12 November 2011

Madison Square, Huntsville, AL

A mall of my youth and dead mall

7 January 2015 
19 December 2021
5 February 2023

Age fifteen was a time of major changes for me. I was beginning high school, my father had just retired from the Navy, and we moved from the big city of Virginia Beach to the largely rural exurbs of Huntsville, Alabama. In this town, nicknamed The Rocket City, was the third of the Malls of My Youth- Madison Square.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 1994. View the full PDF version here.

We had actually spent a bit of time in the area years before. We had family in Decatur with whom we stayed with during the summer of 1985 as we made our way from Florida to our new home in Virginia. We spent plenty of time at Decatur's Beltline Mall but really wanted to cross the river to the brand new shiny facility affectionately dubbed The Supermall. But to my own heartbreak and disappointment, that visit never materialized.

Madison Square Mall and vicinity from my window seat 10,000 feet up. As oldsters would say, "I remember when you couldn't spit without hitting a cotton field 'round thar."

Madison Square, on my first seeing it, was quite the impressive structure. The two tiered building loomed on the horizon for quite a distance along University Drive. The entire mall, anchors and all, was covered in dirty, sandy colored brick. It was an elongated khaki slab that stretched as far as the eye could see. (Or as they would say in the south, all the way past yonder.) Like Lynnhaven Mall, this monotony was only interrupted by the occasional dark glass entrance element. Unlike Lynnhaven, however, there was no focal point like The Atrium. Each mall entrance was only marked by a triangular stucco wedge of dull bronze, with the name madison square, all in lowercase letters, raised from the wedge surface. It was about as inviting as a Pyongyang prison.

1- Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 1999. View the full PDF version here.
2- Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 2001. View the full PDF version here.

The interior seemed to suffer from design schizophrenia. The lower level floor was covered in earthy toned ceramic tile, while the upper concourse was blanketed by wood in a parquet pattern. Absolute madness, it was! The skylights were a translucent manila color, giving all of the natural light that filtered downward an apocalyptic yellowish glow. The ceilings were layered around the skylights and seemed a bit dusty and dirty for a mall that was only coming up on its sixth birthday. It seemed that the walkways were a tad narrow, but all things considered, it was an absolute beauty.

1- Madison Square's original layout and anchor lineup. 2- Early nineties layout.

Few changes occurred throughout the years. There were never any expansions, just some anchor shuffling. They did reconfigure the food court, one of the best features of mall, and actually created a dead corner that only interrupted the natural flow of the space.

Madison Square's main entrance in the early nineties (1) and the early aughts (2.)

This was the first Mall of My Youth that I was able to access on my own, so we went there quite a bit. We weren’t the most gracious guests (I got kicked out of Tape World one time. For what reason, I don’t remember.) I even worked at the mall’s Waldenbooks for a few months but had to leave after they got on me one too many times for being rubbish at selling those damned Preferred Reader Cards.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 2003. View the full PDF version here.

In a city notorious for not having a whole lot to offer young people, Madison Square was the place to go. It ruled the retail scene for years, unchallenged in its trade area dominance. But changes were coming that, while good for the city’s retail scene as a whole, presented more than a few challenges for Huntsville’s oldest extant mall.

Only a few years separate these two CBL maps, but the changes are obvious and distressing.

Between 2002 and 2007, two new malls opened locally- the upper mid-market Parkway Place and the open-air Bridge Street Town Center. I realize that Bridge Street’s developers refer to it as a “lifestyle center,” but, by definition, its having a non-vehicular, pedestrian only common area makes it a shopping mall. So there. These days, the mall once called Super has one anchor darkened and another downgraded to a clearance center.

1- A rendering I made of Madison Square at age 15 completely from memory after only one visit. A few things are off, but I think it turned out to be fairly accurate. 2- Madison Square from above. (Source)

Besides a few cosmetic changes, the mall mostly remains just as it was when it opened in 1984, and CBL doesn’t seem to be too interested in investing in the old blonde building. The changes needed to keep the aging beige monolith relevant in today’s retail environment would be massive in scope and dollars, so I’m afraid that the guys in Chattanooga may just let this one go.

Madison Square Mallmanac ca. 2014. Three anchors are dark, one is probably on its way out and the other two represent companies in the process of failure. View the full PDF version here.


-7 January 2015

Even though all character has been radically removed from Lynnhaven Mall’s soul, at least it remains a viable retail entity. Conversely, even though the exterior at least still looks much the same as it did when it opened in 1984, Madison Square continues its downward spiral. Belk has vacated their space, which originally opened as a Parisian, for Bridge Street. Dillard’s maintains one level of their former full line store as a clearance center, while Sears and JCPenney are still clinging to life. Not promising. I’m expecting to read any day now that Dillard’s is pulling up stakes for some fancy and highfalutin exurban lifestyle center in Limestone County (with plenty of incentives, of course.) And we are all well aware of the crumbling foundations on which the venerable names JCPenney and Sears are built. However, with their Decatur locations now closed, that leaves these two as the only ones available between Florence and Chattanooga. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the old blonde, but my knuckles are getting tired...

-19 December 2021



1- The broken Madison Square sign just after demolition.  2- The escalators on the west side of the mall. (Source)  3- The elevator at center court. (Source)  4- The skylight over center court. (Source)

On January 29, 2017, the first of the three malls of my youth died.  Madison Square Mall’s doors, open for the previous 33 years, were closed for good.  I was disappointed to hear of its passing, but it ended a process started years earlier when the behemoth on University lost its status as the chief retail destination of the city.  It went home to the massive parking lot in the sky, joining four other malls in the city which had come and gone. 

1- Looking east toward JCPenney.  The corridor leading to Parisian/ Belk is just to the left.  2- Your basic JCPenney mall entrance.  3- Above the east court.  4- The court on the east side of the mall.  That "notch" on the upper level balcony to the right is where the east end escalators used to be.  5- The east escalators were moved closer to JCPenney as that end of the mall was the least vibrant to bring additional traffic, even when the mall was healthy.  6- The darkened corridors. (Source for all)

I was glad to have the memories, but it was time for it to move on.  My first visit back home after leaving in 2008 was in 2017.  A friend brought me to see the site, and by then it was just a pile of rubble.  In a fast-growing city like Huntsville, prime pieces of real estate like this don’t sit idle for very long.  A replacement development, called the MidCityDistrict, was already in the works to rise from Madison Square’s gravesite.

1- The west court.  To the right is the former location of Pizitz/ McRae's/ Belk.  2- The skylight over the east court.  3- Looking up at the west court skylight.  4- The shuttered entrance to the Parisian/ Belk anchor.  5- Neglected furniture in the quiet halls.  6- The lonely mall directory... (Source for all)

When I moved away from Huntsville in 2008, Madison Square was already in decline but was still a somewhat viable destination.  I should have made the stop at least once to take a few snapshots, but I never did.  So, thanks goes to AL.com for many of these photos that were taken just before its closing. 

Cheers to the old blonde supermall on University.

-5 February 2023

Almost all signs have been obliterated of the first of the three malls of my youth to fall.  There are a couple of old “tombstone” signs still sitting just off of the main roads surrounding the spot where it once stood, but the main building and even the out lot movie theaters are gone.  The only remaining structure even slightly showing signs of Madison Square Mall is the Holiday Inn located just to the northwest outside of the ring road.

1- One of the old Madison Square signs altered for MidCity.  2- The main entrance and Trader Joe's off University.  3- The Holiday Inn, the only structure remaining from the mall days.  4- The view of MidCity coming off of University Drive.  5- The view from the north.  6- The view from the east.

Although it is sad that Madison Square is gone, I'm pretty stoked about what's being built.  MidCity District is under construction in full force and it already seems to be a hot spot for new stores coming to what is now Alabama’s largest city.  It’s attracted a Top Golf, Dave and Buster’s, REI, Wahlburgers and Trader Joe’s.  And it’s still growing, with many urban style apartments, an amphitheater and even a kayak course in the works.

1- MidCity Drive, the District's main street.  2- Looking south down MidCity Drive.  3- REI is one of the retail anchors of MidCity.  4- Dave and Buster's.  5- Morgan Echol's colorful shipping container art piece.  6- The Little Richard mural.

On my most recent visit in October of 2022, I finally got to see what all of the fuss was about The Camp.  Calling itself “Huntsville’s coolest outdoor destination” there are several food truck style food vendors, coffee shops and stages of various sizes.  It hosts special events such as Mardi Gras and Halloween festivities.  It’s kind of hard to describe as there are very few places like it.

Scenes of The Camp, all decked out for Halloween.

Also sprouting on Madison Square’s grave is the Orion Amphitheater.  Opening in May 2022, the venue has already attracted acts such as Jack White, Jason Isbell, Brittany Howard, and Stevie Nicks (on Halloween, no less.)  They also host community events like Huntsville’s Gay Pride and a winter park in the lead-up to Christmas.  It’s been lauded by Jason Isbell and Rolling Stone as one of the top new music venues in the country.

The 8,000 seat Orion Amphitheater.

Also under construction are several more hotels and apartment buildings including Encore MidCity and The Metronome net-zero apartments catering to Huntsville’s transient military and government workers.  There are murals and artwork scattered throughout, such as a portrait commemorating Little Richard, who was buried in Huntsville not far from the site, and a colorful shipping container mural by Morgan Echols located in the center of the main retail strip.

The residential buildings of MidCity under construction.

I’ll always be a mall guy through and through.  Hell, that’s what this blog is about.  But even I know that shopping malls in the traditional sense are on their way out.  Even the best performers in their markets are having struggles.  Madison Square Mall’s time has surely passed, and the city has moved on.  The plans look great and there’s much more to come, and I can’t wait to see what else MidCity brings to the fast-growing Rocket City.

MidCity District pamphlet ca. 2022. View the full PDF version here.

Though I don’t love that MidCity offers no interior walkways to waste hours of my day, non-MTV watching adult me really likes what’s there now.  It’s really much more in tune with this new version of Huntsville, Alabama.  It seems the trade-off for the city’s amazing progress and growth is losing some of the outdated places that we loved.  No more Southern Adventures or Funtasia; The Mall or University Six.  But now I can find amazing locally brewed beers, one of the largest privately owned artist facilities in the country and a revitalized downtown packed with new hotels, restaurants and bars.  It’s a good trade-off; and I’ll always have my memories.

The outdoorsy western side of MidCity including High Point Climbing & Fitness, the future Apollo Park kayak course, and Top Golf.

This will be my last update for Madison Square Mall.  Anything new will be updated in the post for MidCity District.


  1. This is my favorite mall in the world and I really feel sorry for cbl properties

  2. this mall is closed sears is gone jcpenney is in the process of closing it will be demolished in the next few months

  3. I have been thinking about the Madison Square Mall today and one thing I remember was that in one of the Anchor stores, there was a tiny little hidden elevator. That elevator is on my mind and it seems like over by the back entrance of Sears you could walk in and go right and the elevator was in that direction somewhere. It’s a faint memory. Looking back at the pictures was nice and nostalgic.

  4. My first job was here at Camelot music in 1996.

    I remember getting my first paycheck. It was about $250 bucks, which was a fortune for a 16 year old back then. I ended up spending it all at Mark's Imports on all the rock and roll t-shirts that my mom wouldn't buy me.

    It was a good period of my life because all my friends worked at the mall too. I had friends that worked at Bombay Company, World Winds (little trinket shop), Software Etc, Waldenbooks, and a few others. We'd all meet in the food court for lunch.

    We were all between the ages of 16-18 and it was a pretty carefree time of our lives.

  5. I grew up in the Time Out arcade. Appreciate the walk down memory lane.