Friday, March 28, 2008

Aladdin's Castle

 Main Atrium Fountain, Beechmont Mall (January 2003).
An oasis in the great 1980s covered-mall desert.

Here's my recollection of the goliath that once stood near my home...

Main Atrium, Beechmont Mall (January 2003).

The mall was constructed as a cross-pattern - four arms extending out from a center atrium, with major retail anchors at each end. The photo above is looking north from the main entrance corridor, with what was once Shillito's/Lazarus/Macy's to the left, Elder Beerman/Parisian to the right, and KMart/Food Court straight ahead. Directly behind that guy in the picture was a 'jewelry' store that my sister would frequent as a kid.  You know, lots of bright-pastel plastic bracelets, cheap perfume, puffy ankle warmers and hair scrunchies. Cheap, synthetic, mass-produced 80s garb.

Elder Beerman/Parisian Corridor, Beechmont Mall (January 2003).

Once notable stores from the picture above: On the right, Waldenbooks (spent hours there), Paperphernalia (various stuff, but lots o' toys), and The Bombay Co. (interesting store with expensive furniture). On the left, Victoria's Secret (eyeballed the hell out of that place... slyly), Suncoast Video (Hollywood-themed toys and a large selection of overpriced videos), and Bizarre Bazaar (narrow walkways with tons of wicker, feathered stuff, and Papa San chairs piled to the ceiling - the store owners didn't like kids meandering through here). At the end of the corridor there were payphones which my friends and I would always check for quarters (to use at the arcade), prank call random people or girls we liked, and eventually use to call for a ride home.

KMart/Food Court Corridor, Beechmont Mall (January 2003).

Once notable stores from the picture above: On the left, B. Dalton Booksellers (spent a lot of time in this bookstore too), Brendamour's Sporting Goods (very popular for my multi-sport habits),
Things Engraved (popular back when..?). On the right, Bankhardt's (cool gifts and gadgets), Lenscrafters (when they first opened back in the day, I thought it was so cool that you could see them make the lenses through those huge windows), and of course, Aladdin's Castle (where I'd sweat like hell going through rolls of quarters). At the end of the hall was the Food Court, where we spent periods of time resting from Aladdin's, chowing down on Gold Star Chili, and scoping out chicks - it was def a hangout for us kids in the 80s.

Arcade, Tron (1982). 
This shot from the opening sequence of the film is representative of the arcade glory that was big part of my youth, though the arcades that I frequented were always much smaller, tighter, and darker: Aladdin's Castle (in Beechmont Mall), PFennies (on Beechmont Avenue, near Eight Mile - dirty as hell, but good games), and Doc Holliday's (on the west side).

The other corridor, anchored by Shilito's/Lazarus/Macy's [not pictured], was also regularly frequented by me and my friends. Notable stores included: The Hobby Store (great for models - miniature trains, car kits, and remote-controlled planes), Musicland (decent store with CDs/tapes, and where my wife worked for a short period of time when younger), and much earlier, Orange Julius (great, great haunt for Orange shakes and monster hotdogs). Actually, that Orange Julius was in an odd location at the end of that corridor, far from any other eateries. It also reminds me of Rem Koolhaas' recent design of the Prada flagship store (in SoHo, NYC) - a lot of curving wood (the counter, the seating, etc.) though, much, much darker inside.

Rem Koolhaas' Prada flagship store, SoHo, NYC (2001). 
Again, the Orange Julius' wood was much darker, which they lacquered the hell out of. Went well with the orange tabletops and metal-canister, dark-yellow lights. Although it really makes me think it was a reflection of early underground skate boarding.

 Other remembrances include Shilito's/Lazarus/Macy's (which everyone in school seemed to shop at, because people would occasionally be seen with identical clothing on), UNO's Pizzeria (great for the Wednesday night special with my dad - medium 2-top pizza & two salads or soups for $14.95), Super X Pharmacy (for various things, but mostly Brach's Pick-A-Mix self-serve candy station as a kid), and the barbershop that was near the front entrance ('Roy' cut my hair from early childhood until HS).
Wow, when you really look back on it, malls were a heck of a destination spot for consumers and loiterers alike (many films have captured this, but none more than Fast Times at Ridgemont High).

In a further effort to induce nostalgia in any Andersonians that may be reading, the following post by bartenational sums up the Beechmont Mall experience well:

Beechmont Mall Memories (12/13/07)

I grew up in Anderson near Beechmont mall.
It was designed in the 70's so it was the height of style for that era. The roof was brown, the walls were tan cement. When I dream I go back there and buy ice cream at the United Dairy Farmers that was located at the entrance. It had sticky cafe tables set up and always smelled of sherbert. I first tasted orange sherbert there. I remember my sister saying. "Let's get some sherbert." "What is that?" I said, "You'll love it." The old logo had colors of sherbert ice cream in it, and the stores had those colors all around. It was like a shrine to sherbert.

I used to hang out at the mall while my parents went shopping at Thriftway across the parking lot. They had a hobby store with models in it. And an Aladdin's Castle arcade. It was like a local hang out where kids could congregate. You would go in there and one of your school mates would be in there playin' Pacman. Even if you didn't hang out at school, it was cool to watch them play a game or two. Or even play against each other. It was truly awesome.

They had a Woolworths where I bought a Chia pet for someone for Christmas one year. I don't know what ever happened to that. The Woolworths had a lunch counter in it. It had dark wood panel booths with old men sitting in them drinking coffee, while their wives looked endlessly at Leggs (they came in a plastic chrome egg) nude pantyhose.
You could still smoke in those days, so the place reeked. I never ate there. I am sure it was good at the beginning, but any restaurant inside a poorly ventilated mall will eventually become coated with a fine layer of grease from the fryer, then dirt will lodge itself in the sticky top layer of every thing. What is commonly known as grime. Most people today have no tolerance for grime these days. Things are destroyed as soon as they are out of fashion, so they never have time to accumulate the fine layers of crud like they used to.

But I knew every inch of the mall in detail. I walked it every week on Friday for an hour or two, 52 times a year. Then we piled in the van, drove the groceries home, and ate a frozen pizza and drank pop (once a week).

When I graduated from high school they remodeled it [see photos] and tried to update it, but the whole mall concept had gone out of fashion, and in this infinitely wealthy society we can afford to destroy it.
But alas, it was just a building.

NOTE: All pictures shown are of Beechmont Mall in its final, glorious, pastel aesthetic (the last of several remodels over its lifespan). This was not one that I particularly liked when I was a kid - it was much darker and warmer before the change. Also, the photos are directly prior to it's transition from an enclosed mall to an outdoor, 'open-air' mall, renamed Anderson Towne Center. It's a pretty happenin' spot now, with a soon-to-be movie theater, a range of eateries, dedicated bus terminal, township goverment building, etc... A transformation-deluxe from my years.

• All Beechmont Mall interior photos (and some related comments) from Alpha @ Dead


Anonymous said...

Great, another person who loves Beechmont Mall! I LOVED whatever I saw of this mall, and could not believe it when I heard they were tearing it down. Since I was only around with it for about 8 years, it is my mission to find as many pictures of Beechmont Mall as I can. May I use yours, as they are the only interior pictures I have found? I could walk here in 10 minutes.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across your website and loved this Beechmont Mall post. I also grew up walking up there. In fact spent many Summer days in the mall due to my family not having an air conditioner that worked. I also worked at Uno's through high school and college, having access to the mall after hours. I watch as they took down the mall around the resturant.

Bandit said...

I got kicked out of Aladdin's Castle once.