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


  1. IDK how I ended up here, but I had to comment and say nothing is scarier than being LOCKED in Tower Mall. When the mall was on its last legs and all was left was a Chic-Fil-A and Montgomery Ward's, I got locked in the front part of the mall for a little over a minute. It was the most terrifying minute of my life.

  2. IDK how I ended up here, but I had to comment and say nothing is scarier than being LOCKED in Tower Mall. When the mall was on its last legs and all was left was a Chic-Fil-A and Montgomery Ward's, I got locked in the front part of the mall for a little over a minute. It was the most terrifying minute of my life.

  3. I grew up in portsmouth and now reaching 40. One of my best memories of childhood was when mom and dad would take us to see Santa jump from the plane and parachute down to the firetruck waiting in the parkinglot. Back then a simple poloroid was enough. $5 not $45

  4. I am old enough to remember the opening of Tower Mall. I remember the Record Bar was right there at the main entrance(when you had records and cassettes) - not far from the Orange Julius in the center of the mall. A family friend worked in Fine's mens clothing and my girlfriend worked in Merry GO Round where we bought all out new wave MTV clothes. It was near Chess King - another 80s clothes shop. I believe there was a Morrison's Cafeteria in the mall as well.

  5. My great grandmother lived in Portsmouth. When I was a young child, I have found memories of going to Tower Mall. We used to look for her 2 elderly cousins, Elmer and Robert who would be found seated somewhere throughout the mall. I miss going there... the good old days.

  6. Does anyone have any pictures of the mall? I lived in Academy Park when the mall was built. The Record Bar was awesome! Good times in 70's and early 80's!

    1. I loved Record Bar - tried to get a job there when I was in high school. My girlfriend - who also lived in Academy Park - worked at Merry Go Round around the corner from it. Orange Julius was a few doors down on the other side of the hall. Is my memory correct? I wish I took some pictures back then. We won't ever see that era again in America.

  7. My best memories of tower mall .... oh yes , I was born in 74 , but by the time i was 10 to 12 years old ... I was fascinated with the store leather etc.. and later in another part of tower mall . "The cow palace" these two stores never operated at the same time . But I remember the incense smell so vividly . My mom hated going in there with me . But I recall seeing nun chucks , throwing stars , huge array of knives , and let's not forget the vast amount of bongs and pipes that were located everywhere I looked. I didn't know much about pot then , and the only thing my mom would let me buy was a foam lined pair of nun chucks and a few cheap knives and throwing stars . Then one day .. the leather etc got raided by the police and it was gone .. luckily chuck e cheese came to the rescue not long after to save the day ! Oh the memories .

  8. I grew up right out Fairwood homes right off Dorset Ave Nothing but some of the best times of my life meeting most of my friends im still cool with till this day! When the carnival would come to Tower Mall me and the crew would WALK to the mall to link up with 🗣EVERYBODY😂😂😂😂 I remember the Ninja Turtles was there by the movie theater! Shit the arcade when they had Neo Geo! I can go on and on but memories!

  9. My mom would wait for me at morrisons drinking coffee while I was in the video game place right across the hall there. I went to Churchland schools. we didn't have them all on that side of the river until Chesapeake square Mall opened up.

  10. I grew up in Portsmouth, VA. I went to Hodges Manor, Waters Jr. High and graduated from Manor High. My grandmother used to take me and my bff/girlfriend, now spouse there when we were about 3-4 years old when she was sitting us and we would perform our made up dance moves and skits in front of the shoppers down inside of the square and they would pay us change and sometimes dollars. Lol. We often talk about those days ns how we miss the trips to McDonald's that used to be there, K&K Toys and skipping high school to walk around the mall on occasion trying to avoid the adults who may know our parents. We've now lived across the country, but Ptown is always home.

  11. I was a security guard in tower mall...part time in the early 70's. I remember movie theather acrossed from montgomery ward orange juilous steak resturant acrossed from J M Fields and every store there.as I had my rounds. even remember elaine powers.great memories in the 70's with santa sky driving to ester bunny arrival.

  12. I grew in Simonsdale area. And I worked at Morrison's in Towermall. I hung out there as a teenager.

  13. My grandfather put the roof on Tower mall. Being from Deep Creek I have lots of memories of that fantastic shopping Mecca.