24 May 2013

Gadsden Mall, Gadsden, AL

An extant asset

26 December 2021

Gadsden used to be a pretty happening and affluent place. Once one of the largest cities in Alabama, it had an industrial base that nearly rivaled those of the much more established municipalities of Mobile and Birmingham. But that growth peaked in the 1950s, and the following decades brought an exodus of both those jobs and their workers. Today, Gadsden is a mere shell of its former self, a shrinking settlement on the banks of the Coosa River. Little new development can be spotted within its borders, making it a virtual time capsule of mid-century architecture, a style on which Gadsden Mall is definitely based.

Gadsden Mall Mallmanac, ca. 1996. View the full PDF version here.

Gadsden Mall made its debut in 1974, rising on a rather unique piece of real estate for such a structure. It was built on a peninsula within a site that was surrounded on two sides by Lake Black Creek with the Coosa River running past the third. Though this made for a lovely setting, it prohibited any real expansion opportunities or construction of peripheral businesses. Despite these limitations, the shopping center opened with three full line department stores, JCPenney, Sears and McRae's, though I'm thinking that the last may have actually originated as Pizitz, but I can't be completely sure.

L- Gadsden Mall's unique location from above. (Source)  R- Gadsden Mall as of this writing

In the early nineties, a Belk was added to the front of the mall. In later years, JCPenney vacated their space on the flanking side before a Premier Cinema was built in its place. When McRae's was purchased by Belk, the new parent company consolidated all of their operations into the original space. The recently built front facing space was eventually filled when JCPenney returned to the area after a few years' absence.

-UPDATE- Gadsden Mall site plan ca. 2021. View the full PDF version here.

Gadsden Mall does its job fairly adequately, considering the distressed economy and demographic that it serves. But I'm fearful that if the city's situation continues to makes little to no progress, the picturesque lakeside retail facility may not be long for this world. And I really don't think a Wal-Mart Supercenter would make for nearly as nice a reflection off of the surrounding waters.

Gadsden Mall's official website


  1. You are correct. McRae's location was originally a Pizitz store. That place closed in the late 1980s.

    And you're right in that Gadsden is a dying city. That is not exactly true for the surrounding cities within Etowah County. Rainbow City and Southside, while still small, are experiencing sustained growth over the last few decades.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. In the aerial photo you can see on the top right a little path and green area. In the early 1990s it was created –and when I was a teen, my friends and I referred to it as the "bird sanctuary" and would sneak off to go smoke there. One time we found an abandoned graveyard over there and someone told us it was a slave cemetery –but I was skeptical. (Just looked it up and the official name is the James D. Martin Wildlife Park Walking & Birding Path, and the cemetery is called Sixth Street Cemetery / Southern Hills –the city's oldest African American cemetery with graves dating back to 1810.) FYI, for anyone else who is curious... just google and you'll find news articles reporting desecrated graves and vandalism to the headstones and how the city government does not care enough about it's black history to protect the land. So glad I was able to leave that place.