12 November 2011

Lynnhaven Mall, Virginia Beach, VA

A mall of my youth

7 January 2015 
17 December 2023

At age ten, our six year stint in paradise had ended. The Navy was transferring us across the nation all the way to the East Coast- Virginia Beach, Virginia, to be exact.

The main entrance atrium. (Source)

After spending less than a year in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, Florida, we moved into our new house in the Princess Anne area of the city. One of our first reconnaissance missions was to find ourselves a new place to shop for our school clothes, dad’s tools and mom’s sewing equipment. It wasn’t long before we found that place in the second of the Malls of my Youth- Lynnhaven Mall.

Lynnhaven Mall Mallmanac ca. 1984. View the full PDF version here.

Lynnhaven Mall, from the exterior, could not contrast more severely from its pleasant and airy sounding name. The mall was a straight up, dark brown, minimalist as Leningrad in the 50s, monolith. It was a wall of large mud colored bricks with sharp angles and unforgiving monotony. This sea of bricks was only interrupted by the occasional black tinted glass element over the anchor and the main mall entrances. And what a main mall entrance it was; the two main corridors were at a right angle to each other and at the inner crux of where they met was the mall’s two level, bulging black glass focal point- The Atrium. It was an imposing half cube of dull, lifeless mirrors. I loved it. This mall had personality.

Lynnhaven Mall as I remember. 1- From the front. (Source) 2- From the rear. (Source)

The interior of Lynnhaven carried on the motif of earth tone extremism displayed prominently on the exterior. The floor tiles alternated between dark beige and dark brown; the small box skylights located in the wide corridors were accented in bronze and wooden tones, counteracting the already limited natural light filtering in. There were large sunken seating areas just outside each of the main anchors that were almost maze-like and obscured enough by their high walls and abundant greenery to encourage engagement in any number of deviant activities. It was the perfect place for an eighties teen to hang out.

-UPDATE- 1- The front exterior of Lynnhaven Mall just before its opening. (Source)  2- Pristine center court at the mall's opening, including the fountain and sculpture thingy. (Source)  3- Victoria Principal at Lynnhaven's opening.  (Source)  4 to 6- Thalhimer's, Leggett, and Miller & Rhoads mall entrances at Lynnhaven Mall's opening. (Source)

The facility was mostly one level except for the center court area running from the Atrium, through center court, to Leggett. And what a center court it was. It was very large in area and underneath an expansive glass canopy that flooded the area with direct sunlight. It was the only bright place in the mall. The court’s base was sunken a few feet below the rest of the mall with a wide walkway traversing it diagonally. On one side was the obligatory fountain while the opposite half was home to a stepped area perfect for loitering and a unique piece of modern art (?) sculpture.

Lynnhaven Mall Leasing Pamphlet ca. 1985. View the full PDF version here.

I don’t remember much about the fountain, but that sculpture sure was unforgettable. It was like a piece of stretched white Laffy Taffy twisted into something of a loose figure eight. Like so much of the mall, it far surpassed normal human scale. Somehow, though, it seemed appropriate for the place.

1- The mall's configuration throughout the eighties. 2- Lynnhaven up to the mid-nineties.

The food court took up almost the entire second level. It surrounded a mezzanine overlooking center court and had about twenty or so different places to waste your money on fattening, nearly inedible but tasty slop. The seating area overlooked that sculpture and made a good vantage point for people watching below (we threw more than a few French fries from up there.) Upstairs were also the two best places to hang out- Mother’s Records and Aladdin’s Castle.

One of Lynnhaven Mall's final configurations under Simon management.

Lynnhaven Mall also had the best Christmas decorations during the mid-eighties. They had what must have been a forty foot tree in center court with mechanized elves and reindeer in every corner. I particularly remember one highlight to the main tree. There was a ladder reaching to the top of the artificial spruce with an elf hanging precariously to the top rung. The ladder swung back and forth as if it were losing its stability, and that poor elf just hung there, all Christmas season, never able to regain his balance. Unfortunately, by the late eighties, those automated harbingers of the coming Christmas madness had been replaced by predictable strings of hanging white lights and oversized floating ribbons, decor that seems to follow the basic mall holiday template to the smallest conforming detail.

Lynnhaven Mall Mallmanac ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here.

The mall remained essentially unchanged during my entire time in Virginia Beach. When I left the area at age 15, though, many changes were already in the works. Miller and Rhoads, Thalhimer’s and Leggett would soon be gone. Specialists in modern 90s interiors couldn’t wait to get their hands on the earthy slab and pastel-ize all personality out of the place. It was more than a decade before I visited the mall again, and I didn’t even recognize the place; I didn’t want to. It went from being a cool, leather clad morose character to a pre millennium Stepford mall. Gone were the wood and copper; the seating areas and the sculpture. Gone was everything that made Lynnhaven, well, Lynnhaven.

-UPDATE- 1- Lynnhaven Mall after the nineties refresh.  2- The former Miller & Rhoads being rebuilt for the arrival of Lord & Taylor.  3- The pastelized center court after the refresh.  4- Inside Lynnhaven in the mid-nineties. (Source for all)

The exterior wasn’t spared this treatment. Only JCPenney, the last remaining original anchor, retains its original outward appearance. Miller & Rhoads, later Hecht’s then Lord & Taylor (now vacant) was whitewashed into invisibility while the old Thalhimer’s, with its signature “turret” on the left side, was replicated into a tedious Dillard’s stucco clone. Leggett had been demolished and replaced with an outdoor plaza called The Inlet containing two restaurants and an AMC cineplex. This is one of the few changes that I really do like.

-UPDATE- Lynnhaven Mall Lease Plan ca. 2011. View the full PDF version here.

Lynnhaven remains extremely popular and relevant thirty years after its opening, and I still think of it as THE main Mall of my Youth. Its design elements shaped and defined so many of my future architectural staples. But no matter how many shades of white that they indiscriminately slap on the floors and the walls, Lynnhaven will always be that dark and brooding place that I fell in love with so long ago.

Lynnhaven Mall Lease Plan ca. 2014. Notice that there is no longer a second level indicated and the food court is now at the back of the mall, near The Inlet. View the full PDF version here.


-7 January 2015

My two favorite Lynnhaven features- the dark and brooding main entrance atrium and the spacious, yet perhaps oversized, upper level and its food court, have been unceremoniously removed. In addition, the structure that originally housed Miller & Rhoads but left vacant after Lord & Taylor left the market has been demolished to make way for a, wait for it, outdoor lifestyle element. But what has been inflicted upon the interior of the place that really shaped my idea of what a classic mall should be is criminal. Lynnhaven has been modernized to being unrecognizable.

Lynnhaven Mall Pamphlet ca. 2015. It presents a really good comparison of Lynnhaven Mall before and after the mid-2010s rebuild. View the full PDF version here.

-17 December 2023

Still the best performing mall in all of the Tidewater area by far, Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s and Dick’s remain as Lynnhaven’s anchors.  About half of the parking deck, the northern section of the span, was also removed in the 2014 renovation, leaving only the portion front of JCPenney.

Lynnhaven Mall Mallmanac ca. 2022. View the full PDF version here.

The loss of the main entrance atrium still hurts, but at this point I’m just glad that Lynnhaven is still doing well.  Its peers Military Circle and Pembroke Mall have closed, the former with an uncertain future, while MacArthur Center and Chesapeake Square are circling the drain.  Only Greenbrier Mall in Chesapeake still seems to be going strong itself.  Hopefully these two, opened within months of each other in the early eighties, will last.


  1. boyhowdy you ain't kiddin i'd always loved lynhaven but with me (a girl with BAD walking issues) it was always a confusing tiriring me out kinda mall but the last time i was there in the mid '00's they added steve and barrys lord have mercy i can remember i'd bopught a TON of clothes there for about $25

    1. Thanks for the comment, Krisalyx.

      I also loved Steve and Barry's and hated to see them go. For the price, their clothes were of a rather high quality. I still have quite a few pieces from them that remain in good shape.

      And, yes, Lynnhaven does seem to go on forever. I remember our family's first visit there in 1985, we were walking the main concourse and there was a big mirrored wall near where The Gap used to be. Not realizing that it was just a mirror, my father remarked, "Damn, there's ANOTHER hallway??"

      Thanks for reading and look out for more updates soon. My appendix's bursting slowed me down, but I still have a lot of mallmanacs to publish.


  2. I semi-frequently hang out at Lynnhaven Mall(Though more often Pembroke Mall), and Steve & Barry's actually has been replaced now - As of this post, they're preparing to open up a Dave & Buster's there! I'm sad, though, that the former Hecth's/Lord&Taylor's building is STILL sitting unused... And it's been like that for at least 5 years now.

    That said, I've enjoyed reading your blog entries on the two malls I frequent most. I now try to imagine what they used to look like back when I was just a kid living somewhere else.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Though some pictures of Lynnhaven back in the day would have been quite the memento, I would rather have had photos of Pembroke, both inside and outside, in all of its original 60s glory. Man, what a place it was. Luckily, I can still see it clearly in my head, but as I get older and older, even those images get a little hazy...

  3. So the mall once had two theaters, one being the long skinny space by what's now Macy's? That was apparently a Freedom Electronics for a time, and it shows up as DSW on the 2000 map. I have a 2002 map that still shows DSW there.

    1. Yes, it was originally a set of movie theaters. If I remember correctly, the upper level had UA Theaters 1-5 while the bottom level had the UA 6-11. I definitely remember that there were a total of 11 theaters and they were owned by UA. I remember in the bottom level theaters watching The Gate and Predator, while seeing Navy SEALs and Top Gun at the upper level theaters (among others.) They were primitive by today's standards, but adequate for the 80s. Any idea when they closed?

    2. I don't know exactly, but looks like the lower level theaters disappeared in the late 90s.

  4. I love your blog! I worked at Lynnhave Mall from 1983 to 1986 at two store, Hip Pocket (now there is a Build-A-Bear in its spot) and Sea Dream Leather. What a great time that was. So different now. I also went to the grand opening in I think 1982 (?) and met Christopher Atkins (The Blue Lagoon) and Victoria Principal (Dallas) and Jill Whalen (little girl from The Love Boat)! I still live in Va. Beach and they recently tore down the main entrance and the merry-go-round. I remember the movie theaters as well. For some reason seeing St Elmo's Fire at the bottom theater stands out to me, lol.

  5. Highlights of Lynnhaven's renovations can be found in my own blog post. http://jamieboo-battle.blogspot.com/2014/10/malls-lynnhaven-malls-2013-2015.html

  6. I loved when we came to Virginia Beach on vacation and would catch the trolley bus to Lynnhaven Mall. I'm definitely a "mallie". I dont understand why people dont enjoy going to the mall in this day and age. I have very fond memories of time spent with my parents and grandmother/great grandmother at the mall. Wouldn't trade those memories...

  7. My wife worked at Leggett. Christine B. Did u know her?

  8. Monmon@aol.com

  9. But what happened to the sculpture? I just sat through a 25 minute walk-through video waiting to see it and realized the mall is completely different! I just want to know what they did with that sculpture! :-)