01 May 2013

Pembroke Mall, Virginia Beach, VA

A dead mal

17 March 2024

Upon moving to Virginia Beach in 1985, we had found our main shopping hub pretty early on at Lynnhaven Mall. But the southside shopping juggernaut was missing one important thing- a Sears and all of the Craftsman's tools that my father coveted. At this time, Virginia Beach was the only city on the southside with two malls and the Chicago based retailer was in the city's other mall. We first drove out there on a bright and warm Sunday afternoon. Having just moved from Hawai'i where the skies and ocean were blue, but not the laws, we were surprised to find the acres of parking around the Sears completely empty.

Pembroke Mall Mallmanac ca. 1989. View the full PDF version here.

My father was disappointed, but not me. I was staring at an absolutely stunning display of mid-mod and brutalist architecture. The Sears consisted of repeating rectangular faces, each a shiny mustard or copper color, interrupted by embedded beige concrete vertical formations leading to centered, blocky "eaves" above. I'll never forget the awe I felt when I first saw that façade. In fact, it completely overwhelmed Pembroke Mall itself, to the point that I don't even think I noticed it was there.

-UPDATE-  1 & 2- The original look of the Sears. (Source for both)  3- The entrance of the Miller & Rhoads. (Source)  4- Woolworth’s from the outside. (Source)

On subsequent visits to Pembroke Mall, I noticed that the Miller & Rhoads was no architectural slouch itself. It was also a vintage mid-century beauty. It's footprint was nothing more than a rectangle, but the brickwork and color scheme on the exterior were unforgettable. Above the entrances, the structure framing the nameplate jutted out over the portico in a manner reminiscent of a drive-in movie screen or billboard. It was fantastic.

Pembroke Mall Mallmanac ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here.

Pembroke Mall, at least in the 80s when I lived in Virginia Beach, was always under two shadows. There was the one cast by Norfolk's nearby Military Circle just to the west and a bigger one, more like an eclipse, cast by Lynnhaven to the east. Pembroke was never considered by us kids to be cool; it definitely wasn’t a place to be seen on a Saturday night. It was for old people with old stores and old fashioned-ness. Unlike teased up locks and shoulder pads during that decade, it was flat and colorless. It was dim and moody on the inside. And, although I would never admit it at the time, I absolutely adored everything about it.

The evolution of Pembroke Mall through to the early new millennium.  1- At its opening.  2- In the mid to late 80s.  3- The early 90s.  4- Early to mid-2000s.

I remember the green Pembroke Mall label and logo showcasing two Ps mirroring each other to resemble a tree on the front wall facing Virginia Beach Boulevard with the declaration "The Friendly Place to Shop." I remember the dark crimson and brown floor tiles with the embedded gardens surrounding a small fountain and round stage in center court. I remember the sparse natural lighting filtering in from discreet skylights.  But my favorite part was the ceiling. It consisted of parallel slats of a dark oak or a similar wood. But the slats weren't laid flat and abutting each other, they were uniquely hung perpendicular to the horizon. Small, round incandescent fixtures provided a little light from between those slats and through those gaps you could see the exposed duct work, all painted black just to ensure that everything appeared most cave-like.

-UPDATE- Pembroke Mall lease plan ca. 2005. View the full PDF version here.

Pembroke changed very little during my time in Tidewater. The only occurrence was when the two theater cinema located in the northeastern parking lot was demolished when an eight screen Cineplex Odeon was built on the mall's northeastern entrance. In fact, the entire commercial area around the mall remained untouched in all of its post World War II glory. But many changes were on the horizon. Miller & Rhoads closed with the rest of the chain, was replaced by Upton's, then Kohl's when that chain went under. Hess's became Proffit’s before Dillard’s, then was completely darkened for good. But the biggest changes to Pembroke were happening just outside of the mall's property lines.

-UPDATE- Pembroke Mall’s main concourse before opening and just after. (Source for both)

A proper downtown for the mainly bedroom and resort city of Virginia Beach had been planned for years. The largely wooded area across the street from Pembroke Mall seemed the perfect place to create one and in the late 90s construction started on the Virginia Beach Town Center. Now the 1960s anachronism lies in the shadow of several glitzy office and residential towers, one of which is Virginia’s tallest building. To compliment the new development, Pembroke's owners restructured the south side of the mall's property with free-standing eateries and more accessible mall entrances to be more pedestrian friendly.  Well, as pedestrian friendly as sidewalks adjacent to an eight lane boulevard can be.

-UPDATE- Pembroke Mall Mallmanac ca. 2011. View the full PDF version here.

This has come at a price, unfortunately. The Miller & Rhoads exterior was replaced by the Kohl's blandly standard template and the Sears, well, what they did should be considered architectural assault. I mourn the loss of this exceptional example of mid-century modern commercial architecture. The new plain, beige walls stand as somber and lifeless tombstones over the graves of what is now considered outdated and obsolete.

Pembroke Mall Mallmanac ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.

But the mall soldiers on. In fact, it does much better than what was once the region's leading shopping center, Military Circle, which is located just a short drive down Virginia Beach Boulevard.  The owners have been wise enough to adapt and to change, as the many layouts above demonstrate. It's good to see that even as younger malls die and disappear, Pembroke Mall still holds its own.

A newspaper clipping of Pembroke Mall from above just before opening.


-17 March 2024

The fountain and stage at center court during the eighties. (Source)

In early 2022, Pembroke Mall’s owners announced that they would be closing the antiquated retail destination for a complete redevelopment.  What started out as a humble, mid twentieth century first generation basic barbell will be gone, leaving behind quite a history.  Pembroke first opened its doors in 1965 on a patch of farmland in the newly formed municipality.  Sears occupied the west anchor spot while Miller & Rhoads made their home on the east end with a Woolworth in between.  In 1981, an addition opened with a new main entrance wing built to the south and another wing capped by Rices Nachman’s, later Hess’s, built to the north.  This converted the original barbell into a cross shaped facility that became its footprint until the 2010s.

Pembroke Mall Mallmanac ca. 2016. View the full PDF version here.

This northern wing and what was by then a vacated Dillard’s anchor spot were demolished and replaced by a Target in 2011.  Over the next few years, as peers Military Circle and Chesapeake Square continued their declines, Sears saw a downsizing of its expansive space into a subdivision that welcomed new retailers Nordstrom Rack and The Fresh Market, among others.  But as these exterior only facing stores did well, the shops lining the interior concourses were steadily departing.

Pembroke Mall Mallmanac ca. 2018. View the full PDF version here.

It wasn’t long before it became clear that the best course of action for the half-century old shopping complex would be to redevelop and capitalize on the presence of the Virginia Beach Town Center just across the street.  The interior shops were closed off to the public as plans for a rechristening to a mixed use center called Pembroke Square were announced.  And while the conceptualizations look promising, if not unlike every other similar retail redevelopment announced over the past decade, I’m pretty bummed that the old Pembroke Mall is gone.  I really did love the damn place; however its time has passed.  But I will never forget it.

The full rendering I made of Pembroke Mall in 1990. This is the way I will always remember Hampton Road's oldest mall.


  1. This was really interesting! I've lived in Va. Beach my entire life and I miss many of the old landmarks. I have been trying to find a photo of the old round movie theater behind Pembroke Mall and can't find one anywhere. I guess it will just have to stay as it is in my memory. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Love the movie theater and coney island across from it ..also use to go to the Chinese buffet ..still a great mall but things have to change .

  2. Monmon@aol.com

  3. Now, the Pembroke Mall is closed! Exterior tenants will remain open for the time being, but otherwise, it’s finally happened! Pembroke Mall is no more. Hotel and apartments will come next year.