09 May 2013

Parkway City Mall, Huntsville, AL

A dead mall

Parkway City Mall Mallmanac ca. 1990. View the full PDF version here.

In south Huntsville, the corner of Memorial Parkway and Drake Avenue has served as one of Huntsville's main retail hubs for over fifty years. It has seen the city grow from a small cotton based town to the military and aerospace centered metropolis that it is now.

1- Parkway City Mall’s basic eighties main entrance.  2- The mall entrance to Pizitz.

Opened in 1957 as the Parkway Shopping Center, it served as the first suburban style, auto-centric retail destination for Huntsville's growing south side. In 1974, a tornado struck the south end of the center effectively destroying one half of it. The predecessors to present day CBL and Associates used that event as an opportunity to reposition the nearly twenty year old facility. A complete remodeling and renovation was done and, in 1976, the former open-air center was rechristened as the enclosed Parkway City Mall, with 474,000 square feet of space and Montgomery Ward, Parisian and Pizitz anchoring. At this point, in a city with only around 125,000 people, this was already the fourth enclosed shopping mall.

1- Parkway City Mall in the eighties. 2- The last anchor arrangement for the mall before demolition. At Parkway City's closing, Montgomery Ward had already closed and the Castner Knott had been taken over by Dillard's.

Twenty years and one weird pineapple themed renovation later, Parkway City Mall was languishing. In just a few years, staple stores such as Camelot Music, Spencer and Montgomery Ward were gone. Although Parisian and McRae's did well, the rest of the mall was going down hill at an alarming rate. B level stores were scattered throughout the mall, with empty storefronts occupying the rest of the facility. On any given day, the mall's patrons were primarily old mall walkers joined by the occasional shopper. Even though south Huntsville was then the fastest growing part of the city and densely populated with young middle to upper class families, that much sought after demographic tended to skip past Parkway City Mall for Madison Square Mall, located clear across town.

1- The main entrance after the pineapple renovation.  2- McRae’s department store, originally Pizitz.  3- Parisian’s façade on the rear side of the mall.  4- The southern face of Parkway City Mall.  5 & 6- The main entrance on the backside.  (Source for all)

Truth be told, I was surprised the mall even existed. Having grown up in much larger cities than Huntsville, I assumed that the huge Madison Square Mall had to be the only game in town. But on one of my first times exploring my new home we were driving south on Memorial Parkway. As we crested the Bob Wallace Avenue overpass, I saw the drab brown facility on the left. It blended into the landscape and, with its low profile, was difficult even to notice from the city's main north-south thoroughfare. I made my older brother, who was driving, stop immediately so I could take a look at the place.

1- McRae’s mall entrance.  2- Parisian’s interior entryway.  3- Center court.  Originally a box fountain, it was removed during the last renovation.  4- One of Parkway City Mall’s seating areas.  (Source for all)

On the inside, center court was a box fountain at the intersection of the two main halls. There was no food court, no good sit down restaurants, and few decent fashion stores. Renovation ideas were thrown around beginning in the early nineties when the 1.5 million square foot Green Cove Mall was announced for extreme south Huntsville. The owners planned to change the name to Parkway Centre and all hoped for a facility that affluent south Huntsville deserved. Then, in 1999, it was announced.

Parkway City Mall Mallmanac ca. 1997. View the full PDF version here.

CBL and Associates, who had proposed the Green Cove Mall, kept pushing the project back before abandoning it completely. Then, in a rare move for modern day retail developers, the company that had opened the original Parkway City Mall purchased their run-down creation, joined with Colonial Properties and made a damn good, anti-sprawl and pro-urban infill decision. Instead of building an oversized facility on the outskirts of town, they proposed a complete demolition of Parkway City Mall and construction of a two-level 650,000 square foot upscale replacement, Parkway Place.

Shots along Parkway City Mall’s main corridor  (Source for all)

First, in late 2000 at the mall's north end, the vacant Montgomery Ward and adjacent wing were demolished to make way for the new Parisian, which would open more than a year before the rest of the mall. In April 2001, the rest of the mall was closed and subsequently demolished. It was sad seeing it go, but when Parkway Place opened its shining new facility in October 2002, it was well worth it.


  1. Thanks! Any chance you'll add pictures?

  2. Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I never got any pictures of the old mall before it was demolished. Even after they announced its closing, I made plans to get a few shots but never did. Just being lazy, I guess. It's something I'll always regret, but this did motivate me to get all the photos I did of Heart of Huntsville before it was destroyed.

  3. Parkway Place Mall is no replacement for Parkway City Mall. The latter had two extensive magazine and book stores at one time, a huge department store called Murfrees, a once-kewl video arcade in the rebuilt, enclosed version, in addition to its other anchor stores and restaurants. The food and clothing sold there are toxic with GMOs. There is no decent book store. The current mall's only cool spot is a Spencer's Gifts; while Parkway City had no cool stores. The current mall only caters to the relatively well-to-do, and is filled with Mossad agents hawking things, but really spying. There is certainly no discount department store. I do not go there, except to renew tags.

  4. Did the old fashioned ice cream bar place ever move anywhere else???

  5. I remember this mall very well. Due to family issues, I ended up being raised mostly by my grandparents. They lived in the Five Points area which wasn't too far away from Parkway City.

    They would take me to Piccadilly (their favorite place to eat) at least twice a week. I loved it there. There was SO MUCH FOOD.

    Sometimes we had to wait in line and there was a long hallway in Piccadilly once you walked in. I remember my granddad holding both of my hands and I would step on his feet and he would walk me down the line while I laughed. He was such a good man.

    I remember that Piccadilly was a treat because we didn't have a lot of money for meat, and I'd always get the roast beef and a strawberry shortcake with whipped cream.

    I specifically remember the cashier. She was an older African American woman and she always said hi to me and gave me a lollypop.

    I grew up and left Huntsville, went to college, joined the Navy and lived my life.

    After my grandfather's passing I went home on leave from the Navy for the funeral. I stayed home for a few days and my grandmother wanted to go somewhere to eat, we ended up going to Piccadilly. It was hard sitting there without him, it just wasn't the same.

    When it was time to pay, we went to the cashier and it was the same woman 25+ years later. It was the last time I went there.

    In the middle 90's I ended up living with my dad for a short period of time and took guitar lessons at a short lived store there called "The String Shop".

    Due to my family situation I ended up spending a lot of time there to get away. I'd just hang out there even if I didn't have a lesson.

    The guy I talked to the most was a worker there named Tom, and I took lessons from a local Huntsville guitar legend named Joe Honea.

    I'd try out guitars, Tom would show me some new chords, and I stared at guitars I'd never be able to afford. They had a Sbarro there and it was cheap, so if I got hungry I'd spend a dollar for a huge slice of pizza.

    The String Shop was only there for about a year or so. It was one of the many stores that popped up, had a short life, and then disappeared forever.

    My memories of this mall are good ones. I didn't have the best time growing up and it was sort of a refuge for me at times.