9 May 2013

No Supply, No Demand - Parkway City Mall, Huntsville, AL

In south Huntsville, the corner of Memorial Parkway and Drake Avenue has served as one of Huntsville's main retail hubs for over fifty years. It has seen the city grow from a small cotton based town to the military and aerospace centered metropolis that it is now.

Opened in 1957 as the Parkway Shopping Center, it served as the first suburban style, auto-centric retail destination for Huntsville's growing south side. In 1974, a tornado struck the south end of the center effectively destroying one half of it. The predecessors to present day CBL and Associates used that event as an opportunity to reposition the nearly twenty year old facility. A complete remodeling and renovation was done and, in 1976, the former open-air center was rechristianed as the enclosed Parkway City Mall, with 474,000 square feet of space and Montgomery Ward, Parisian and Pizitz anchoring. At this point, in a city with only around 125,000 people, this was already the fourth enclosed shopping mall.

Parkway City Mall Mallmanac ca. 1990. View the full PDF version here.

Twenty years and one weird pineapple themed renovation later, Parkway City Mall was languishing. In just a few years, staple stores such as Camelot Music, Spencer and Montgomery Ward were gone. Although Parisian and McRae's did well, the rest of the mall was going down hill at an alarming rate. B level stores were scattered throughout the mall, with empty storefronts occupying the rest of the facility. On any given day, the mall's patrons were primarily old mall walkers joined by the occasional shopper. Even though south Huntsville was then the fastest growing part of the city and densly populated with young middle to upper class families, that much sought after demographic tended to skip past Parkway City Mall for Madison Square Mall, located clear across town.

Parkway City Mall Mallmanac ca. 1997. View the full PDF version here.

Truth be told, I was surprised the mall even existed. Having grown up in much larger cities than Huntsville, I assumed that the huge Madison Square Mall had to be the only game in town. But on one of my first times exploring my new home we were driving south on Memorial Parkway. As we crested the Bob Wallace Avenue overpass, I saw the drab brown facility on the left. It blended into the landscape and, with its low profile, was difficult even to notice from the city's main north-south thoroughfare. I made my older brother, who was driving, stop immediately so I could take a look at the place. On the inside, center court was a box fountain at the intersection of the two main halls. There was no food court, no good sit down restaurants, and few decent fashion stores. Renovation ideas were thrown around beginning in the early nineties when the 1.5 million square foot Green Cove Mall was announced for extreme south Huntsville. The owners planned to change the name to Parkway Centre and all hoped for a facility that affluent south Huntsville deserved. Then, in 1999, it was announced.

L- My meh proposal for Parkway Centre. Not one of my best designs and, thankfully, the reality was much more accomplished.

CBL and Associates, who had proposed the Green Cove Mall, kept pushing the project back before abandoning it completely. Then, in a rare move for modern day retail developers, the company that had opened the original Parkway City Mall purchased their run-down creation, joined with Colonial Properties and made a damn good, anti-sprawl and pro-urban infill decision. Instead of building an oversized facility on the outskirts of town, they proposed a complete demolition of Parkway City Mall and construction of a two-level 650,000 square foot upscale replacement, Parkway Place.

L- Parkway City Mall in the eighties. R- The last anchor arrangement for the mall before demolition. At Parkway City's closing, Montgomery Ward had already closed and the Castner Knott had been taken over by Dillard's.

First, in late 2000 at the mall's north end, the vacant Montgomery Ward and adjacent wing were demolished to make way for the new Parisian, which would open more than a year before the rest of the mall. In April 2001, the rest of the mall was closed and subsequently demolished. It was sad seeing it go, but when Parkway Place opened its shining new facility in October 2002, it was well worth it.


  1. Thanks! Any chance you'll add pictures?

  2. Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I never got any pictures of the old mall before it was demolished. Even after they announced its closing, I made plans to get a few shots but never did. Just being lazy, I guess. It's something I'll always regret, but this did motivate me to get all the photos I did of Heart of Huntsville before it was destroyed.

  3. Parkway Place Mall is no replacement for Parkway City Mall. The latter had two extensive magazine and book stores at one time, a huge department store called Murfrees, a once-kewl video arcade in the rebuilt, enclosed version, in addition to its other anchor stores and restaurants. The food and clothing sold there are toxic with GMOs. There is no decent book store. The current mall's only cool spot is a Spencer's Gifts; while Parkway City had no cool stores. The current mall only caters to the relatively well-to-do, and is filled with Mossad agents hawking things, but really spying. There is certainly no discount department store. I do not go there, except to renew tags.