CategoryDead Malls

Remembering Landmark Mall…with an ’80s Flourish

At the time of this post, I have lived in Alexandria City for 22 years, but I was not born here.

Many of the posts I’ve written here are to do with places and events related to the Hampton Roads area, where I grew up. One such post shares my memories and experiences connected to Coliseum Mall that once was, in the City of Hampton in southern Virginia. (I spent a quite a bit of time there, as a youth.)

My wife, on the other hand, was born here. Well, not here in Alexandria where we currently reside, but just a couple of miles west in Annandale. The Strathmeade neighborhood in which she lived as a youth is located in the northwest portion of Annandale, putting it close to the Tysons Corner area in McLean / Vienna, which is home to not one but two of the most famous malls in America, Tysons Corner Center and Tysons Galleria. In her youth, she and her crew of friends would walk a few blocks, jump on a bus (for only a quarter), and hang out at Tysons on many of those wide-open summer days. But, for any real structured shopping missions, it was another nearby mall she and her family patronized: Landmark Shopping Center.

Landmark Shopping Center, originally an outdoor mall located at the far western edge of Alexandria City at 5801 Duke Street, immediately off of Interstate 395 at exit 3, officially opened it doors in October of 1965 with 32 stores including anchors The Hecht Co., Sears and Roebuck, and Woodward and Lothrop. As originally opened, Landmark was a 675,000-square-foot center with a 4,000-space parking lot, the largest in the city.

In 1990, Landmark underwent a massive re-development during which it was converted from a single-story outdoor complex to a fully-enclosed three-story mall.

During the process of buying the house in Old Town Alexandria that my then-fiancée and I would move into in the summer of 1998, I made several trips up to the area from Charlottesville to meet with our realtor. Northern Virginia was still quite alien to me at that time, and the first notable part of Alexandria that I spotted on every trip as I exited the Interstate was Landmark Mall.

My wife and I did much of our shopping at Landmark for the next 15 years. (We didn’t even log into Amazon at all until 2000/01.) I remember frequenting their nicely varied food court on the third floor, Barnie’s coffee shop just inside the front entrance, a video game store where I bought more than a few titles over the years, the arcade, Waldenbooks, FYE, Sears, Macy’s, and a variety of other shops over the years. I even got my hair cut their regularly, at Bubbles. A list of all stores within the mall as it existed in October 2004 is shown below, taken from an archive of the Landmark website.

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Remembering Coliseum Mall

coliseum_mapI guess it’s a cliché, kids hanging out at the mall for fun, but so it was with me. I grew up in Yorktown and remember my (stay-at-home) mom (what was then called a “housewife”) going to the local mall several times a week in the summer and bringing me along. I loved it. I have very specific memories of the toy stores and department stores as far back as when I was five or six years old.

For us, the “local” mall was Coliseum Mall in Hampton, VA (it was actually a good little hike from home). I feel like I grew up there, in a lot of ways. When I think of my youth and the fun I had in the ’80s, my thoughts often take me to those large orange and brown floor tiles and water fountains, the zig-zag ceiling window arrangements, and the overall feel of the place. Early on it was the toy stores I was most interested in and, of course, and as I headed towards the teenage years, electronics and books stores came into the mix. I loved that mall and the experience of walking around in that thick ’80s atmosphere I remember so fondly.

Coliseum Mall was built by Mall Properties, Inc. (MPI) and opened on Halloween Day in 1973 along Mercury Boulevard in Hampton.  It was the largest and busiest shopping area on the Virginia Peninsula. It’s original anchors were Korvettes, JC Penney, and Nachmans. In 1976 another wing was added, perpendicular to the original, bringing with it Smith & Welton and Thalhimers. Sometime in the early nineties the Cinema I & II movie theaters (I saw Return of the Jedi and Space Camp there!) were replaced by a food court with, as best I can put it together, an overall re-styling of the mall following soon after. (Bye-bye seventies-style orange tiles, hello boring white.)

As these renovations were underway the mall was in decline, not due in small part to the opening of Crown American’s Patrick Henry Mall in the Oyster Point area of Newport News in 1987. (At the time I lived in walking distance to the new mall and that, along with changing interests, marked the end of any frequent trips to Coliseum.) Coliseum Mall continued its slow decline until it closed its doors in January of 2007 for demolition the following month. It was replaced by an open-air shopping area known as Peninsula Town Center which is, at the time of this writing, on its third owner and doing rather poorly.

coliseum_mall_collage

Click above for photo gallery.

Over the past year I have been on the search for photos of the mall as I best remember it, with its original decor. There is almost nothing on the Internet showing the mall at that period. Having come up with little in the way of a photographic history, I contacted MPI (now Olshan Properties) in hopes they could help me. They gave the name of a contact in the City of Hampton who I was told might be able to help, as the city had prepared “a wonderful collage of photos” of the mall for former owner, Mr. Olshan. Happily, my city contact was able to provide me with a number of scanned photos, schematics, and newspaper clippings showing Coliseum Mall in its early days. Unfortunately, these photos are black and white, but a single color photo of the interior of the mall as it once was (that orange!) can be found in a post about the Peninsula Town Center Information Pamphlet (the collage that Olshan spoke of) at the That Mall is sick and that Store is dead! website. It’s the upper-right photo at the top of the page. (The owner of that website has requested I not use her scanned image on my site, unfortunately.)

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