28 April 2013

Florence Mall, Florence, KY

An extant asset

-UPDATE-  (Source)

Cincinnati has always been a favorite of mine. It's got that older, midwestern charm while having a bit of a southern influence. And years of working for both Mesaba Airlines (as Northwest Airlink) and Delta Air Lines have meant that I flew through and stayed in the area quite a bit.

-UPDATE-  1 & 2- Florence Mall’s original interior. (Source for both)  3- The mall’s exterior not long after opening.  (Source)  4- Florence Mall’s interior as of this writing.  (Source)

Cincinnati's airport isn't contiguous to the city nor is even located in the same state. It's right across the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky, just to the north of the suburb of Florence. When landing into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, we'd fly directly over the bedroom community. But two things really stuck out as we descended toward short final. One was the rather large horse racing track. The other was the Florence Mall.

Florence Mall Mallmanac ca. 1998. View the full PDF version here.

Whenever I had the pleasure of staying in the Cincinnati area it was for business, so I never got the chance to step foot inside the building. But I did drive by it a few times. It looked like your basic seventies double deck facility built on one-time exurban land directly under the final approach to CVG (the airport.) It wasn't remarkable or memorable in any way but seemed rather popular. Best part, I was able to get my hands on one of their mallmanacs.

-UPDATE-  Florence Mall lease plan ca. 2002. View the full PDF version here.

Florence Mall opened in 1976, but throughout its history, its own popularity has both been sustained and overshadowed by that of the Florence Water Tower (Florence Y'all) located between the mall and the interstate. It seems not to have had much in the way of expansions throughout the years and looks to have been left with a rather bland anchor lineup of Sears, JCPenney and Macy's x2. But it chugs on, doing a better job of surviving than the airport it sits next to and one of the airlines that I used to work for.

-UPDATE-  Florence Mall lease plan ca. 2011. View the full PDF version here.

Phipps Plaza, Atlanta, GA

An extant asset

6 April 2024

Atlanta, the de facto capital of the South, is quite the surprising place. Sure, there's as much Scarlet O'Hara and NASCAR as everyone expects, but there's also the world's busiest airport, the deep south's only heavy rail subway system, a vibrant nightlife scene and Phipps Plaza.

1- Lord and Taylor and the mall's main entrance facing Peachtree Road. 2- Saks Fifth Avenue, the mall's oldest extant anchor.

Located in the fashionable Buckhead district to the north of downtown, Phipps Plaza is perhaps overshadowed by the pure scope and size of its neighbor, Lenox Square. I myself always preferred Lenox simply because just walking into the warm wooden and marble confines of Phipps always made me feel so poor. And this place had a Saks, a Lord and Taylor, and, in my opinion, one of the most uppity of them all, Parisian.

Phipps Plaza Mallmanac ca. 2003. View the full PDF version here.

When working for Delta Air Lines, I was no longer a poor college student, so I regularly flew using my benefits from Huntsville to Atlanta, hopped on MARTA, and rode the Gold Line up to Buckhead just to do some shopping. When living in a place like Alabama, where Macy's is considered upmarket, it was nice to browse stores like Kenneth Cole and Armani.

1- Parisian mall entrance. 2- The Center Court steps.

Phipps Plaza opened in 1969 as Atlanta's first double-tiered mall. It was your basic sixties dumbbell shaped center with competing anchors at each end. It opened just over a decade after its nearby sister mall, aiming to complement the more mid-market Lennox by offering a much more upscale selection of stores and merchandise. An additional wing with a third level and new Parisian store were added in 1992.  The facility retains this footprint to the present day.

-UPDATE- Phipps Plaza lease plan ca. 2011. View the full PDF version here.

It seems that Phipps Plaza remains the standard for luxury shopping in the south. Whenever other centers open in nearby cities offering just a sampling of the upper market stores that Phipps has, such as The Mall at Green Hills in Nashville or Parkway Place in Huntsville, the locals tend to nickname those places something to the tune of Little or Mini Phipps.

Nordstrom took over the Lord and Taylor store in 2005 when the latter retailer retrenched into the Northeast, while Belk took over the Parisian space just two years later with a buyout of the entire chain. Belk, in order to appease both the mall's owners and patrons, opened the new outlet as a flagship after protests of their store's being too middle brow for the center. As they say, money talks. And the way it is now, it seems that Phipps will have a lot to say for many more years.


6 April 2024

Phipps Plaza has endured much of the past decade without skipping a beat.  The “controversial” Belk location was shuttered in 2018, which the owners of the complex, Simon, saw as an opportunity to up the center’s reputation as the exclusive retail destination in metro Atlanta.  A luxury hotel, office space and an additional 120,000 square feet of commercial space were to be built in the store’s place.

Phipps Plaza lease plan ca. 2021. View the full PDF version here.

The Nobu Hotel, a work of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, offers 150 rooms and fine dining while the Life Time area provides square footage dedicated to both healthy living and career needs.  The new food hall, called Citizen’s Market, affords more upmarket fare within an elegant, shared atmosphere.  With these additions and more, it seems as though Phipps Plaza still finds much success in its niche and probably will for a long time.

20 April 2013

Wonderland of the Americas, San Antonio, TX

A relic of retail

-UPDATE-  (Source)

The abundance of indoor shopping malls on San Antonio's 410 Loop has always amazed me. Between the airport on the northside and my sister's home on Lackland Air Force Base, I must have counted five or so that we whizzed past, with Ingram Park and North Star malls being by far the most impressive. But this is one that I didn't even notice.

-UPDATE-  1- The atrium area close to the “amphitheater.”  (Source)  2 to 4- Scenes of the inside of the mall.  (Source)

On our way back to the airport after one of my many trips to the Alamo City, we decided to stop somewhere a little different for a bite to eat.  We turned off of the superhighway and into the parking lot of yet another mall. There was this huge, plain block of a Montgomery Ward staring at me that was attached to a smallish, nondescript shopping mall. We took a quick look inside the center's dark and empty corridors, and I was actually rather impressed by one unique feature of the place- the two level amphitheater and gardens integrated onto the northwest side of the facility.

The Crossroads of San Antonio Mallmanac ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here.

Inside was gloriously old school- there were dark brown and extra glossy ceramic tiles underfoot topped with vaulted, teal colored truss ceilings overhead.  The flags of various central and south American countries provided a needed pop of color.  It was dusty, musty and all around just plain forgotten.  I loved it.

-UPDATE-  1- The outdoor area at the “amphitheater.”  (Source)  2- Wonderland Shopping Center/ The Crossroads of San Antonio/ Wonderland of the Americas from above.  (Source)

Wonderland of the Americas opened in 1961 as Wonderland Shopping Center with Montgomery Ward as the main anchor.  A second anchor was added in 1964, first a Rhodes Brothers, then Liberty House and finally a Frost Brothers before hosting as it does Burlington to this day.  The facility changed its name to Crossroads of San Antonio in 1987 but was still experiencing an exodus of tenants. In 2010, new owners rechristened the complex Wonderland of the Americas, a nod to its original incarnation.

-UPDATE-  Wonderland of the Americas lease plan ca. 2023. View the full PDF version here.

Saint Louis Centre, Saint Louis, MO

A dead mall

3 March 2024

Mention the name "The Saint Louis Centre" to a lot of people in this beautiful city, and you will get a lot of opinions. Mostly negative. They'll call it a waste, an example of poor design and planning as well as a dividing wall downtown. The only thing they won't call it is a success.

I first noticed the Saint Louis Centre on my first day trip to the Gateway City in late 1999. I had taken the Metrolink from the airport into town and got off at the Convention Center station. I rose to street level, looked behind me, and there it was.

The impressive layers of the Saint Louis Centre.

I wasn't very impressed by the dated entrance design, but I was rather impressed with the inside. The first level had a few shops but was mainly used to access the second to fourth levels, where the real action was.

Saint Louis Centre Mallmanac ca 1999. View the full PDF version here.

With much fanfare, the Saint Louis Centre opened in the mid-eighties in the hopes of drawing more people downtown. It was four levels of stores, many new to the area, in a bright and clean environment under large barrel skylights, flooding the mall with natural light. There were two ready-made anchors as it was built between existing downtown department stores Dillard’s and Famous-Barr, which were connected to the Saint Louis Centre by skywalks. There was a diverse and vibrant food court on the fourth level. All signs pointed to greatness not just for the mall, but for a city whose downtown really was in need of rejuvenation. But the mall was never really successful. I visited again in 2001 and noticed that many stores had closed and that foot traffic had dwindled. A lot of the national chains had left and were replaced with local stores peddling tacky Saint Louis memorabilia.

1- Looking down from the fourth level.  2- A disused corridor on the third floor.

On this trip I also discovered another downtown destination, Saint Louis Union Station. The city's old railroad station and shed were converted into a retail and entertainment facility complete with a lake and a Hyatt Hotel. Granted, there were tacky Saint Louis souvenirs there, but there were also tourists to buy them. It was everything that the Saint Louis Centre wanted to be.

Scenes from a forgotten mall.

Then I visited for what I knew would be the last time in 2003, when these pictures were taken. The mall was still clean, white and flooded with light, but also very dead. The nearby convention center and dome were never sparkling successes, but the mall was a downright failure.

Dillard's had since shut down its downtown store and the venerable Famous-Barr was an uninviting and unkept mess. The food court was almost completely empty as downtown workers who didn't want to make the four level trek up to the top past empty, forgotten storefronts for an off-brand taco made alternate lunch plans. It seemed that the white elephant had fallen. And many in the city cheered. But why did it fail when other vertical malls such as Chicago's Water Tower Place and Seattle's Pacific Place flourish?

First, the design was not conducive to attracting pedestrian traffic inside. On Sixth Street, there was only one of those gaudy glass entrances on each end. In the middle was just an oversized egress exclusively for office workers. The side facing Seventh Street was nothing more than four stories of concrete resembling something out of the eastern bloc. Here, the entrances were small and camouflaged into the urban landscape. Many residents felt that it and its skywalks also created a psychological wall, dividing downtown Saint Louis in half. There was a lot of resentment because of this, and recent news that developers were wanting to tear down the skywalk to the old Dillard's was met with cheers.

1- The nearly vacant food court.  2- From the bright ceiling to the darkened bowels.

A developer has purchased the old Dillard's building and hopes to convert it to a boutique hotel and small shops, the kind of development downtown needs. And recently, the mall was auctioned after Haywood Whichard, grim reaper of malls, defaulted on payments. In 2006, the mall was closed and by 2009, the adjoining office tower was 85% vacant. So what happens here on out is anyone's guess, though many seem hopeful that soon the wall downtown will come down. All that I do know is that on my last visit, I knew the mall was a goner. I'm glad I took the pictures. Soon, that may be all that remains of the Saint Louis Centre.


-3 March 2024

It finally happened.  The multi-level skywalks connecting what was once the Saint Louis Centre to its free standing anchors were demolished.  Out of service years before the mall closed down in 2006 when each of the anchors departed downtown, they were still seen as a wall dissecting the central business district.  Now they are gone; good riddance.

Around the northeast corner of what was once the Saint Louis Centre.

Unfortunately, it seems as though everyone else has gone with them.  Not only the retail patrons that used to frequent the Saint Louis Centre in it’s nineties heyday, but more alarmingly, the office workers.  The attached skyscraper, One Saint Louis Centre, once housing the corporate headquarters of Trans World Airlines, hasn’t seem to have recovered from its earlier 85% vacancy.  In fact, it looks now to be closer to 100%.

I finally returned to the Gateway City in 2024 for my first visit in two decades.  To say the very least, I was shocked at how deserted the downtown area has become.  Besides the immediate vicinity of the Gateway Arch and along Washington Avenue, the pavements and streets stood very sparsely populated.

1 & 2- The former Stix Baer and Fuller building with the multi-level skywalk now gone.  3- The façade of the office building entrance facing Sixth.  4 to 6- The southeast corner of what is now the Mercantile Exchange.

I arose from the Sixth and Pine Metrolink station close to midday on a Friday not to be surrounded by harried office workers on their lunch breaks or delivery drivers distributing their items, but really nothing.  Just the sound of those midwestern winter winds whipping up as they traversed the manmade canyons and maybe the hum of a car in the distance.  I was left aghast.

A rough layout of the Mercantile Exchange as of this writing.

The blocks surrounding what was once the Saint Louis Centre are some of the most startling.  The former Dillard’s, what was originally the home of Saint Louis based Stix Baer & Fuller, seems to somewhat be bucking this trend as it now hosts the National Blues Museum, an Embassy Suites Hotel and various store fronts on Washington.  On the other end, at the former Famous Barr, well, I’ll let the pictures speak.

The tragic reality of the former Famous Barr building in 2024.

Saint Louis Centre itself hasn’t changed much as far as its footprint.  But what was the original interior concourse is now inaccessible.  Whether or not it exists in any form is unknown.  The centre has been renamed Mercantile Exchange, a retail and entertainment complex with only exterior facing entrances.  Its tenants include a YMCA, MX Movies and Bar, and Hi Point Drive In.

1- The southern face of the former Saint Louis Centre.  2- Looking down the backside of the complex along Seventh.  3- Another view along Seventh with one of the funky skywalks of the former mall.  4- Another of the same groovy style skywalks crosses Sixth on the front side of what is now the Mercantile Exchange.

I'll always love this city and still had a great time on my visit, so I really hope the center of the city bounces back.  I'm stoked about what they've done with Gateway Arch National Park by capping the freeway running just to the west, and I hope they have just as many plans to save what was previously, in my opinion, one of the best city centers in the US.

Mercantile Exchange official website