04 May 2024

Southroads Mall, Bellevue, NE

A relic of retail

Southroads Mall has always fascinated me from afar, though I never knew exactly why.  I stumbled upon the diminutive facility’s existence years ago and as someone who loves these smaller relics from the first generation of indoor shopping malls, I was grateful that it was still at least standing with minimal changes to its footprint.

1 & 2- Exterior shots of Southroads Mall just after it opened as a single level facility.  3 & 4- Shots of the interior concourse when still a retail facility.  5 & 6- The 1908s built food court.  (Source for all)

Much like the early shopping malls in the Puget Sound region that were developed by locally based department store chain The Bon Marché, the “Roads” malls of Omaha were developed by their local department store retailer J. L. Brandeis and Sons, colloquially shortened to Brandeis.

Southroads Mall lease plan ca. 1980.  View the full PDF version here.

The now defunct Crossroads Mall was Brandeis’s first venture while Westroads Mall still exists as the city’s largest and most successful enclosed retail destination.  Maybe that’s why I like Southroads so much; it’s just like the forgotten middle child who wasn’t the oldest or largest or special in any way.  It was just kind of there.

Southroad Mall's main entrance.

On my recent visit to Omaha, Southroads Mall was my very first destination; I went there straight from the airport before even stopping at my hotel.  I was hoping to grab a gyro from John’s Grecian Delight, one of the few commercial enterprises in the mall, before they closed as I heard that their food was worth the visit.  Alas, after a delay arriving into Eppley (thanks United) they were closed.

1- The secondary front entrance.  2- Looking towards the eighties built expansion.  3- The former JCPenney anchor building.  4- The former Brandeis store from the main entrance.  5 & 6- More shots of the Brandeis store exterior.

In the end, that didn’t matter as I found myself standing in an absolute time capsule of early generation indoor retail facility architecture.  Like most peers from its era, it was for the most part a simple barbell with an anchor at each opposing end.  However, there is an additional corridor and wedge shaped addition to the front face of the structure which houses the main entrance.

Shots just inside the main entrance.  This is the interior of the expansion.  Upstairs was the home of the food court but now hosts a church.

Like Brandeis’s other shopping ventures, Southroads was built with few skylights.  And although the natural light-less drop ceiling above the bottom level was basic in appearance, beneath me was a floor blanketed in marbled earth toned tiles interrupted by several seating and greenery areas at separate intervals throughout the concourse.  The one at center court was by far my favorite.

Southroads Mall lease plan ca. 1990.  View the full PDF version here.

What were once the escalators were blocked off and downgraded to stairs while the upper level mezzanine was walled off with the balcony railing still visible.  Beneath what were once some of the first moving staircases in the metro is the central focal point of muddy brown tile covered planters holding only dirt with no natural and barely any artificial light to allow anything to grow.  I loved it.

1 & 2- The center court planter.  3 & 4- The escalators that used to lead to the second level.  5- No skylights, but the ceiling treatments are a little more elaborate above center court.  6- Looking back at Southroads Mall’s center from the northern wing.

At the building’s northern end, near the former entrance for Brandeis, was the only remaining egress to the upper level.  The staircase was surrounded by the only remaining open balcony in the main concourse with a basic railing placed just above more of the muddy brown tile found in center court covering the intermediate area between the two levels.

A couple of the many staircases of Southroads Mall.

The upper level was a bit more spacious with its higher ceilings, but everything from just before where the escalators were placed was walled off.  The western side of the open concourse was also blocked off with plywood and seemed to be in a state of suspended construction.  At the northern end of the corridor was a side hallway leading to the only accessible upper level entrance.

1- Looking toward the former JCPenney mall entrance from center court.  2- Center court from the expansion corridor.  3- John’s Grecian delight, an Omaha institution that has called Southroads Mall home for over 30 years.  4- The former DEB store and another planter.  5- Looking north toward the former Brandeis entrance.  6- Random hallways off of the main concourse.

From there I was able to see the rear facing façade of the structure, attractively decked out on repeating scalloped arches.  The rear of the former Penny’s was blocked off as a school of some sort used the former surface lot for their playing fields while outside of the former Brandeis was the entranceway to a service tunnel, a feature found in many of these early malls.

Southroads Mall pamphlet ca. 2023.  View the full PDF version here.

The entirety of the exterior was painted in a light beige color with darker earth tones highlighting the trim.  The main entrances of each of the anchors as well as the mall were decked out in wonderful, and surprisingly spotless for its age, eighties vintage darkened glass.  I would guess that these are not original but added during a renovation.

1- The mall entrance first for Brandeis then Younkers.  2 to 4- A side corridor leading to the Southroads Mall offices and restrooms.  5- More vacant space.  6- Looking south toward center court and the former JCPenney.  7 & 8- The stairway at Southroads Mall’s northern end, the only open egress to the upper level.

Southroads Mall opened in 1966 with Brandeis and JCPenney as the sole anchors.  Originally debuting as a single level facility, with, strangely enough, the upper level being the original tier, the bottom level was added later along with a food court and movie theater.  It was at this time that the triangle shaped front addition was added.

Southroads Mall’s upper level.  Only the northern half is open; everything from center court south is walled off. 

Southroads saw success through the 1990s until a new freeway was built paralleling Fort Crook Road, on which the mall was located.  Automobile traffic dwindled as more patrons used the freeway to access Omaha’s larger malls and Bellevue’s only indoor shopping complex was left to languish.  Younkers, which took over the Brandeis store in 1987, closed their doors in 1996.  JCPenney converted to an outlet store in 1999 before vacating their home on the south end in 2003.

Southroads Mall Mallmanac ca. 2024.  View the full PDF version here.

Today, what was once Southroads Mall is now the Southroads Education and Technology Park.  The former Younkers is occupied by Cornerstone School while TierPoint and Omaha Public Schools share the former Penny’s in addition to much of the small store space on the mall’s south end.  There are few retailers besides the previously mentioned John’s Grecian Delight such as 402 Vinyl and Bob’s Gym.  Most of the balance is either vacant or taken by offices, community groups or churches.

1- The former Brandeis and Younkers store from the rear.  2-The Younkers entrance.  3- The service tunnel entrance just outside of the Brandeis/ Younkers rear entrance.  4- Southroads Mall’s rear façade.  5- The rear of the former JCPenney.  6- The back of Southroads has changed very little from its original look.

I enjoyed my visit to Omaha and was pretty impressed that the area housed two former malls that remain standing but are no longer hosting retail tenants for the most part, with the other being the former Midlands Mall located across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  I’m glad that relics such as these have found their own niche outside of their original purposes and will continue to be accessible for the foreseeable future.

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