I took about 3,500 photos (and counting) of courthouses around Indiana, Ohio, western Ohio, and central Michigan- ahh, the luxurious complacency that digital photography brings! On rare occasions, I took photos of other things that interested me. When I can’t figure out which courthouse to write about next, I sometimes pop in with some of those photos. Here are a few- we’ll get back to courthouses on Monday. And by the way, you can read previous installments in this occasional series here, here, and here.
Even though my love of architecture began with Indiana’s county courthouses, it surely doesn’t end there. I love the built environment, and I’ve always gravitated towards buildings where people meet and congregate. Never really been into houses, even historic ones, but show me an old school, theater, bridge, or jail and I’m all over it. Lately, that interest has blown out into an unexpected place: shopping malls.
I’ve been a reader of sites like Labelscar and DeadMalls for going on a decade. With family in Fort Wayne, I have dim memories of maybe going to the Southtown Mall once or twice although we vastly preferred Glenbrook, and I definitely remember the Pierre Moran Mall in Elkhart with its dated interior and ugly blue awnings. Neither of them exist anymore, and malls in general are facing a mounting tide of hardship with the rise of e-commerce combined with the bad luck and mismanagement of many long-time anchors.
This recent uptick in interest started earlier this year. On January 31st, The Bon-Ton announced plans to close both of their Mounds Mall Carson’s stores, and on April 1, mall owners announced that the entire place would shut down. Here’s the main Carson’s about three weeks before it closed at the end of April. Indianapolis-based H.P. Wasson originally occupied this anchor spot when Mounds -built on the site of an old landfill as Mel Simon’s first mall- opened in 1964. Wasson’s closed in 1981 and the space was acquired by Meis, a Terre Haute-based department store. Meis was bought by Elder-Beerman in 1989, and lasted until 2011 when it was rebranded as Carson’s. The other Carson’s in the mall, a Carson’s Home Store, replaced a Kroger that operated from 1965 through 2004.
The mall closed right around the time I started writing the post for Floyd County’s courthouse in New Albany, which revitalized that city’s downtown by effectively acting as a big anchor store and pretty well contrasts Anderson’s story. Later as I edited the photos of the mall, the store’s concrete arches and decorative brise-soleil brought to mind other mall architecture I’d remembered, which we later talked about in relation to the New Formalist design of the Clark County Courthouse in Jeffersonville after I went and took some more photos.
Here’s the first photo I took in preparation of the Clark County post. This store, originally an L.S. Ayres, opened as an original anchor tenant of Indy’s Washington Square Mall in 1974. Ayres was bought out by Federated Department Stores in 2006, and they rebranded the store as Macy’s, along with others Ayres in town at Lafayette Square and Glendale. But the excitement was short-lived- in 2008, Macy’s closed at Washington Square after only two years of operation. It sat vacant for six years until a local flea market called International Plaza Marketplace opened up in 2014. When I took this photo, it was being marketed as an event center called Silver Centre Event Hall. Good luck with that.
On the other end of town, Indy’s Lafayette Square Mall has a similar former L.S. Ayres. Added to the mall’s southeast side in 1975 (seven years after the mall opened), this one also replaced an old Kroger and was also converted to the Macy’s brand in 2006. Success here too was fleeting- although this Macy’s outlasted its Washington Square counterpart by a year, it closed in 2009 and has remained vacant ever since. I’m particularly fond of this store although I’ve never been in it: It has a beautiful label scar, visible to to the right of the main entrance. And you have to love the tacky -yet somehow refined- (to borrow from Hooters parlance) use of the towering, New Formalist arches at the entrances of both stores. I do at least, but I’m a bit of a contrarian.
Speaking of Macy’s, this one in Muncie’s ostensibly still open, but it damn well could have fooled me when I took this photo! This too was a former L.S Ayres, but the store’s history in the mall is a little convoluted. Originally, Ayres occupied the central anchor spot that formerly housed a Britt’s department store which opened with the mall in 1970. In 1997, the retailer built this new store on the mall’s northwest side, leaving their old building wide open. I remember when this was built and as a kid, I was awestruck by the monumental scale of the store’s entrance- it made Muncie’s mall look so important!
After construction was finished, Elder-Beerman -which had been operating out of the old Ball Stores space over by JCPenney since 1990- moved in to the now-vacant Ayres location. They continued to operate an Elder-Beerman Home Store in their old location until Old Navy, and later, Shoe Dept. Encore took over. In 2006, the new L.S. Ayres became a Macy’s, and in 2018, Elder-Beerman -now Carson’s- announced that they were closing. Above is a shot of the doomed Ayres/Carson’s. The scagliola that surrounds the entrance reminds me of a decal you’d slap on a model car. But I like building model cars, and I like the scagliola.
But Carson’s isn’t the only anchor in the Muncie Mall slated to close soon. Sears put out word that they’d be shuttering this store, along with 62 others, in their latest effort to reorganize. My great uncle was a lifelong Sears guy, and hearing him talk shop with my grandpa -himself a Marsh lifer- over the spring of 2016 led to the most depressing family Easter I’ve had since the one where my dad tried to strangle me.
With all these stores closing everywhere, it seems like the only place still in business is the printer that makes these now-ubiquitous yellow STORE CLOSING signs! This Sears was the Muncie Mall’s last remaining original anchor, having opened in 1970, and from the looks of it hasn’t seen a substantial update since. The closure of both stores by September will leave the future of the mall teetering precariously, especially since Macy’s and JCPenney haven’t been doing so well themselves of late. I’d only been to this Sears once over the course of my adulthood, when I got an oil change while waiting for a friend to get off work nearby. The procedure took two hours, and the tech somehow managed to strip my oil drain plug. I didn’t go back, and a lot of other people must have shared my sentiment.
Speaking of Sears, here’s one that closed in 2013 at Marion’s Five Points Mall. Originally opened in 1978 as the North Park Mall, the shopping center was originally anchored by Hills, JCPenney, and Meis. Sears was added in 1990 and lasted twenty-three years. With the announced closure of Carson’s later this year, the mall will be left with only one remaining anchor, a Rose’s Discount Store, in the space that Hills used to occupy. There’s only one anchor that portends a worse future for a mall, and we’ll get to that in a second.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stumbled across a mid-80s Kroger here, but this is the aforementioned JCPenney store at Marion’s Five Points Mall. Even though it was an original anchor, it closed in 2014 along with thirty-two other underperforming stores and has been vacant ever since. I took these photos in Marion thinking I might find some more New Formalist mall architecture outside of Indianapolis, but I was wrong. And furthermore, although I don’t have anything negative to say about the previous store designs featured above (well, except maybe that Muncie Sears), I must admit that I find this JCPenney horribly ugly. I don’t know why, exactly, but maybe that’s why it’s been vacant for so long.
As distasteful as I find the old JCPenney storefront in Marion, though, no conversation about ugly mall architecture is complete without a mention of the Burlington Coat Factory at Lafayette Square. First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: Remember Rose’s in Marion? Well, any time you pry yourself away from your smartphone long enough to realize that a Burlington Coat Factory is the new anchor of your local mall, it’s time to pack up shop and move to somewhere else. Seriously, I’ve been reading about dying malls for years- no good can come from this. It’d be like a JCPenney closing only to be replaced by Shopper’s World or some other similar store. Wait- that already happened? Only eleven-hundred feet away at Lafayette Square? Wow- the situation’s worse than I thought.
This Burlington Coat factory started life as a Lazarus store, added to the six-year-old mall in 1974 along with eight smaller retailers like Radio Shack. In 1987, Lazarus bought William H. Block and moved to their old spot at the center of the mall. The old Lazarus became a Montgomery Ward, which liquidated in 2001 and left the first floor of the building open for our friends at the Burlington Coat Factory. Despite the unseemly boarded-up doors, this place really is open for business. It was open when I took that photo, as a matter of fact.
Before we leave Indy’s west side, we’ll take one more look at Lafayette Square- namely, the old Sears there. An original tenant of the mall, Sears lasted for forty years before shuttering in 2008 despite a remodel that occurred when Simon sold the mall to Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corporation late in 2007. Its primary exterior entrance features some striking reinterpretations of classical architecture that were likely at the forefront of the aesthetic when the store was built. Unfortunately, the building has not aged well. It’s hard to believe that the primary entrance to a functioning mall is just to the right of these boarded-up doors and rusting facade.
But not all Sears are closed or closing- at least not for now! Fans of power tools and appliances can still hit up the store at our last stop for the day, Fort Wayne. Glenbrook Square Mall came up in our conversations about Allen County’s current courthouse, which started out as a Wolf & Dessauer department store downtown. As plans became finalized, developers Landau & Heyman offered an anchor slot to W&D, who had to turn it down. The local retailers were unable to commit to such an expense while recovering from a disastrous fire at their downtown offices, so L.S. Ayres took the location instead. Soon thereafter, W&D sold out to the Indianapolis retailer in short order. You know the story- Ayres turned into Macy’s, but this Sears has continued to stand the test of time as Glenbrook thrives in its role as the area’s only super-regional mall. The unique, New Formalist arcades that flank the store’s logo served as a landmark to me on drives up to visit my dad and grandparents. Adding to the arches, a low-pitched roof always made me think of a Mediterranean villa, albeit a big-box one. Κενμορε branding would certainly add some international zest to the appliance offerings at the Glenbrook Σεαρς.
So there we have it- a quick tour of some of our state’s dead, dying, and thriving malls from photos I accumulated while going around the state taking pictures of all our historic courthouses. For fans of retail history who came here expecting courthouses- thanks for reading, and I hope this quenched your thirst! For fans of courthouses who came here expecting to read about courthouses- give me the mulligan. We’ll get back to one of the state’s most interesting courthouse stories next week.