Northgate Mall

36.019049, -78.909806

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1959 aerial view of the area north of West Club Blvd - construction of the US 70 bypass/Duke St. interchange is visible in the upper right corner.

The property upon which Northgate Mall sits today had a rural character prior to the construction of the US 70 bypass immediately to its north in 1958-1959. While a small cluster of businesses stood at the intersection of Guess Road and West Club Blvd., the Ellerbee Creek valley that ran east-west north of West Club had served as a natural greenbelt on the north side of Durham, even as earlier (Bragtown) and later development occurred farther to the north.

I've found it difficult to trace the amalgamation of parcels by the Rand family prior to 1960 that allowed them to develop the mall. It appears that at least some of the land was owned by Sadie Markham and her heirs, and Demerius Dollar heirs owned other portions, but the quantity of parcels throughout Durham purchased by the Rand family between 1913 and the 1960s causes me to leave that endeavor to another intrepid Durham history enthusiast.

However, it does appear that Coke may be responsible for Northgate.

It seems that W. Kenan Rand first obtained an option on the land in October 1949 in association with the Coca Cola Bottling Company, with the intent of constructing a new Coca-Cola bottling plant on the site. The bottling company had started on Church Street in Durham and moved to Buchanan and West Main in 1930. This was likely the first of a series of battles with neighbors to the south over the future of the land on the north side of West Club Blvd.

The October 4, 1949 Durham Morning Herald reads:

"... [A] double disapproval was dealt a request made by W. Murray Jones, on behalf of WK Rand and the Durham Coca-Cola Bottling Company for a proposed change from an A residential zone to a Business Zone No. 1 of property just north of Club Boulevard. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that the zone change be denied, and the City Council concurred.

Rand outlined a proposal where the firm would erect a new large plant on the site (north of Club Boulevard between Watts Street and Dollar Avenue) if the zone change were granted, and presented plans for the structure.

More than 50 persons appeared at the hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission to oppose the zone change. Most of them were home owners in the area neighboring the site in question. Despite the fact that Rand assured them that the plant would be a modern, handsome structure, properly landscaped and set more than 150 feet from Club Boulevard, the property owners were staunch in their opposition. Among those who spoke against the change were JL Atkins Jr., Charlie Wilson, Raymond Weeks, WM Thompson, WH Simpson, JB Rhine, the Rev. MT Plyler, Oscar Barker, and EC Brooks, both of whom represented residents of the neighborhood.

Rand said that he had been working on plans for the new plant for two years, but only got the option on the property last week. He said, 'We've got to expand. We've used every foot of room and even have a building on Church Street which we use for storage, yet we've got only half the space we need. When we built our present plant 20 years ago there was a little opposition, but we've had no complaints in our 20 years of operation. I don't believe by the time we get to operating here there will be a single opposition,' he asserted.

The opponents of the measure contended that to allow one business to enter the area would only provide the opening wedge for others."

The plant was deferred, and would eventually be built on Hillsborough Road in 1966. Rand, it seems, retained his interest in the property, and eventually saw the strip shopping center as the best development for the land he controlled.

The mall was built by Rand in 1959-1960, initially a strip center with anchored by a Colonial Stores Supermarket, Kerr Drug, and Roses. I've always been curious as to whether "Northgate" was in any way a tongue-and-cheek reference to the long-established "Southgate" family name in Durham, or whether it was simply meant to describe the entry to Durham from the US 70 bypass.

Northgate was similar in character to the other 'shopping centers' built during the same era in Durham: Lakewood, Forest Hills, Loehman's Plaza, and Wellons Village. The evolutionary link between downtown retail and the enclosed mall, these strip shopping centers provided larger retail spaces, abundant surface parking, and easy access for larger trucks to pull directly up to loading docks at the rear of the store to offload larger quantities of merchandise. It also presented an easier opportunity to build air conditioning into the stores than the difficult prospect of retrofitting the downtown buildings with the large equipment of the 1950s. Grocery stores, drugstores, and discount retailers (what my parents called "10 cent stores") were typically the first to take advantage of these opportunities.

Bird's Eye view of the cleared site for Northgate, looking southwest, 1959

Bird's Eye view of the cleared site for Northgate, looking northwest, 1959

Looking southwest, 09.04.59

Looking west-northwest, 09.04.59

The completed 'first strip' of the mall, 09.12.60

Movie theaters were a frequent addition to these centers - the opportunity to build a movie theater with the above advantages, as well as multiple screens ('the multiplex') meant the rapid closure of downtown theaters - or their conversion to cheap discount, XXX theaters, or, for a few in this era, art house theaters. Northgate added a movie theater in 1962.

Buildings under construction, 06.15.62

Buildings under construction, 06.15.62

The 1962 shopping center, looking south towards West Club, 07.10.62

Movie theater addition, 07.10.62

Per the "Cinema Treasures" website:

"In 1962, the Northgate Theatre opened with a special preview of the theatre that was for invited guests and government officials along with a special screening that was for those attending. The official opening of the Northgate Theatre took place on Christmas Day and was open to the public with the featured screening of Walt Disney's live action feature "Jumbo". The theatre operated as a 700-seat single screen theatre that played first-run features and family films. It had a super widescreen and was owned and operated by Charlotte based Consolidated Theatres.

The theatre remained a single screen theatre until June 17, 1975 when the original auditorium was spit down the middle making it a twin cinema, and it was renamed Northgate Twin Theatres. Ownership changed hands when the Fuqua Theatres Group acquired the Northgate's operations. The opening features that premiered on June 17, 1975 when it became a twin were 'Pippi Longstocking' and 'The Other Side of the Mountain'.

Martin Theatres took over in 1976, and then later Carmike Cinemas acquired the theatre in 1982.... The Northgate Twin was showing some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters until its closing in 1985."

Northgate is particularly notable for successfully negotiating the transition to the next wave of suburban retail. By the late 1960s -early 1970s, the strip center model was already on the wane, and the enclosed, air conditioned, hermetically-sealed against-the-vagaries-of-Outside mall was rising. Northgate had one clear advantage - a lot of land - as well as, evidently, the capital to invest. But beyond that, it took some significant business savvy to see the necessity of investing that capital to remain relevant, particularly as South Square mall was being built out on 15-501. None of the other strip centers mentioned above made this transition, and quickly lost their dominant position in the retail real estate market.

In 1974, Northgate enclosed the strip center, adding anchor stores Sears and Thalhimers. The northwest portion of the site on Guess Road was developed into another strip shopping center, which included a new supermarket - "Big Star" that replaced the Colonial Stores supermarket that had been part of the original strip center.

Bird's Eye view of the mall, 03.13.74

Although the conventional wisdom by the 1980s was that South Square was, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on one's viewpoint, a higher-end mall with a wider selection of desirable retailers, Northgate continued to add stores, a food court, and, by the 1990s, another anchor department store.

Per the Northgate website:

"In 1986, another portion of the mall was constructed building an expanded space for Thalhimers along with a new multi level parking deck. 1987 saw yet another area of the Mall built which included the current Food Gallery and lower level Business Center. Hecht's and Hecht's parking deck were built in 1994 along with additional 53,000 square feet of enclosed mall retail space. In 2006, Macy's Department Store purchased Hecht's...."

Macy's and Northgate Mall, 07.04.10

The most interesting shift in mall fashion has been the trend towards creating walkable outdoor storefront retailers, in imitation of traditional downtowns. When regional shopping center Southpoint opened in 2002, with its 'main street' and faux faded painted advertisements, its interior HVAC distribution designed to look like chimneys, etc., etc., it epitomized the new trend - one that neither South Square nor Northgate evinced. Ironically, South Square, the market leader that Northgate had been battling with for 25 years, shuttered incredibly quickly (despite all of the assurances that it would be fine should Southpoint come to pass) and was replaced with today's version of the big strip center - Target, Sam's Club, etc.

Northgate seemingly felt the pressure from Southpoint, and it seemed that the quality of retailers in the center declined. At least in partial response, Northgate developed a new movie theater, and an outdoor plaza/retail area in 2005.

While it seems that, at least from anecdotal evidence, the movie theater has been a success, the plaza has not. And while the recent downturn has certainly played a role, I can't help but think that the architects who planned this a) simply didn't understand what they were supposed to be creating, b) couldn't create what they wanted because of land/zoning/ordinance constraints, or c) couldn't create what they wanted because of a lack of sufficient capital to do so.

I suspect it's a combination of all three; when I first heard that Northgate was undertaking such an endeavor, I was actually rather excited - Northgate, unlike South Square or many other malls, actually borders walkable, grid-ed neighborhoods on ~ 3 sides. The potential to finally integrate Northgate into the urban fabric seemed tangible. Because it took me awhile to go over to Northgate to check out what they had done, I visited North Hills in Raleigh first, and became even more enamored with the idea of how Northgate might become a pedestrian-friendly commercial district that didn't feel so completely separate from the neighborhoods around it.

I was disappointed - an outdoor plaza hemmed in by a parking deck and surface parking? Bleak - with the vacant storefronts to show for it.

Northgate Plaza area, seen from the parking deck that overshadows it, 07.04.10 (G. Kueber)

Kevin over at Bull City Rising wrote a piece three years ago pondering the future of Northgate - and that was before the economy plummeted. I think it's a shame that the mall ownership invested the capital to try to emulate Southpoint's outdoor space, but got it so very wrong. I don't know what the long term future of the mall is, but I ardently hope that it is the third option which Kevin pondered - i.e., conversion to a mixed-use center. Moreso, though, Northgate simply has great geography, which is currently being squandered in my opinion. And the fault for this doesn't lie solely with the mall or the city.

I've often heard that there is some enforced buffer between the outparcel businesses and West Club Blvd. Meanwhile, Trinity Park walls itself off on the other side of the street. Not only do I think that Trinity Park would be better served with businesses lining the north side of Club Boulevard - I believe they would one part of transforming Club Boulevard into - well, a boulevard, rather than a bleak swath of asphalt. Building to the street, and creating a real pedestrian-scale corridor connecting the mall to the neighborhood, is the transformation that the mall needs to once again be a thriving center. But TP needs to acquiesce to the idea that the future of Club Blvd. is a medium density mixed-use corridor, not a DMZ separating a quiet neighborhood from a mall, etc.

'The Strip' separating West Club from Northgate, looking east, 07.04.10 (G. Kueber)

'The Strip' separating West Club from Northgate, looking west, 07.04.10 (G. Kueber)

The bleakness of West Club 'Boulevard', taken from my perch on the Smallest Median Ever. (G. Kueber)

This approach is already failing from a preservation perspective, as the 50 year Recent Unpleasantness north of the Southern sidewalk of West Club has helped create market pressure to tear down the larger historic houses that, until 1960, sat at the edge of town and country.

These block plans aren't really even that - more of a site use map than anything, but I drew them quickly to give some sense of how this site could redevelop to the benefit of both the mall and the neighborhood.

Retail/mixed use in orange, structured parking in blue. (G. Kueber)

Retail/mixed use in orange, structured parking in blue. (G. Kueber)

Until some real planning occurs - that engages the South, the North, and the Those That Pave the Roads, it seems that we'll continue to build houses with tall privacy fences on the south side and greatest hits from the Suburban Wasteland Pattern Book on the north, and Club Boulevard will remain what it is today - No Man's Land.



In reply to by Chris (not verified)

Yes Chris- I remember the cafeteria as Ballentines- I used to eat there with my great-grandmother and my great-great aunt. It was to the right of the tobacco/news shop. I remember the plant place too- I think it was called The Garden Shop- could be wrong... I just remember they had Venus fly traps. I'm also surprised that no one mentioned McDonalds. All my friends had their birthday parties there- either there or Wheels when it was on Latta/Roxboro.

I think you just blew my mind on several counts:
1. The mall was built the same year I was born, so it's just wild to see what the land looked like prior to Northgate.
2. I spent an inordinate amount of time in that mall and specifically in that movie theater in the late 60s and 70s. (That was back when you could drop a kid off at the movies and not worry about them getting grabbed or molested.) IMO, the theater was never as good after it was split in two. We used to refer to it as "the bowling alley theater". Later, I worked at Northgate for a short time. So I remember it from when I was five and had the flu and tossed my cookies in Roses all the way through the 1990s. To see it all back to back in photos makes me feel...well...old.
3. I now live on the other side of the country. That picture of the piazza with the fountain? That looks EXACTLY like it was taken at the shopping center just up the street. Same brickwork, same fountain, same arrangement, same trash cans even. It's s dismal failure here, too. I don't think I have ever seen anyone using it for any reason. The county didn't even have sense enough to put the bus stop there.

Great photos and history. Thanks!

Great post!

The original center also had a small island of buildings on the east containing a bank or two, barber shop, dairy bar (sounds quaint but was popular), shoe repair, etc. One of your photos shows this island.

My favorite 1950s center is Cameron Village in Raleigh. CV barely survived the '70s, but seems to be thriving now. Being close to NC State helps.

The grass strip along Club Boulevard coincides with Trinity Park's RS-8 zoning, which extends north of Club along most of Northgate's frontage. As I understand it, this "buffer" was left as a concession to the neighborhood when the rest of the mall property was rezoned.

When Northgate's owners attempted to rezone that strip (in 1998?) in order to build surface parking for TK Tripps, a second restaurant, and a hotel, it was clear that the neighborhood wanted that buffer preserved. They perceived it as protecting the homes on the south side of Club from the cycle of commercial encroachment and decline that had already occurred in so many other Durham neighborhoods. We did not want more pawn shops or fast food restaurants on the south side of Club Boulevard and bleeding down Gregson and Duke Streets.

Many of us sought a more creative redevelopment of Northgate's frontage that would have been a more effective transition between the mall and single family residences. I believe that a Ninth Street North/Trinity Heights type of development with a mix of ground floor retail, office, and upper story residential would have been received quite well by the majority of neighbors. However, Northgate's unimaginative plan for traditional strip type buildings surrounded by asphalt and set well back from the street was very unappealing and was ultimately abandoned. Only Tripps was built at that time. I believe the hotel is under construction now.

Great piece! I lived in the 1200 block of Watts Street before, during and after construction of Northgate Mall. I vividly remember riding my bike down to Club Blvd and watching the graders and bulldozers carve out what would become the original mall.

In the mid-60s Northgate Theater was a familiar haunt during the hot summer months.

About this same time I remember that the Kerr Rexall drug store installed a slot-racing layout in their basement to take advantage of the Slot-Racer craze going on at that time.

About that island mentioned - this answers a question I long had about whether the island of service shops predated the mall. I see now that it did not.

The ice cream shop mentioned was Mayberry's, and I think the bank was either BBT or CCB.

I used to have unsolicited copies of The Thunderbolt KKK newsletter shoved thru my VW's window at Northgate. I didn't think much about it until I saw a vintage CBS "White Paper" documentary called the Invisible Empire. It showed a KKK recruiting table set up outside Roses at Northgate in the early 1960s. What made it really neat was that I recognized one of the interviewed recruiters. He was a deacon in Temple Baptist Church

As someone who lives at ground zero--Macy's is visible from my front door--I am afraid that your perspectives are not reflective of life south of the Mall AT ALL. You write that Trinity Park/Durham residents would be better served if the buffer zone between the Mall and Trinity Park were developed into street-front retail/mixed use building. You also suggest that such a development would dissuade homeowners from building privacy fences facing Club. No urban plan or architectural plan for the Mall/north side of Club will change the feel or use of Club as long as Club is a massive thoroughfare. On any given weekday, Club is loud. Thanks to the original heavy-duty windows and storm windows on my home, I hear a lot less of what someone hears on the sidewalk along Club; but no technology can cover over the boom of traffic in that area. (Saturday and Sunday Harley riders as well as the steady stream of tricked-out cars with hip-hop turned up to 11 make my home shake.) Privacy fences have less to do with the Mall than with the massive amounts of traffic, noise, and passers-by who make being outside on one's own property without such a fence unpleasant. When you realize pedestrians walking along Club are using your garden hose to take showers in your un-fenced backyard during the day, you realize it's time to get a privacy fence, especially when said persons vandalize your property after you ask them nicely not to shower in your backyard. Contrary to your assessment of Northgate as a wasteland, I find Northgate Mall to be an excellent neighbor: they groom and mow their lawn regularly. The have security scanning their property and are happy to take my calls if something is wrong. And after the Mall's curfew kicks in, Northgate is quite and safe. What your blog entry fails to address is the real blight around the Mall: the now-closed Checks-Cashed building, and adjacent properties, the condemned Tharrington building, the gas station that is more like a junk yard than a gas station, etc. These are the real immediate eye sores along this stretch of Club. More retail along busy Club? I can tell you right now who will move in to such spaces you imagine being part of your proposed urban-infill idea, provided, of course, they can afford the price tag: more check-cashing joints, more tattoo parlors, more cell phone stores, and more icky chains. As someone who'd have to look at that everyday, I say, No thanks.

I-85, Duke and Gregson, as well as access to Roxboro to the east and Broad (and the Freeway) to the west make Club a natural high-access road. Until the state of North Carolina's NCDOT, the county of Durham, the city of Durham and DATA reconfigure and relabel the traffic in this area, this fact will not change and the impact it has on retail and residential zoning and life will not change.

Homeowners who live in northern Trinity Park buy homes there knowing full well what they're getting into; when I bought my home, there was still a drug store in the Mall, a Harris Teeter where now another stupidly popular cafeteria stands, as well as several other amenities that made walking to the store, rather than driving to it, a possibility. Northgate's turnover--a fact that has less to do with Northgate than with businesses like Harris Teeter phasing out smaller stores in favor of mega-big-box ones--has unfortunately made these creature comforts more rare. But Northgate still has retail benefits that make walking across Club still a part of my weekly life. In spite of its rough patches and less-than stellar aesthetics, I still love my urban corner of Durham; it may be part of snooty Trinity Park, but it's on the edge of it and certainly NOT an influential or powerful or necessarily bucolic part of the core of that neighborhood that you on occasion lay into.

So while I salute you for your attention to my corner of Durham, I have to politely disagree with your proposals.


It isn't that I don't recognize the disagreeable nature of this stretch of Club Boulevard - what I'm advocating for is an engaged strategy to reclaim it, rather than retreating. And building sufficient enclosure on the north side of the street - in the form of back-of-the-sidewalk residential/office/retail - is part of that effort. When there is such enclosure, and higher density visual interest, studies bear out the fact that traffic moves more slowly - given more open space and blank walls, traffic moves more quickly. Are people with the urge to shower or worse along Club Boulevard more or less likely to do so if there is a set of active storefronts and windows along the north side rather than desolation - studies say less.

In a way something should strike us as curious about this corridor - the check cashing places, etc. that you mention. Why, with the wealth nearby, does Watts/Club/Buchanan have abandoned storefronts and other less-than-desirable uses? It's because Club is an unpleasant strip of asphalt - which, to your point has a great deal to do with the road cross-section, but an equal amount to do with the emptiness on the north side.

Thanks for your comment


I recall walking to this mall when I was growing up in Durham from the 1980's up to the early-mid '90s. I actually remember going into Roses and recalling it having a front entrance with a set of registers and a back entrance with a couple of registers. Even though I was born in '81 I spent so much time at the mall that I have quite a few '80's memories. A few that pop in my head are when the mall ended at the food court before Hechts/Macys was built, and there was a Dollar Store by where Wendys was, literally the placement would be in the middle of the corridor as the mall ended at the food court. There was also a Circus World toy store by the drug store by Sears that I dragged my mom into every visit. Also when I pull back into my distant memory I recall the long corridor that used to end at Belks ending in a very large fountain before Thalhimers was added in '87ish. The fountain was where that corridor veers to the right by where Waldenbooks and The Curtain Shop was, and the mall literally ended there. It's wierd to think that up until that point Sears was the only anchor store at the mall.

I live in Raleigh now so I dont get to that area much anymore but I hear the mall has been a bit stagnant/slowly fading since the Southpoint monster came to town. I recall in the '90s it had some pretty good middle of the road stores, and that it co-existed peacefully with South Square. I remember during this time there was Gap, American Eagle, Disney Store, Kirklands, and Express. I have to wonder if Northgate will ever return to 90%+ occupancy especially as it's status as "the other mall" and the perceived crime issues it has. I'm definately hopeful though.

I've often wondered why with the wealth from Trinity Park/Watts-Hillandale there was such a ...lackluster mall there.

I love the idea of Northgate. I like that it is still locally owned. The Sears tool shop there was incredibly handy every time my power tools were stolen. However, retail whore that I am, when I moved to Durham that mall had a Gap. And Express.

1970's tenants included Tiffany's Bakery, Chess King (Hot-happening disco clothing), Record Bar, Merry Go Round (Women's Clothing), Marianne's(Women's Clothing), Sears, Butler Shoes, Thom McAnn, Hahn's, Pappy's (Pizza), Durham Sporting Goods, Robin's, Virginia Crabtree (Perfume was vented from a box with a hole over the door), Baskin Robbins, The Jewel Box (Jewelry), Carlyle Jewelers, The Arcade, Mr. Frankos (Salon), Added Dimensions, Casual Corner(Women's Clothing), Uniform Shop (Name Forgotten) Brooks, Der Wiener Haus (Hot Dogs) Chik-Fil-A, Swiss Colony, Tharringtons, Young Men's Shop, Young Boy's Shop, A fabric store (Name Forgotten; Piece Goods?) The Curtain Shop, K&V Toys (Name Questionable) Spencer Gifts, Hallmark, Things Remembered, Bailey Banks and Biddle(Jeweler),K&W Cafeteria, Leather and Wood, This End Up, Kerr Drugs, Roses (Where Santa's shed showed up to great fanfare every year). (Not sure of the jewelry store run by the Herndons near theater), Northgate Barber Shop (Names of some of the barbers: Vic, Mac, and Carl)...Can't remember more, but I am sure someone can add to the list or correct mine. It was a terrific place to be as a teen then.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I just read your comment regarding Northgate Mall. You listed all the stores that used to occupy the mall in the mid '70's - '80's. Thankyou so much. I have sat here and had a great trip down memory lane!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

There was a Montaldo's, The Remnant Shop, and World Bazzar too

In my opinion, malls and other businesses around check cashing places and other conundrums of blight typically don’t do that very well because the populations that they cater to simply aren’t enough to supplement businesses with more desirable storefronts, therefore you end up with a further perpetuation of less desirable venues on the same level (i.e. Cafeteria ‘such and such’ instead of a Harris Teeter). It could be that the affluent neighborhoods around the area are simply taking their business to other areas that cater to their needs which ultimately would contribute to the decrease in mall revenue and capital to sustain restoration.

Michael is misremembering a few things from his childhood. Thalhimers did not come after Belks but before Belks. Thalhimers was the original department store at Northgate. When Northgate went from being a single strip shopping center to an L-shaped center, Thalhimers was at one end. Not too long afterwards, the place became a mall with Sears at one end and Thalhimers at the other. Eventually, Talhimers built a larger store where the movie theater is now. Belks only came when Thalhimers built an even larger store (third version of Thalhimers at Northgate) where Macy's is now. (Thalhimers was bought by the May Co. and became Hecht's, before the merger of May Co. and Federated which decided to rename all their department stores, Macy's). When Belks decide to leave in the 1990's, the mall owners turned that space into a theater.

Baldwins, a local department store, was also here for awhile. Their store at Northgate outlasted the one downtown.

The original cafeteria was not K & W, but Morrisons.

Retail trivia.

I add my voice to everyone who said this post was great. I grew up two blocks south of Northgate and it was built just a couple years after I was born. (I can recall seeing the raw earth to the west of the street that ran up the back of the original strip when it had just been built.) So I saw it in all its phases. We shopped for food at the Colonial Stores when I was a child. I also remember well liking to go to Roses when I was little and I saw my first movie ever at that theater. Later on my friends and I did our teenage mall hanging-out at Northgate too. I have actually been amazed it has survived so long. Even if it's got problems now, it's track record for adapting to several different retail eras is unusual.

When listing the stores that were at Northgate in the 1960's and 1970's, I can't believe that Van Straaten's was left out. That was THE store for men and fact, I can remember getting my cub scout uniform from Van Straaten's----there was no other place in Durham to get one but at Van Straatens.

Loved this feature about Northgate---finally a post that I can personally relate to!

I was the one who listed the 1970's tenants from memory. You, "other anonymous", are entirely correct. Van Straatens was an oversight on my part! I also remember going there as a kid with my mom. I was never as interested in it as she was. No toys, no food, no fun. However, as an adult parent, I am appreciative of the quality they offered. Thanks for offering that store's name. Are there others I missed? Any other anecdotes?

Don't forget Robbins -- THE place for young women - moved from Main Street. Saleswomen were there to help and often knew what would suit you best - before you did. Also, the perfume wafted into the air was not from Virginia Crabtree but Sally McDonald.

I don't know how profitable the movie theater is, but it already showing signs of wear. Missing signs outside the auditoriums, scarred and damaged walls, and posters on the walls for movies that opened and closed months ago. I doubt I will be going back any time soon.

Other not-to-be-forgotten stores: Jones & Frasier's Jewelry, a transplant from town and Merle Norman cosmetics. Wasn't the first cafeteria named Spinnaker's?

Some interesting notions here Gary. I worked at NG during high school and in to college at the now defunct Durham Sporting Goods, spent a bunch of time in there. I remember when it was THE place to shop for those of us living in northern Durham. Now this monstrosity is, for all purposes, dead. I would love nothing more than for the mall to take down those enormous parking decks, which are never full.

Oh and anonymous (above my first post) Spinnakers was the restaurant at South Square that served the bread in clay flower pots.

just a thought.. who remembers the little red house for Santa that sat in front roses at Christmas during the 1960s. i always looked at Santa through the little window in front of the house but never went in.. i was scared to death of him .. great times

Fantastic post Gary and very nice memories from above. The one thing that caught my eye was the massive set of warehouses or low level buildings just north of 70 (now 85) from your birds eye NW view of the mall (around Broad Street). Do you know what they were? This is where Costco and (ex) World Market, Ross, Pier One etc are.


I also remember that B. Dalton Booksellers was there, but they had replaced Will's Book Store from an earlier time. Wasn't there a popcorn store, as well as a gold/silver chain store across from Chess King? Finally, there was a Salads and Such down at the turn before taking a right to Thalhimers.

I firmly second the idea of street-front retail along Club's north side...

...but is there perhaps some real danger that this might cause retail developers to start hungrily eying the south side of the street? And, were this to happen, how well would the neighborhood be protected from this incursion?

W.r.t. bookstores: The B. Dalton was there before Wills (an older small chain based in Greensboro). When the mall demolished Roses to open the new southward wing and food court, Wills split their book and gift operations into 2 stores. They remained open after Barnes & Noble superstores opened at New Hope Commons & Southpoint.

After that, B. Dalton (owned by B&N at that point) closed, and a Walden Books opened. The entire Wills chain closed at some point; the Walden Books stuck it out a while longer (IIRC), but then closed a few years ago.

Northgate also had a religious bookstore for a long time. It used to be (late 80s?) in the main portion of the mall, but later moved to the "Shops at Northgate" strip and reduced their book focus. I'm not sure of their current status, but I can't find them on the current (July 2010) mall WWW site. That site also currently shows a used bookstore in the mail. I'm not familiar with it; I may go check it out now. ;) I'll be really glad if they have a bookstore again, but not so glad as I'd be if they'd get a grocery store back.

Also, one of the early banks at the mall was an savings & loan whose name is on the tip of my tongue.... It went broke during an S&L crisis in the late 80s or early 90s. BB&T bought that failing S&L, which was how they got a presence at Northgate (they were not anywhere in Durham until about that time). There was also an NCNB, which was absorbed into BofA. IIRC, the S&L was south of Roses, and the NCNB was in the separate convenience center that used to be where BofA is now.

My credentials: I lived within walking distance of the mail from 1985 to the mid-to-late '90s, and worked for Wills part of that time. :)


I really enjoyed this post, all the old photos and history.

I remember that old Northgate Twin! I saw lots of 80s movies there like the Breakfast Club and Indiana Jones. Some of my friends worked at Hungate's (art and hobby store), and I'd always go and visit them and buy another brush.

Another NG memory from the 80s was seeing a vibrant performance of Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble. Right there in the mall! Free!

My main complaint with the current internal design is the triangle configuration that continually gets me lost when I'm trying to get back to my original entrance. I so appreciate how they have moved a lot of publicly-used services (the DMV, credit union branch, etc) near the entrances. Interesting to consider how the area might be further configured. AS a parting comment, I'll note that I really dislike those fake-downtown shopping areas. I'd rather cities put money into their existing downtowns, not create fake ones.

Where was the original Thalhimers located within the mall prior to the 1986 enlargement? Did it stay in the same location and enlarge or did they tear town the old building and build the new one in a different location within the mall?

Michael, I was born the year Northgate began. Like others, I did not realize the extent of the alterations until I saw the post. That said, I remember the Thalhimers remodel. Although I don't remember if it was torn down or its shell was incorportated into the "new"Thalhimers, its footprint is under the mall, just outside the mall entrance to the old Dillards store. I know Dillards is no longer there, but I haven't lived there in 16 years and don't know the current layout.

@ Anonymous: Dillard's was never at Northgate. Thalhimer's became Hecht's became Macy's. Dillard's was at South Square after they bought Ivy's.

@Michael: The original Thalhimer's was at the opposite end from Sears, and was one story like the rest of the mall. They later built a two story store where the theater is now, and the old store became smaller stores and mall walkway space.

Is there any chance of you doing a piece on ( Former) South Square Mall at any point in the future?

Anyway, South Square & Northgate, I always used to frequent during my younger years ( I'm 22 now). Although SS i visited more. I'm just curious, or would like your input as to why did South Square lost business when SouthPoint was built, and Northgate is more or less still standing?

@John Martin: Thanks! So I'm guessing when you say opposite from Sears that Thalhimers originally had their location where the corridor juts off to the right heading to what is now the movie theater, then the store was demolished and the corridor extended (via where the mall corridor makes the rather abrubt turn) to the current theater location? I really appreciate your knowledge here, have been trying to get clarification on this for a while now!

@Mariomaster5: IMO a big reason why South Square shut so abrubtly was b/c Southpoint was located so close that when it opened Belk and JCPenney immediatly closed, plus I recall hearing that the mall stopped accepting new leases/renewing leases over the last several years once they realized that most of the stores were planning on hopping to the new mall. Dillard's tried to hang on for about 6 months on it's own but I think the fact that it was alone in a dead mall with the store hidden behind parking decks sort of expedited it's closing. Belk eventually closed the Northgate Belk store, rumor has it b/c sales had been declining since Southpoint opened and their lease was up in '05 so they had an easy out. Northgate was actually semi upscaled in '95 when Hechts opened (Northgate had stores like Gap, American Eagle, Express, The Disney Store, Kirklands to name a few). It remained as such until Southpoint opened and has been in slow decline since, although it still has life left in it.

@Michael. You've got the original location of Thalhimer's exactly right. I can also correct Gary's account ever so slightly. He speaks of the shopping center being enclosed in 1974. Not quite right. The original strip center, as his 1962 pictures show, ran perpendicular to Club Blvd. In 1974, they built an entirely new enclosed portion which was perpendicular to the original strip center. That new enclosed portion had Thalhimer's at one end and Sears at the other. But the original strip center remained an outside appendage to the newly created mall, and it stayed like that for a number of years. Eventually the original strip center was demolished, and a new enclosed wing was built on that site.

You have all forgotten Bull Durham News and Tobacco. It was in an odd shaped store that was right inside the south facing door that opend toward the parking deck. The store wrapped around another store and had stairs in it so it was a split level magazine and tobacco shop.

When I moved away from Durham, Northgate was still in its original 'configuration.' I've been to the mall a time or two on my trips back to Durham, and the mall I remember from my youth is unrecognizable to me now. The only stores I remember from my day are Kerr Drug, Burton's, and the Colonial grocery store.

Does anyone remember Ballentines at Northgate? Do you remember the plant/floral shop at the end of the mall where Thalhimers was? That place was full of plants.

Not to be forgotten, Norman Black, a ladies wear store owned by Durhamite Norman Black, it was on par with Montaldo's and Tyler House.

Worked at the Colonial Store in produce during high school in the late 1960s. Just the original strip mall then.

Great information!

I too grew up near Northgate on Forest Road. It had to have been around 1962 that our family moved there, because I remember the construction work. The patch of woods between Forest Road and Northgate remained for many years. We would often play in this patch of woods, as well as the creek that ran behind Northgate. For that matter, that was our usual route whenever we decided to walk over to Northgate.

I looked for, but did not see the old log cabin (more like a pole barn) that set in the woods behind Northgate. It was accessable from either Berkeley Street or Ida Street. A black family lived there for many years. I think that it stood, though empty at that time, up until at least the 1980's. We would pass by it in our short-cut through the woods and would often talk to the elderly gentleman that lived there. Understandably, the woman of the house would get a little tired of us kids cutting through her yard all of the time. I'm not sure if she was his wife or daughter.

I love the photo "Bird's Eye view of the cleared site for Northgate, looking northwest, 1959". Showing the Broad Street bridge and the old tobacco warehouses. This was only a block or so from our home. We crossed back and forth on that bridge a lot! This photo also shows Brogden Junior High School, now Brodgen Middle School, where we all attended. It looks so out of place with virtually no houses in site and not a single apartment building that I could see.

I worked at the Rose's around 1974. And have an older brother that worked in the one downtown. The lunch counter was still there then and I loved their slaw hotdogs.

Being from the south side and more inclined to go to South Square, I have only vague memories of Northgate. To me, it was always the more blue collar, rougher mall. I remember when Coach K's daughter was mugged in the parking lot in (I think) the early to mid 90s. Used to hang out with a group of kids from Oval Park and we'd walk over to Northgate, but you had to pass through Walltown. Those blocks between Broad and Guess were a real gauntlet. We stopped attempting it after my friend was beat down on Sedgefield one afternoon. I second the call for some kind of development on Club -- even something like what they've done with Erwin Rd by LaSalle would be nice, just more mixed use so there's more need for walkability.

My mother stated that before the building of Saint Luke's Episcopal Church (circa 1956), where Tripp's Restaurant now sits, there was a nice farmhouse that stood there and the land was used for farming tobacco. She doesn't remember the persons name, but my grandfather knew him and they visited on occasion.

After Northgate purchased the property, Saint Luke's Episcopal Church moved to their current location on Hillandale Road (circa 1971). I attended kindergarden at Saint Luke's around 1963.

I have such fond memories of my granny taking me to Northgate in her silver 2001 Lincoln Towncar and buying me clothes, shoes, and toys. I remember the smell of the mall so well. it was such a wonderful smell. We would always get ice cream to cap off the day.

We would cruise the mall for hours.

It was such a glorious time.

I remember going to Hungates hobby store from a young child all the way up until I was 14 or so. I was born in 94' so it wasn't that long ago. I remember they kept downsizing every few years. It was pretty sad to see them go the way they did. I heard they completely shut down in 2008, around the last time I went there. I haven't been to Northgate since 2008. I've heard it's a pretty dumpy place now. Maybe they'll straighten things out someday...

Me and my granddad used to joke that sooner or later, Hungates would have been in a phone booth out in the parking lot!

Thanks for the memories, Northgate.

Alas, it did not make its 60th birthday.  Today, as announced on 

Northgate Mall closing from financial struggles worsened by COVID-19

Posted May 4, 2020 11:08 a.m. EDT

Updated May 4, 2020 11:32 a.m. EDT

DURHAM, N.C. — The inside of Northgate mall is closing for good after its financial burdens became too heavy during the coronavirus. A spokesperson from property said that the shops at the mall were experiencing "extreme financial difficulties." The outside of the mall plans to reopen when it safe, according to a spokesperson."

A sad day.  I remember as a child taking the "long trip" up to Northgate (about 4-5 miles, haha). I remember the fancy strip-only (pre-mall) era. Going to the theatres, a functional alternative to big-blitz South Square.  But sad to see the last 20 years.  Ending now as a no doubt financial nightmare since the 2008 expansion plans. Looking ahead, let's hope North-Central Durham gets what it deserves retail-wise.  Give us something fun and unique. (And not just a parking lot for Amazon trucks :-(

I wonder what will come next, maybe durham will get one of those cool old abandoned malls. Either way as far as I can remember, Northgate was a declining shit show. during the last few years i would occasionally walk through the place and each time i would notice another empty store. That was the point when I could see that northgate probably did not have much time left in this world. I'm going to miss northgate but I am looking forward to what might come next to the area. 


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