THE MALL: HUNTSVILLE, AL
Evans Criswell's Commentary
Posted March 20, 2008 (user submitted)
"The Mall" (the actual name of it) opened on March 24,1966 at 10:00 AM at the northwest corner of Memorial Parkway (US 231 and 431) and University Drive (US 72 west). It had Loveman's (which actually opened March 4, 1966) and JCPenney as its original anchors, and was a 425000 square-foot facility. Loveman's was the fourth store in the chain at the time, with locations in Birmingham, Bessemer, and Montgomery, AL. Loveman's was built with escalator wells and expansion to 2 stories in mind, but that expansion never occurred. The 126000 square foot JCPenney was the first in Alabama to have a catalog sales desk and contained a snack shop that could handle 40 customers. Both JCPenney and Loveman's had auto centers.
A movie theater, the Alabama Theatre, built by the Martin chain (based in Columbus, GA), was actually the first business to open at the mall site as an outparcel on January 21, 1966 with "My Fair Lady" (in Super Panavision 70) as their first movie. The theatre's decorations were tangerine and gold and Griggs push-back chairs were used. The theatre was made into a twin cinema, completed on March 20, 1981 with "Cheaper To Keep Her" and "The Final Conflict" shown that night. The theater's last day of business as a regular movie theatre seems to be July 25, 1985. It reopened briefly as the "Alabama Pitcher Show" on January 29, 1986 with beer, wine, and food being sold in addition to movies being shown. On March 9, 1988, a "closed for remodeling" as was placed in the paper, and I believe that was the end of that theater's use.
The mall's name was somewhat problematic, especially after other malls opened, so "The Mall" had the nicknames "The Loveman's Mall", "The Penney's Mall", and was also called the "Four Balls Mall" by some because at each entrance were posts with lighted spheres at the top. The Mall's sign also had that feature. Unlike most enclosed malls, many of the inline stores had doors to the outside, giving the front of the mall as "strip mall" appearance. The first time I saw it driving my on Memorial Parkway on March 3, 1988, I didn't think it was an enclosed mall. The JCPenney sign wasn't the current JCPenney logo, but the older 60's style logo that just said "Penney's" that was kept until the place was demolished.
This was the main mall in Huntsville until it got competition when the Parkway City shopping center was enclosed around 1975 after being damaged by the 1974 tornadoes. The two malls did well together since they had different anchor stores (Montgomery Ward, Pizitz, and Parisian were at Parkway City). The Loveman's closed in either 1980 or 1981 and their stock was bought out by The Mary Shoppe. However, the largest blow to the mall occurred when the two-level Madison Square Mall opened out west on US 72 at Rideout Road in 1984. "The Mall" was by far the most seriously affected and it went down very quickly. By the time I'd moved to Huntsville in 1988, the Loveman's space was half-occupied by Toys R Us, and the rest of it was soon to be a Books-a-Million. The JCPenney closed in mid-to-late 1988. The mall already had many empty stores then.
In the early 1990s, a good section of the southwestern internal part of the mall was being used my Calhoun Community College (called the "mall-ege" by many students), which drew enough people into the place for a few places to be open. After that moved out, there wasn't much going on. Art some point, Toys R Us and Books-a-Million closed off their entrances to the mall, and the mall interior hung on in that dead state until around 1998 when the mall was demolished (along with the Alabama Theatre) and replaced by a new development called "The Fountain" later on. "The Fountain" got its name because in the center court of the mall was a fountain that was preserved and placed in a traffic roundabout at the new development.
For many years before its demolition, I'd occasionally go in that mall to look at all of the stores and the label scars. Many stores were vacated, leaving their old signs up for years, or if removed, were not repainted to hide the scars from the signs. The mall was a bit spooky at times, since I'd often be the only one around, except for maybe a senior citizen or two using the place to walk for exercise. I'd try to imagine how the mall would have been if I could have seen it in its original late 60s and 1970s glory. It was a relatively dark place.
The only thing left of the original mall today in 2008 is the old Loveman's building, which still houses the Toys R Us and Books-a-Million! A Home Depot was built right behind it, taking most of the space formerly occupied by the mall, and a Costco was added to the north. A Bennigan's and Zaxby's opened facing Memorial Parkway, and the Bennigan's is no longer open, and became Beauregard's. The theatre was demolished along with the rest of the mall before the new development took place. In the new development, there is a small traffic circle with the fountain from the original mall in the center.