandise and a Yeilding joined the lineup. The mall kept a fairly solid retail resumé throughout its life, even with Century Plaza's opening nearby in 1975. I left Birmingham for good in 1997, as did a lot of additional patrons. The mall was never able to recover from these mounting losses and it wasn't long before the south would lose another irreplaceable piece of its history. But no worries, one can remember good ole Eastwood by buying a gallon of Sam's Choice pickles for a buck and a half on the very same spot.

Eastwood Mall at Birmingham Rewound

Eastwood Mall at Deadmalls.com

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    "The Curator" (from the Mall Hall of Fame). I like your website here. Thanks much for posting all of this great info.

    ReplyDelete