And later, I realized I wouldn't be able to tell it for a few years.
With the destruction last week of the UA Cinema 150, a new interest in historical places around Little Rock has been kicked up. The Remember in Little Rock Facebook group is buzzing (and if you're interested in sharing tales of the city, that's definitely the place to do it) and people are sharing their stories of different places they recall.
|JC Penney's, viewed from the south. The old Doctor's|
Hospital was behind me.
|South entrance. Osco Drug was inside to the left.|
|South entrance with sign.|
As I grew older, changes came. Everything's A Dollar moved in, introducing the idea of the dollar store to my generation. I bought my very first CD at Capital Records, where I'd been going for years for cassette tapes. There was a pink zircon ring in the window at Zales that I coveted for a couple of years.
|Southeast corner. That would have been the east entrance|
for Montgomery Ward to the left, and of course the old
MM Cohn to the right.
|There was a fence around portions of the parking lot by this|
time, but only on the east side. The entrance to the mall's
parking lot was still open. You can see the Baker Building,
now gone and replaced with Chipotle, in the background to
I worked there two summers, right after I graduated high school and the one summer I came home, running the carousel in the food
|Looking south from the east entrance. The building in sight is|
the former Montgomery Ward auto department, which was
used by the city for some time as an auto shop.
I think after Wards died off, the mall never really recovered. Osco Drug
|This exterior stairwell was emergency access for the|
underground floor of Montgomery Ward - which consisted of
a beauty parlor, catalog pick-up desk and warehouse.
By the time it finally closed in October 2007, there were hardly any tenants left to evict. But I wanted one more visit. So one December day, I went over to the site to see if I could shoot some photos. I sought a security guard to let me in, but didn't find one right away.
|A view through the east entrance doors. The hallway took you to the main|
concourse of the building, while the elevator to the right went to management
offices downstairs. The double doors were access to MM Cohn's.
|Another view down the hall. I apologize, but these images|
were taken on a 2002 model Fuji digital camera with
limited resolution. Also, I was a crap photographer at the time.
|The east entrance.|
|The dual level parking deck still stands today and is all that is left of|
|As you can see, it remains relatively unchanged.|
|The north entrance to JC Penney's.|
|The north entrance to the mall. The overhead walkway|
connected to the parking deck.
|I had parked over by the south JC Penney's entrance and had walked halfway|
around by this point. All doors were locked. I was hoping someone would be at
this security desk, but no such luck. I kept walking around and taking photos.
|The view into the first floor from the north entrance. I could hear a high-|
pitched whine. Eventually, I'd find what was causing it.
|JC Penney's was the last of the anchors to close. This is the view from the|
north entrance to the store.
|This was a view into JC Penney's from the west. I was still looking for a security|
guard. I figured there had to be one, since every light in the mall was still on.
But I hadn't seen one, and every door of the mall had been locked.
|Every one, except this one. I figured I'd go in, find that guard and see if that|
person would escort me around to get some final photos. I repeatedly called
"hello?" as I went through.
|The high pitched whine I'd been hearing turned out to be the fire alarm, which|
emanated from the dressing rooms on the south side of the upper floor at
JC Penney's. There wasn't much left inside, except some storage materials
|I could remember being inside this store as a very small girl, when there had|
been some sort of water leak overhead and big vinyl bags hung through the
latticework of the suspended ceiling. I thought I saw someone towards the
center of the store...
|It turned out to be an army of mannequin bodies, in the shadows. It creeped me|
out, and I didn't venture closer. This photo has been lightened to show those
|The big metal grate that separated the store from the mall was open - as were|
most of the gates along the interior. I hollered again, and heard nothing. I
noticed the neon from the Food Court sign was still on.
|At one point in time, the end of the upper level went straight into MM Cohn's.|
It was covered long ago.
|The spaces along the concourse were still open and equipped, apparently ready|
for someone else to move in.
|This was to the north of the JC Penney's entrance.|
|In its final days, government offices had temporarily located into the mall.|
|When the mall came down, this elevator shaft continued to|
stand. I don't know if it was incorporated elsewhere, but
you can see what that looked like at Wikipedia.
|The food court. In the summers of 1991 and 1992, I worked here at the|
carousel. It was moved to McCain Mall in 1993, where it stood outside the
entrance to that mall's JC Penney's. I believe that's the entrance to the
movie theater there today.
|I thought it odd to see all these living plants still in their boxes. Or maybe they|
were really good fakes.
|The glass elevator.|
|Second floor view east from the center.|
|Looking north to the food court. To the right of the entrance at the back, there|
was an arcade in which I had once spent many, many hours. To its right
was where a restaurant, maybe Chick-Fil-A, sat, and then McDonald's to
the right of that.
|Looking west towards the entrance of JC Penney's.|
|The first human-like thing I spotted was a dummy left on a bench on the first|
floor, outside the former entrance to Montgomery Ward.
|The entrance to MM Cohn.|
|Another dummy, this one apparently a Christmas elf,|
hung on the railing outside what used to be Everything's
|The former Everything's A Dollar location space.|
|A doorway open on the second level lead into MM Cohn's. This upper story had|
been closed for years.
|It was in really good shape. Sad another tenant never came in. Weird thing was,|
I could hear something mechanical here.
|From this vestibule on the north side of the building, you could see Park Plaza|
a block away, and Summit House beyond it.
|The noise I was hearing came from the boxed-in enclosure seen here on the left.|
|One of the plywood sheets to the enclosure had fallen down. Inside, I was|
surprised to see the lights on...
|I decided I was about done at that point, so I went back into the mall to make one|
more attempt to find the security guard.
|After the scare in the MM Cohn's stairwell, I decided walking down the escalator|
in the mall was a better choice. It wasn't in motion.
|I took a few more shots before descending.|
|The Sbarro had been on the left.|
|A look up at the "circus tent" supports.|
|Walking down the escalator.|
|A view to the east.|
|A view to the south. The Nut Hut had hugged the wall on the left, and to the|
far left you see the former Montgomery Ward entrance.
Thank you for sharing the photos. It was so sad to see University Mall shrivel up and die. I worked at JC Penney's while in high school and early in my college career. I spent many happy hours at "the" Mall as it was called back in the day because it was the only true mall in the LR/NLR area before McCain Mall was built even though the shopping center on JFK and McCain was referred to as North Park Mall.ReplyDelete
I still usually refer to it as "the Mall." It was a sad place to visit at the end. It died a slow lingering death. I will quit babbling and thank you again for the photos.
Interesting story, good photos. Stairwell scared me! Why did you have to wait to tell the story?ReplyDelete
At the time, I was trying very hard to get permission from the property owner. The disconnected phone number was no help. I did some calling around, left a lot of voicemail messages and waited. I was very concerned that someone might be worried about other urban explorers going in. No one ever returned my messages, and I had other assignments that came up (I took a series of travel writing assignments that sent me out of state immediately after this visit) and it just left my mind. Seems seven years is enough time to wait for a phone call to be returned! The concern about urban explorers is moot, since Park Avenue's been open a couple of years now.ReplyDelete
I was a kid in the 80s, and me and my friends preferred Park Plaza because of the better arcade machines, movie theater, and proximity to the Heights. We would walk back and forth all summer. There was also a Dactyl Nightmare machine out in the food court. Look it up for those unfamiliar. It was a week's worth of allowance to play for just a couple of minutes, but it was worth it. There was also a virtual roller coaster ride, but I've never bothered to look up the name of it. Then there's the Dippin Dots, of course. I was fooled by the "ice cream of the future" bit. I bought into that completely. We learned you could ask for a sample and abused the heck out of it. I don't think I've ever paid for it.ReplyDelete
I haven't been in Park Plaza in a few years, but I remember it having a Chick-fil-A and Burger King and that was amazing. I know this is a foodie website where some people will disagree with that, but being a kid, nothing was better. I have some serious nostalgia for the Whopper with cheese.
Changing gears, my fondest memory of University was just how alien it was. It was only two floors if I recall (the pictures confirm those suspicions), the food court was on the top floor, and entering from the J.C. Penny side was just...mysterious. I was too young to remember where the mall began. We always entered Park Plaza on the Dillard's side and I can see those steps so vividly. There's a set that goes up into a shoe store, and a set that goes down into clothes/short walk to the Clinique counter. The last time I went in there it was exactly the same.
Me and my friends were big into Dungeons and Dragons and we would try to get into places we weren't allowed. We had this rule that if you saw an adult not to let them speak because they were a wizard and would cast a spell. If you said, "I can't find the bathroom," nine times out of ten you could get away with being caught in the employee area. We never did anything illegal, but I've been in places in Little Rock that you just can't get into as an adult and especially, as Kat pointed out, post 9/11. Being a kid is amazing. We talk about those times like we were Goonies on an adventure.
Great write-up as usual. You've become THE Arkansas historian in my opinion. Keep it up.
Great article! And I loved all the pictures. We always went to University Mall when we first moved down here to central Arkansas. Lots of good memories there. Thank you.ReplyDelete
No discussion of University Mall is complete without a mention of Mr. Rufus Whitmore, who worked at Franke's for 60 years or more, including at the mall location for many years. I recall coming to Little Rock on Razorback game days in the late '60s and early '70s and going to the mall. While the wives shopped, the men camped out in front of the TVs in Montgomery Ward and Penney's watching football games. Ward's would place recliners and easy chairs from their furniture department in front of the TVs on those days.ReplyDelete
Mall Deaths are sometimes interesting. We had a mall in Albuquerque NM that went belly up but all the older folks would use it as a place to walk around for fitness purposes, that went on for years. I think it was finally demolished and turned into an outdoor plaza mall thing. I came here because my Dad and my grandparents are from Arkansas but way out from Little Rock (Woodruff, Jackson & Clay Counties). Interesting photo history & commentary. Thanks for posting this.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the memories! We use to go shopping there once or twice a year, until Park Plaza opened up. It awed us with its magnificent look and size. It wasn't til I was older that I realized University Mall was still a great place to get what you needed. I'm sad that it had to come down to make way for "new". But such is life I guess.ReplyDelete
I worked at the original Nut Hut when I was in high school. Many fond memories...Camelot Music.ReplyDelete