A relic of retail
10 February 2024
When first moving to Huntsville in the early nineties, I was surprised at the number of shopping malls located in a town of only, back then at least, 150,000. There was the behemoth Madison Square, the “secondary” mall Parkway City, The Mall and Heart of Huntsville, though these last two were on their deathbeds. But wedged in between Heart of Huntsville and Fort Book (what locals affectionately call the downtown main branch of the public library) there was a preppy looking red brick building that I thought was nothing more than additional downtown office space.
Clippings from the Huntsville Times before the mall's opening.
I later got to know the single story building surrounded by handsome crimson arches as the Huntsville Hospital Medical Mall, an auxiliary clinic just down the street from the main hospital campus. It intrigued me that it was called a medical “mall,” so I looked into the history of the building a little more closely. It turns out that well before it hosted nurses and patients in buttless gowns, it hosted shoppers at Huntsville’s very own, now defunct department store, Dunnavant’s.
Dunnavant’s Mall opening advertisement ca. 1965. View the full PDF version here.
Dunnavant’s started out in a historic, tri-level building erected in 1905 on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Washington Street just off of the downtown square. P.S. Dunnavant took over the space in 1925, opening his dry goods store in what was then a town of only 8,000. It grew to be the premier downtown retail destination in the expanding city, and soon it was decided to move outward to a second location. This new location would also be the lone anchor of what was to be Huntsville’s second shopping mall, Dunnavant’s Mall.
1- The main entrances are still adorned by eighties style dark class porticos. 2- The former mall’s exterior. 3- The building once housing the Dunnavant’s department store. 4- The former Dunnavant’s Mall up close.
Opened on 10 October 1963, Dunnavant’s Mall and its 30,000 square foot anchor surrounded by eighteen smaller shops was built to complement rather than compete with its next door neighbor Heart of Huntsville. Unlike its companion, however, Dunnavant’s Mall debuted as a fully enclosed center, the first in the city.
Dunnavant’s Mall lease plan ca. 1970. View the full PDF version here.
In the ensuing decade, Dunnavant’s Mall expanded northward to 113,000 total square feet and approximately twenty-five shops. Both the Clinton and Washington location of the anchor as well as the mall store were shuttered sometime in the late seventies following the death of P.S. Dunnavant. The smaller stores started vacating and it was only a matter of time before Dunnavant’s Mall would lock its doors for the last time.
Different views of the distinctive arches surrounding what’s now the Huntsville Hospital Medical Mall.
The structure, still in good shape despite its age, was renovated with its present red brick arched façade and re-christened in the eighties as the Huntsville Hospital Medical Mall, having had all of its commercial retailers depart by that time. Since then, it remains a popular destination downtown, although for much different reasons than its original intent.
The main concourse of the former Dunnavant’s Mall, with the Subway shop to the left.
What was at one time Dunnavant’s Mall remains an important and historical fixture in the city. It has outlasted all of its peers besides Parkway Place and Bridge Street Towne Center, both of which were built much more recently in the new millennium. Although the only retail establishment it hosts is a small Subway outlet, it’s still easy to imagine shoppers making their way down the main corridor decades ago when the city was a much different place.
New mallmanacs, photos and words have been added to the post for The Commons at Federal Way in Federal Way, WA.
21 January 2024
An extant asset
In 1979 when we first moved to Hawai’i, the leeward side of O’ahu was a much different place than it is now. Between our exit from interstate H1 in Waipahu and our home in ‘Ewa Beach, there was only the two-lane Fort Weaver Road. The drive was long and tedious (or so it seemed to my five-year-old brain) while we were surrounded by nothing more than acre after acre of sugar cane.
Center court and the main concourse of Ka Makana Ali'i.
As far as shopping options went, in our small town there was really only the ‘Ewa Beach Shopping Center and its Woolworth anchors. There was a general merchandise as well as a dedicated clothing location- the only time I had ever seen one. But for anything more substantial, a trip halfway across the island to Pearlridge Center in Aiea was in order.
Ka Makana Ali'i Mallmanac ca. 2017. View the full PDF version here.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. It wasn’t long before Fort Weaver was upgraded to a four-lane highway and not long after all of the sugar cane was removed and supplanted by sprawling subdivisions and strip malls. For the longest time, however, the island’s leeward side still lacked a large shopping anchor. That changed when Ka Makana Ali’i was built in the fast-growing suburb of Kapolei.
Inside Ka Makana Ali'i.
Ka Makana Ali’i, translated to The Royal Gift, was built on some of this land that was once home to the fields of sugar cane. In fact, old railroad tracks that used to haul the precious bounty still lie just to the south of the shopping facility, with the Hawaiian Railway Society still offering occasional rides on restored locomotives.
1- Macy's. 2- The front exterior of the mall. 3- H&M. 4- the northeastern entrance.
West O’ahu’s first shopping mall opened in 2016 as an open-air shopping mall on Kapolei Parkway. Anchored by Macy’s, a Consolidated Theater and a Hampton Inn and Suites, this was the first phase of what is planned to be a 1.5 million square foot mixed use facility. In addition to the anchors, other major names include H&M and Old Navy.
Ka Makana Ali'i Mallmanac ca. 2018. View the full PDF version here.
Located just to the south of the southern terminus of the island’s Skyline Light Rail, the retail complex is well connected to the rest of O’ahu’s urban areas. Well, at least to Aloha Stadium. That is, until the rest is built, but going by island time, who knows when that will ever happen. Plans say 2031 for it to be complete, but the portion that just opened this year was supposed to debut nearly a decade ago.
The story of Ka Makana Ali'i.
Being the only significant retail property on the west side of the island, Ka Makana Ali’i attracts large crowds and serves as a community center for the locals living in the Leeward suburbs. Though it is worth a visit and I do appreciate that it was built, I’ll always prefer Aiea’s Mall of my Youth, good ole Pearlridge.
A relic of retail
Just a quick and scenic ferry ride across the Puget Sound from Seattle is Kitsap County. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, the locality serves as a suburb of the Emerald City and even has its own enclosed shopping center with Kitsap Mall, which I thought was surely the only game in town. But across Sinclair Inlet in the smaller town of Port Orchard is another mall- Town Center of Port Orchard.
Inside Town Square.
Though the two are not really comparable, Town Square is much more of a fit for the smaller hamlet. Built as a two-level community center, I would hazard to say that the sparse interior had never seen a redesign before my initial visit in 2015. Larger tenants included Ace Hardware and Goodwill, but the main concourse was home to a rather robust selection of locally owned merchants.
The interior of Town Square.
Opened in 1981 as South Kitsap Mall, as far as I can find, the diminutive complex was never host to any traditional department store anchors. Built as a family endeavor, the mall was sold in 2005 and then received its present name.
Town Square pamphlet ca. 2019. View the full PDF version here.
Since my last visit, Town Square Port Orchard was purchased by a national firm in 2021 who have embarked on a much-needed update. The façade is being reimagined from its eclectic past to what I’m sure is a bland future, but at least there are no plans to close the interior portion all together.
The exterior of Town Square.