Friday, June 08, 2007

Columbia Mall (aka Avondale Mall)

Decatur, Georgia - November, 1972

Outside Georgia's first enclosed mall, Columbia Mall (renamed Avondale Mall in the mid-'80s), in November of 1972. This photo is courtesy of Judy Baxter, who was actually taking a picture of her new Plymouth Duster at the time. Glad she chose Columbia Mall's parking lot for her photo shoot! Some of the stores visible here are: Sears, Baskin-Robbins, Ryan's, Wigs, Thom McCann Shoes, John Couffiers, Walgreen's, Walgreen's Grill, and Davison's, as well as the main entrance.

Alas, this mall is now gone. Token demolition began earlier this year in February, and the razing was completed in earnest just a few months ago in March of 2007 (some of which can be viewed here), all to make way for a... any guesses? Yep, a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Many local residents protested the coming of that Wal-Mart in place of the abandoned Columbia/Avondale Mall (see their grassroots Stop The Avondale Mall WalMart page for proof of their retail unrest).

Note: The aerial link below is obviously a little outdated now, as it still shows the mall's structure (look for Belvedere Plaza Shopping Center just to the South).

Mall history: 1964 - 2001 (dead)
Current website: n/a
Current aerial view
Info from Wikipedia
Resource links: 1, 2, 3, 4
Previous entries: 1

Labels: , , , , ,


Anonymous didi said...

Just curious but what was the reason for the radically diffrent name change?

Fri Jun 08, 06:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Matt from CLT said...

I don't know the exact reason, but the mall is on the corner of Columbia and Memorial Drives in the Avondale Estates neighborhood east of Atlanta. Guess it was just part of a radical makeover one year. I would guess 1990, but I really can't remember.

This mall and Belvedere Plaza, directly across the street (although B.P. is more of a strip center), are two of the more forgotten shopping establishments. Rich's opened their first suburban location at Belevedere in the 1950s, while Davison's chose to build an actual mall with Sears across the street a little later. If I recall correctly, Sears and Davison's co-owned the mall -- but don't quote me on that.

As the years went by, the Davison's eventually turned into a macy*s outlet, and closed in...I want to say 1995, but it may have been more like 1992. Rich's closed their Belvedere location in the late 1980s.

Avondale was shuttered in late 2001 and sat vacant until the demolition. Belvedere Plaza still exists today, albeit in a different form than it used to be. The Rich's building doesn't exist, and the main anchor today is Kroger. The neighborhood has declined since the malls opened, but the Avondale Estates area is still a somewhat nice neighborhood.

Also, consider the relative proximity of North DeKalb and South DeKalb Malls, both of which contain Rich's.

Okay -- I feel like I'm starting to ramble, so I'll also add that I love the Plymouth, and enjoyed seeing the original Sears facade, although it pained me somewhat to see the demolition videos. Aaaah, replaced with a Sprawl-Mart. Just what we need!

P.S. There is a cemetary on-site that has always been preserved...actually, I think it's more like a mausoleum. But still, something you don't usually find at your neighborhood mall.

P.P.S. JT, if you read this, please correct anything I've said above as you're much more close to the stories than I ever will be!

Fri Jun 08, 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger J.T. said...

As you know, my site shows the mall in its sad final days. I got most of my information from local residents who graduated from nearby Towers High School during the time when these centers were at their peak, who went into great detail about the retail history of the area. I owe them more credit for their help than I've given.

There are things I don't know, but here's what I have been told and know for sure:

Davison's and Sears did co-own the mall. The two stores opened in 1964 prior to the construction of the final mall (dirt divided the stores), and the mall was later completed inbetween. The mall was also unique in that it had no rear entrance except through the anchor stores.

Rich's opened at Belvedere Plaza in May of 1959 (Lenox opened in March) and closed on New Years Day 1986. The building was demolished in 1992 and was located in the sunken part of the parking lot directly in front of what is now the Kroger Citi Center. I am yet to obtain photographs of this store, though I know of a couple sources.

The Macy's outlet lasted until 1995. New Years Eve 2001 (I will have to check) is when Columbia/Avondale closed, proving ironic. Northlake combined with white flight in the late 70's/early 80's is what killed the mall, but not immediately. The Sears store turned to an outlet in 1983 and later closed, becoming part of the mall itself. The renovation came in the early 1990's, but the name change was earlier. I personally thought that was the ugliest renovation job I've ever seen...and people talk badly of 70's architecture?

I saw the mall for the first time in late 2005 when I was driving around photographing the different Rich's stores prior to their changeover. I made two trips to photograph the mall and had to argue with mall security over my shots through the glass.

And yes, I was furious about another stupid Wal-Mart taking over this mall. Unfortunately, it was futile trying to save this mall in its current form. The anchors were too big, the mall too small, the layout was horrendous (it's built into a hillside with only front access as I said) and the area around it is the most depressed area of DeKalb County hardly giving hope for more than a discounter.

I was mentioning this mall to a girl I know and she just remembered it as the ghetto mall, so it had a bad name before the closure. Unfortunately, we lost our very first enclosed mall in Atlanta with this one. It was a perfect monument to 60's mall architecture and highlighted the outlandishness of R.H. Macy store designs.

Sat Jun 09, 06:41:00 AM  
Blogger BIGMallrat said...

Was this a major score when you were looking through some pictures?
Love the Duster, that brings back memories, too!

Sat Jun 09, 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger Cora Buhlert said...

Nice mall and nice car (I think my parents had one of those in the 1970s). Too bad both are no more.

Sat Jun 09, 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Steven Swain said...

What's funny is that Avondale Mall's renovation actually made it into a shopping center design 'yearbook' in the '80s or '90s (it's been a while)

Sun Jun 10, 01:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Matt from CLT said...

J.T., you mention on your site (a must read for anyone here who hasn't seen it yet!) that you did a GIS project about the decline of the mall and the area...that doesn't happen to be online anywhere? It sounds like a fascinating read to me, and I'm sure I can't be alone.


Sun Jun 10, 09:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first and foremost, Mr. Milford i really dig this site, kudos my friend! I so remember this mall and that mausoleum...but i really remember going shopping there around Christmas for you guessed it TOYS this was the only time that Sears would carry any toys and on top of that i got my first real pair of Levis there ( sears just started to sell them in 82 no more toughskins!!! Man i hated toughskins...Also i loved the fact that they had the intellivision, Atari 2600 ( or should i say their rebranded versions of those systems) display set up and ready to play as mom and pops went shopping for whatever. Also i bought acouple of LP's in the music section that they had there M.J Thriller was one of them ! Also i remember they had a special promotion( late 70's early 80's) where you got to fly up in a Helicopter ( I didn't get to. the line was too long) Also i remember they had a Movie theather across the street seen many of movies there! I lived in Gresham Park and it was this mall or Southdekalb to go to but SD didn't have a Sears and my parents where hardcore Sears shoppers and kmart shoppers...its really sad that Walmart has moved in. walmart also took over the Old Kmart location off of Gresham rd! did i mention I HATED toughskins!!!!

Mon Jun 11, 01:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

I swear theres some sort of conspiracy going on here against mid-20th Century retail architecture almost every old plaza or mall I have seen has been driven to decrepit condition either by addition of a "brand new" plaza or mall nearby, the elimination of the malls main support income (such as allowing factories to move out of an industrial city that has a mall), or in some way enticing the tenants to move out of the mall via a new opportunity.

Is it just me or am I noticing a pattern? Even non-retail mid-20th Century architecture is not safe, in fact most of this type of architecture has been called an "eyesore" therefore it's premissable to demolish it.

WTF!? Is the aim for all these "revitalization" projects to eliminate every single piece of mid 20th century architecture ever built????? and if it isn't demolished it's remodeled to eliminate any vestige of it.

Call me crazy but when since did taste become an issue in city and town development? When did it become the deciding measure of whether to demolish a building or not?

Why were these building built in the first place if their destiny is to be completely eliminated altogether?

I guess we're just supposed to "forget" any sense of modern architecture, since it's been the most viable target of building demolition since "no one will miss it".

Oh by the way nice picture I love the Sears building,oh but today that building style is "banned" now, innovative is out, bland is in I guess.

Most developers today have no taste, there I said it.

Mon Jun 11, 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger KAT said...

I worked at Wal-Mart and hate seeing the old malls replaced by a countryfied Target with lazy sales clerks and cheap goods. I will grant you that Wal-Mart does offer benefits that most retailers do not and I spend bunches of money there.

But gimme a mall with good merchandise, good restaurants, and well-run stores anyday.

I loved the picture; even the fading in the photo says something. I remember those cars indeed.

Wal-Marts are probably as an old-style one story mall, come to think of it.

Then again I can understand the need for going to a "power center" and parking at the store you intend to purchase from. And the Decatur area has been declining for years if I rememeber so I can understand the mall's demise and necessity to replace it with a "cheaper" store for the clientele.

Macon GA

Tue Jun 12, 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger J.T. said...

Yes, quite frankly there is full intent of destroying all mid-century buildings. If you look at them another way, even if they used marble facades they were generally very plain buildings often with exteriors that people viewed as eyesores from the day they went up. For example, the Fulton County Library is an example of extreme modernism, and I will bet you there are people that think that is the ugliest place even though it was hip for its time.

The baby boomers hated modernism...they saw them as ugly "brutalist" structures, and they are in that dangerous period where they're too old to keep, too new to be historical. It only recently has found appreciation, but only by the kids of the baby boomers. Not only that, but modernism has not completely died. They just built a new building at the college I go to that looks like it could have been built in 1965.

Compared to the old Victorian structures, these buildings were outlandish and very simple in design...essentially a repetition of sometimes complex looking geometric shapes and otherwise were windowless bunkers. They could be recreated if there was a big enough push, and that is actually becoming more popular. Unfortunately, these days we're getting overkill of "fake downtowns" shoved down our throats by baby boomers punishing the previous generation for the modernist ideas, buildings and designs. Modernism for me represents my childhood, and I suspect my sentiments for the sleek, simplistic designs grow from the impressions I got from them being contemporary to me as a child.

Also, you must note with these older malls these are typically in Post WWII suburbs with smaller houses tied to factory jobs that began declining in the 70's. Gentrification hasn't come quickly enough to save them and even if it did, they would turn any modernist structure into another faux Victorian eyesore.

The extremes of modernism did not lend themselves well to renovation, as this mall proved. Columbia Mall was not pretty at the end. The cool shapes over the Sears entrance were covered up with tacky late 80's/early 90's stucco (pink stucco was very popular on old shopping center renovations around 1992) and the mall simply was snubbed too badly by retailers to ever recover. It only survived because it was small and had outside entrances for many of the stores so it functioned basically as a strip mall with an interior hallway.

The Davison's there was so industrial looking that it just looked like a vanilla box with I-beams sticking out of it once its signage was removed. It for sure looked best with the contrast of the blue Davison's sign, and I'm doubting it was originally painted white like that. Like most buildings of that era, it was likely more appealing on the inside than the outside and it was a real treat as the first Davison's outside of downtown Atlanta.

Columbia/Avondale had not had a department store anchor since 1995, and it's amazing it stayed open as long as it did, but the owners went to great lengths to keep it open until 2001. The area simply would not support it, and was very depressed at that point. If Macy's had stayed in the old Davison's as an outlet longer, it might have survived longer but Cobb Center across town proves that outlets tend not to last very long and prove that its a neighborhood that simply did not have the money to shop there in the first place.

I can't think of any convincing argument that would have kept the place intact. I don't see any retail venture in the existing structure being able to succeed, because it was designed to hold two department stores. The failure of the 12 screen theater that occupied the Davison's showed that the owners really were trying to save it, but it just was not enough. I understand it opened there in 1997 and closed only a year or two later.

BTW, interesting that one of you would like to see the GIS project. It really wasn't that fancy, but it was definitely right up my alley.

Wed Jun 13, 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous didi said...

Loved reading about the modernism debate/angst. I feel exactly the same way as Mark. I don't understand destroying something that in a couple of more decades can be considered historical to replace it with a box from Home Depot(A Building that looks like a box with cheap Home Depot bricks).

These buildings are not outdated! Why should they be structurally when they are forty to sixty years old? If something older than that, say late 1800s or early 1900s, can still function then why can't these mid-century places? It is very insane to think otherwise considering most of these buildings were built after WW2. In those days things were built to last so I don't understand how anyone can say otherwise about something modernist.

I read in an article a couple of years ago about Cuban architects who built similar modern structures all over Cuba in the 1950s pre-Castro. They learned from the best American designs but the problem is these places are now faltering these days. Why? Through years and years of butchering and neglect. Of course it would be that way. If you do not take care of it how do you expect anything to last? That is exactly what happens to shopping centers like this. They are being neglected on purpose and than treated as if they were eyesores. Instead, why can't these folks who are responsible for maintaining their propeties stop collecting rent and get off their asses and keep these properties up to date so they can be saved for historical purposes and can be around for our children and grandchildren to marvel at in the decades to come.

Thu Jun 14, 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger J.T. said...

That is true what the last person said about's the poor upkeep and the very tacky "renovations" that have basically ruined these places. The original architects did not intend for off-key modifications or "main-street" sh*t to take the place of what they had built, but I put the other side of the argument of modernist buildings to help people understand what's going on.

Some of these buildings will survive, just the best generally will not and certainly not the retail malls...nearly all from that era have either been demolished or renovated to where they were unrecognizable from their chrome, glass and concrete origins. I've seen some modernist structures get some very creative overhauls such as the funky bank off Old I-85 in North Atlanta becoming an upscale restaurant and bar. It was truly amazing what they did and they made absolutely no modifications to the original architecture...the sign is even on the original googie-style post. They actually have tables and chairs placed over the old drive-thru windows for the bank, which were basically saucers.

There is hope for modernism, but the next 20 years will require a major drive to save what is left before they reach historical status.

Sat Jun 16, 12:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Russell Bentley said...

Well I hate to see that it finally was demolished...I haven't been in that area in many years. The first time I went there was in the 8th grade in 1965....I had "Lettered" in school at Lithonia H.S. and my Mother wanted to find me a nice sweater to sew it on. We shopped there often and I ran into someone from school almost everytime I went shopping there. Having friends from Avondale, Towers, and Columbia H.S. I found myself in that mall very often.....for those who never saw it in it's was a beautiful....friendly mall....I still remember the smell of the candy counter and hot peanuts as you walked in the doors at Sears.
And many of you probably remember one of the best "Old Hickory House" restuarants across the street.

Tue Jul 03, 06:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, here's the real scoop on Columbia aka Avondale Mall. This is from a Sears employee who was there until the store closed in early 1984.

The closing of this store coincided with the opening of Gwinnett Place Mall and the Sears store there. Back when Columbia Mall was the only Sears store in that area, folks would drive from Henry and Clayton Counties; and from Gwinnett/North DeKalb to shop at this store. When Northlake opened, this took away much of the Gwinnett and North DeKalb business; when Southlake opened, it took away much of the Clayton/Henry business. The folks at Sears saw the writing on the wall with the upcoming opening of Gwinnett Place, seeing a shift of business from Northlake to Gwinnett; thus Columbia Mall was slated to be closed. MANY of the staff from Columbia (store #1215) went to Gwinnett to open that store.

Another interesting side note; at the same time the Columbia Mall store closed, Sears also closed the Buckhead store #1235. Anybody remember that store? Its service station building still exists; it was at one time a NTB store, and most recently was the first location of Mercedes Benz of Buckhead, prior to their moving down the street on Piedmont.

After Sears closed, the owners of the mall (Scott Hudgens Co; who also developed Gwinnett Place Mall) undertook a renovation of this mall. The entire mall, all buildings, were painted (not stuccoed, as was posted earlier); the interior was redone, and the old Sears building was subdivided to become new mall space. Half of the lower level of the old Sears building became a Sears Outlet center when the mall reopened in 1985; later, there was also a Sears Paint and Hardware store further down the mall, giving Sears a 2-store presence in the mall for a short time. With this renovation came a new facade, and a new name - Avondale Mall. This was in the 1984-85 year range, not the 1990's as some folks think.

As for the cemetery, google search "crowley cemetery avondale mall" and you should find some pictures taken at the top of the cemetery; the top of the stone structure is the former grade level of the property.

Real scoop from a graduate of Avondale High School, employee of Sears Columbia Mall, and resident of Belvedere Park until 1993.

Thu Apr 03, 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mausoleum has been called "The Tomb of the Unknown Shoppers". The remains of nine members of the Crowley Family are there. There were two or three score slave burials around the cemetery, but they are now under the parking lot.

Wed Jul 27, 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i remember this mall had my first job in the baskin robbins there when i was a mere 13 years old.... and i do remember the mysterious cemetary there (think graves were on top as the land was lowered) I wonder if they are still there as well. Interestingly i think indoor malls are being replaced by outdoor glorified strips conducive to walking around like a town setting.

Thu Jul 28, 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget the most famous moment of the mall was when Chuck Norris and friends came through around 1986 or so and blew the guts out of the mall in the movie "Invasion USA"! They used a lot of fake store fronts of course but really cool to say that I worked there!

Thu Jul 28, 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the stores had exterior and interior entrances including an Italian sandwich place. I worked at one of the shoe stores during high school and the sandwich shop was next door so I would go there to grab a quick bite on my 8-hour Saturday shift. Unfortunately the spicey food would give me gas and every time I leaned over to help someone with new shoes, I would poot. After two or three Saturday's of driving away customers, the store manager drove me away. Just couldn't help it.

Thu Jul 28, 01:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just found this site --- really brings back some memories! I used to get back-to-school clothes at Davison's and Sears in the 60s. But the big question: what happened to the kinetic sculptures that were originally in the mall. They were copper, I think, and you'd walk by and clap your hands to make the water feature to turn on and off. At 6, I though that was about the most amazing thing I'd ever seen!!!

Wed Nov 09, 06:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Wed Oct 24, 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger westgalady said...

I was living at Glenwood Springs Apartments in 1971 and pregnant with our first child. I loved the Sears at Columbia Mall and bought all of my baby girl's clothes there. I remember the mall being vibrant and safe. I moved to Alpharetta shortly after she was born. In 2014 I returned to the area and bought a house in Belvedere. The entire area has gone through some rough times, but it is coming back. The smaller houses built in the 1950s are just the right size for my retirement home.

Fri Apr 22, 09:54:00 AM  

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