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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-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
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.
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.
-5 February 2023
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.