29 September 2013

South Hill Mall, Puyallup, WA

An extant asset

One of the many quirky things that I've always loved about the Seattle and Puget Sound region of western Washington is all of the out of the ordinary place names. There are settlements with the monickers Cle Elum, Enumclaw, Index and Mukilteo; Skykomish, Tulalip and Issaquah. And in the middle of it all is the state capital with, perhaps, the most out of place name of all, Olympia. Over the years, I've become pretty well versed at correctly pronouncing each of these vales, but I've just never seemed to articulate the name of the home of South Hill Mall, Puyallup, on a consistent basis. I mean, is it Pew-yallup? Pee-wallup? It just doesn't roll off of the tongue for some reason. At least they have a pleasant and prosperous, if not cookie cutter, indoor retail facility.

South Hill Mall Mallmanac, ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.

One of the things that struck me about South Hill Mall was how far out in the sticks it was. From neighboring Tacoma, we went down a highway whose environs became more and more rural as we passed. Just as the banjo music began playing in my head, we turned off of that highway and onto a two lane country route surrounded by rolling green hills and bored looking livestock. Then we happened upon a small village before crossing paths with an impressive looking roller coaster and ascending a hill. Then BOOM- we were back in the city. And there next to a spontaneously appearing limited access freeway and surrounded by acres of peripheral retail was a sprawling, one level facility straight out of the eighties. Our back country adventure had led us to a mall.

TL- The mall's theater entrance abuts the passing freeway and almost no parking. TR- Macy's on the western expansion. BL- Sears looks even more plain when viewed next to the much more elaborate Macy's. BR- The former Mervyn's store in the original section of South Hill is now JCPenney.

The first thing that couldn't be missed was a two storey, grey-toned Macy's that towered over the rest of the single level, white-washed building. Then there was a small JCPenney, next to a less small JCPenney which were both tucked away just to the right. I decided to take a stroll around the facility's exterior and it was then that I noticed just how spread out South Hill really is. The walk seemed to take forever. After passing the twin Penny's, there was a Dick's, then a Target, followed by movie theaters with an elaborate glass entrance hidden in the back of the facility, before some strange unattached shed came into view neighboring a bland, completely unremarkable Sears.

South Hill Mall's interior. Or is it Northgate? Or Everett Mall?

The interior consisted of contemporary stonework, neutral wood tones and gold accents, pretty much the template of other malls in this area. I'm wondering if this scheme is a Pacific Northwest thing or is this palette nationwide? Kind of like the use of pastels and neon in the nineties. Anyway, the most curious thing that I noticed is that this is the only single level mall I've ever been to with a graded parking lot. The eastern two-thirds of the structure is higher up, while the west third slopes downward with the hill, giving the interior in that corridor the appearance of a gently rising mountain trail, albeit one with Zales Jewelers and Aéropostales in the place of route markers, towering evergreens and Sasquatch.

L- South Hill Mall in the early 2000s. R- South Hill Mall today, minus Target's ET.

South Hill Mall opened in 1988 in the South Sound town of Puyallup abutting highway 512. It originally opened with only three anchors, Mervyn's, Lamont's and Target, and with only about one half of its present enclosed area. In 1994, the west wing was added along with the anchors JCPenney, Sears and The Bon Marché. In later years, Old Navy was added while Office Max came and went. The Bon Marché became The Bon-Macy's before converting to a full Macy's while the Lamont's first became Gottschalk's before closing completely. A Linen's N Things and Circuit City split its space and after each hit the financial rocks, Dick's took over. Mervyn's eventually shuttered its doors along with the rest of the chain, allowing JCPenney to double their footprint from their rather small original location.

South Hill Mall aerial. (Source)

South Hill Mall is a nice little place and continues to perform very well. It is one of only two enclosed retail facilities in suburban Seattle-Tacoma's Pierce County, so I don't expect it to go anywhere soon. People these days seem to love their malls with plenty of Lane Bryants', Sbarros' and minimal personality, ensuring South Hill's survival for decades to come.

South Hill Mall's official website

23 September 2013

Tower Mall, Portsmouth, VA

A dead mall

26 December 2021

I was a weird kid. Chubby, ungainly and awkward, though I loved to play outside, I could never keep up with the other kids. I couldn't climb trees with them or swim across lagoons with them. When out causing mischief I was always the slowest one on retreat, usually leaving me as the one to get caught. Accordingly, a lot of my interests were of the non-physical nature. I loved airplanes, super sentai and writing awful pre-teen poetry. There was also, of course, this strange affinity for shopping malls.

My dad was one of the best. A career navy man, he loved his Oakland Raiders and his Olympia beer. He was your typical Irish-American Catholic family man who never once made me feel abnormal for having all of these strange hobbies I clung for dear life to.

That's all nice and dandy, I know you're thinking, But what the hell does that have to do with Tower Mall? I'm getting there. Chill. Anyway, it was my twelfth birthday, which just happened to fall on a Saturday. After a day involving more than an adequate amount of cake, pin the tail on the donkey and the offering of peanut products without any fear of anyone's dying or the lawsuits that would inevitably follow, my father asked me what I wanted to do. It was an extraordinary request, but I had no problem taking it. I wanted to visit a couple of shopping malls that I had not yet had the opportunity to see. The first was Chesapeake's Greenbrier Mall. The second was Portsmouth's Tower Mall.

Tower Mall's original layout and anchors.

We had sped by the low profiled, dusty brown brick single level enclosure of the mall as we had sped by on I264 many times. There was a Montgomery Ward on the south end abutting the freeway, but I couldn't see much else through the trees. So, on that Saturday night in the late eighties as we pulled into the half filled parking lot of the only enclosed retail facility ever to make its home in Portsmouth, I couldn't be more excited. Forget the presents I had opened earlier in the day; hell, I have no more recollection of what I found in those colorfully wrapped packages. But what I do remember clearly is my first time in Tower Mall.

L- Interior picture of the groovy center court skylight. (Source) R- The exterior of Bradlees, originally J.M. Fields. (Source)

We parked on the back side of Montgomery Ward, and there to our right tucked inconspicuously into a forgotten corner of the back of the mall was a small sign in a very recognizable font. Miller & Rhoads, it said. The store was tiny and seemed almost to be an afterthought; it was less sizable than even the miniscule Hess's at Lynnhaven Mall. We entered the mall's wide corridors through Ward's and there I experienced the three key elements that I will always remember about the old place- 1) It was dark as hell in there, but somehow not uninviting. 2) There was a sunken seating area covered in dark tile at center court, and 3) The flags. The ceiling and skylight at center court were surrounded by all of these dusty, fading rectangular swaths of cloth. It was really the only color outside of the many shades of brown to be found inside the place.

Tower Mall in the late eighties showing its last configuration before its demise.

Tower Mall opened in 1973 in the city of Portsmouth, Norfolk's neighbor just across the Elizabeth River to the west. It was named after the water tower located in its front parking lot facing Victory Boulevard. The third mall to open in the Southside of Hampton Rhoads, it was also the smallest. Montgomery Ward and JM Fields were the original anchors, with Hess's and Miller & Rhoads added later, while Bradlee's replaced JM Fields. As the sole enclosed retail facility in the western end of the Southside, it enjoyed success until the late eighties when crime steadily rose in the area and a new competitor, Chesapeake Square, opened not far away in the neighboring town.

Overhead shot of Tower Mall (L) next to today's site layout (R). (Source)

I loved what I saw in Tower Mall on that cold winter evening when I turned twelve, but its great distance from our home made it an impractical place to frequent. The only other time I remember going there was when Montgomery Ward was having their store closing sale and my dad went crazy on their tools and hardware. Even though I thought band saws and wrenches were the most boring things in the world, I had to go just one more time to see the old place.

L- Tower Mall's replacement just before opening.  R- Aerial of Tower Mall by a local news station. (Source)

Tower Mall met its end just after the turn of the millennium. It was replaced with a power center of sorts called Victory Crossing. Towards the end, Tower Mall could aptly be described as scary, dangerous and ghetto. But that place sure as hell had some character. A whole hell of a lot more than any old power center.


-26 December 2021

A WAVY-TV flyover of Tower Mall in 1983.

Victory Crossing pamphlet ca. 2011.  View the full PDF version here.

Tower Mall at Wikipedia

UPDATED- The Saint Louis Galleria, Richmond Heights, MO

The post for Saint Louis Galleria has been completely rewritten with new photos and mallmanacs.