10 February 2024

Dunnavant's Mall, Huntsville, AL

 A relic of retail

When first moving to Huntsville in the early nineties, I was surprised at the number of shopping malls located in a town of only, back then at least, 150,000.  There was the behemoth Madison Square, the “secondary” mall Parkway City, The Mall and Heart of Huntsville, though these last two were on their deathbeds.  But wedged in between Heart of Huntsville and Fort Book (what locals affectionately call the downtown main branch of the public library) there was a preppy looking red brick building that I thought was nothing more than additional downtown office space.

Clippings from the Huntsville Times before the mall's opening.

I later got to know the single story building surrounded by handsome crimson arches as the Huntsville Hospital Medical Mall, an auxiliary clinic just down the street from the main hospital campus.  It intrigued me that it was called a medical “mall,” so I looked into the history of the building a little more closely.  It turns out that well before it hosted nurses and patients in buttless gowns, it hosted shoppers at Huntsville’s very own, now defunct department store, Dunnavant’s.

Dunnavant’s Mall opening advertisement ca. 1965.  View the full PDF version here.

Dunnavant’s started out in a historic, tri-level building erected in 1905 on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Washington Street just off of the downtown square.  P.S. Dunnavant took over the space in 1925, opening his dry goods store in what was then a town of only 8,000.  It grew to be the premier downtown retail destination in the expanding city, and soon it was decided to move outward to a second location.  This new location would also be the lone anchor of what was to be Huntsville’s second shopping mall, Dunnavant’s Mall.

1- The main entrances are still adorned by eighties style dark class porticos.  2- The former mall’s exterior.  3- The building once housing the Dunnavant’s department store.  4- The former Dunnavant’s Mall up close.

Opened on 10 October 1963, Dunnavant’s Mall and its 30,000 square foot anchor surrounded by eighteen smaller shops was built to complement rather than compete with its next door neighbor Heart of Huntsville. Unlike its companion, however, Dunnavant’s Mall debuted as a fully enclosed center, the first in the city.

Dunnavant’s Mall lease plan ca. 1970.  View the full PDF version here.

In the ensuing decade, Dunnavant’s Mall expanded northward to 113,000 total square feet and approximately twenty-five shops.  Both the Clinton and Washington location of the anchor as well as the mall store were shuttered sometime in the late seventies following the death of P.S. Dunnavant.  The smaller stores started vacating and it was only a matter of time before Dunnavant’s Mall would lock its doors for the last time.

Different views of the distinctive arches surrounding what’s now the Huntsville Hospital Medical Mall.

The structure, still in good shape despite its age, was renovated with its present red brick arched façade and re-christened in the eighties as the Huntsville Hospital Medical Mall, having had all of its commercial retailers depart by that time.  Since then, it remains a popular destination downtown, although for much different reasons than its original intent.

The main concourse of the former Dunnavant’s Mall, with the Subway shop to the left.

What was at one time Dunnavant’s Mall remains an important and historical fixture in the city.  It has outlasted all of its peers besides Parkway Place and Bridge Street Towne Center, both of which were built much more recently in the new millennium.  Although the only retail establishment it hosts is a small Subway outlet, it’s still easy to imagine shoppers making their way down the main corridor decades ago when the city was a much different place.

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