South Square

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South Square, December 2002   (Courtesy of <a href="">Mike Lashley</a>)   South Square was a two level enclosed mall, Durham's first, that opened in 1974. Northgate Shopping Center quickly moved to compete with South Square (and the broader new trend of enclosed malls that would quickly eclipse strip shopping centers as centers for department stores and higher end retail.) The mall had ~100 stores when it opened, anchored by JC Penney, Belk-Leggett, and Montgomery Ward. It also had a movie theater on the southern side of the building, and a food court on the upper level.     Montgomery Ward closed in the early '80s and was replaced by Ivey's.    When I was in college in the late 80s/early 90s, it was still the heyday of the enclosed mall. Maybe it still is - I don't know. But the constant presence of the mall as a setting for all of the 1980s movies I loved as a teenager - which doesn't seem to be the case now (or perhaps I just avoid those movies now) implies to me that the enclosed mall's  
  Inside South Square, 1990   I was one of those folks that opposed the rezoning of land for Southpoint. I don't know that I was wrong about that, and I don't know that I was right. Part of what I was concerned about has happened - the de facto urban growth boundary that I-40 represented was breached entirely. I said, thinking I was being a bit hyperbolic at the time, that in 10 years, we'd have big development on the shores of Jordan Lake.   South Square's owners insisted they would be fine if Southpoint was approved. It was shocking how quickly the mall closed when Southpoint opened. Everyone thought they would suffer, and we'd eventually displace all of that growth down into the rural area south of I-40. I'm not sure anyone thought South Square would empty and close in a couple of months. Belk had become Hudson Belk, and JC Penney and Dillards were anchors as well when southpoint opened in Spring 2002. Penney's and Belk closed immediately - Dillard's seemed like the last place with the lights on when they finally gave up in August 2002.   There was some discussion about what to do with the mall - I believe Durham Area Designers got its start in creating a charrette to propose creative solutions for the site that would create some beauty in - to borrow the lingo of my forerunners "this section."   8 months later, the whole mall came down - an amazing amount of material was wrecked and hauled off - to where, I don't know.  
04.03.03   (Courtesy <a href="">The Herald-Sun Newspaper</a>)  
04.03.03   (Courtesy <a href="">The Herald-Sun Newspaper</a>)  
04.03.03   (Courtesy <a href="">The Herald-Sun Newspaper</a>)  
04.03.03   (Courtesy <a href="">The Herald-Sun Newspaper</a>)  
04.03.03   (Courtesy <a href="">The Herald-Sun Newspaper</a>)   I never was a fan of South Square's architecture, or just the mallscape in general. But I didn't really imagine that the site could become so much uglier.   
05.29.11   This area used to be a significant retail hotbed - it really seems moribund at this point. Target et al do a brisk business, of course, but it seems like most things around it have struggled since South Square died - the nicer stores have decamped to South Durham, and it's kind of an odd mix of independent establishments and struggling downmarket chains in this area. I hope the University Marketplace project can get out the ground - everything between Academy and Garrett could use a major reboot that includes some walkability and human-scale development.


In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

My parents still remember South Square Mall being built in the 1970s --from a meadow on the Chapel Hill Blvd.--We all saw it open in the summer of 1975. Most of us who went to Jordan High back in the 70s worked out there and certainly shopped there. It was in our school district, so we felt it was ours. Nationwide, that was the trend for shopping malls. An anchor store, (J. C. Penney and Belk-Leggett) at both ends of a rectangular two level mall with another anchor store, (originally Montgomery Ward) in the middle at what was known as center court. I have to admit the parking decks on the front and rear make it look hideous, but it was still Durham's largest mall. Tastes have changed in mall development...for the better!

In reply to by Aaron Thompson (not verified)

My parents are now in their eighties and they still remember South Square Mall being built "out of the dust". It served it's purpose for the time it was here. 27 years is not a long time, but Durham has "outgrown" a mall of that size. Durham is North Carolina's fourth largest city and I guess Streets at Southpoint is the norm now. I am glad I was a Jordan High School student at that time. South Square Mall was just the right size for me. I don't think my parents go out to Southpoint Mall much.They can tell you when there was nothing but Durham County's last traces of small farm property on Fayetteville Road, where the mall is now. Yeah Durham grew up ....and out!

In reply to by John Martin (not verified)

It's funny now that retail and life is returning to downtown Durham. We saw Sears and Belk-Leggett leave, but downtown has some nice shops and restaurants now.

@WCS - contrary to Anonymous, I do think the second photo is South Square -- I vaguely remember that semi-circular candy counter under the escalator at the north end of the central fountain area.

Wow, I remember going to his mall a lot during the mid to late 90's. If only there were some other pictures of inside..

South Square was just right for me. It was not too large for me to get around in. And it was large enough to have all the stores I needed. I liked the two levels with escalators on each end. We enjoyed dining in the cafeteria very much. When my daughter was in college she worked at the candy kiosk on the lower level. South Point is just too big and spread out for me to like. Parking there is terrible. Haven't been there much. Northgate too is spread out and not much there any more it seems. Sears is usually as far as I go.
I remember Chick-Fil-A being behind South Square to itself. If it was ever inside I don't recall. To me South Square was more convenient, and had more of an intimate feeling. I still miss it.

Contrary to all these other people (who me?), I don't miss South Square. Granted Target and Sam's Club aren't terribly attractive, but that's they way big boxes are being built these days, and frankly I don't think they're any uglier than South Square itself. I also think that Southpoint is a much nicer mall than South Square ever was. Part of my animus against South Square is simply that I remember what that parcel of land looked like before the mall tore it up. I don't know if Gary has any pictures or not, but on the other side of Chapel Hill Boulevard from South Square was a two story Colonial Revival style building that looked like a very large house. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, it was a restaurant called Blair House. It then became a huge gay bar called Blueberry Hill. I can remember sitting in that building on a pleasant afternoon along about 1972 or so, and gazing across Chapel Hill boulevard at a very large meadow that sloped up from the boulevard towards See more...

I remember those days well. I spent the bulk of my youth inside the Gold Mine which became Tilt Arcade. I learned how to drive a manual car, by playing the Atari Hard Drivin' which was replaced by Race Drivin' over the summers of 1994-1998. I even became employed at its rival, at Northgate Mall, the former Golden Nugget which became Cinnamonster, which gave way to Take Ten Arcade. I lived within a 40 minute walk of Northgate, which I traversed, to get to work. However, riding the DATA bus to South Square, well, it was like an event, and walking into the food court, and immediately seeing the Tilt Arcade on my left? The Subway to my far right, with the cute-as-hell Nubian girl, with those bright braces working there (hey, we went to the same high school, never did have the courage to ask her out)? Well, that was near magical, some days.

The first one looks like it very well could be, but the second one is definitely not. There was never a Zales at South Square, and the whole decor desn't look right at all.

I remember South Square mall with much fondness. My uncle Bill Boone, who owned London Marina, which eventually became Dashboard Stereo, was also my father, Butch Blanchard's boss. I spent a lot of time at London Marina as a kid watching my dad work on boats, and riding around the parking lot in the dune buggies that the fiberglass shop at London Marina built. I also remember Mike Rubish and his mini-golf course across the street. My late aunt Cathy Woods used to date Mike Rubish. He was a prominent character in the Durham area. The Unican Corp. which my uncle Bill owns is now located next to where Dashboard Stereo used to be. I used to walk down the hill behind that property as a kid to the mall to shop at Kaybee Toys. I also loved looking at the knives and cutlery at Remington Knives. Does anyone remember, or have any pictures of London Marina? I can't find any on the web. What great memories. I hate that South Square was torn down after only 27 years in business. What a shame.

Does anyone remember London Marina. It was right outside of South Square and later became Dashboard Stereo. If so, does anyone have any pictures of it? My father, Butch Blanchard worked there in the early 70's for my uncle Bill Boone who owned it. Bill still owns Unican which is in the same complex. I spent a lot of time there as a kid. My aunt Cathy Woods used to date Mike Rubish that owned the mini-golf and pro shop across the street where Toys r Us is now. I have a lot of great memories of that place. So much has changed since then.

I remember London Marina! I remember going there as a little kid in the '60's with my parents to look at boats...and they were giving out little plastic speed boats to the young ones. I hadn't thought of that in 30+ years.

Does anyone remember a small boutique at South Square called The Orchard? My uncle Bill Boone owned it, and my aunt and cousins worked there. I do wish someone could find pictures of the London Marina which was located outside South Square Mall. I spent a lot of time there as a child. They were masters of fiberglass, and used to repair Corvette bodies and they also built fiberglass bodied dune buggies. I remember riding around the parking lot in the dune buggies while sitting in my dads lap driving as best I could! I remember running into a dumpster one time! Good times!

The original plans for South Square called for a hotel and office tower, hence the weird entry into the back of the food court, and the exposed steel coming out of the concrete in the big open square in the back. It was to intended to like the Galleria in Houston TX, an early multiuse facilty. But the economy by 1975, its opening summer, precluded the frills like office towers and hotels. There was such a lost opportunity when SS came down, even though it was advertised that over 85% of the debris was recycled. The site could have been a major mixed use project with apartments, stores, hotels, etc, without the acres of blacktop out front. Didn't help that the owners of South Square were also partners in the new Southpoint Project. lwb

I'd love to have a nickel for every hour I spent in that mall. I remember being very small and going to the grand opening with my mom and grandmother. I knew at least one employee in almost every store. The Record Bar downstairs, Camelot Music upstairs. The Gold Mine is where all the boys hung out. The Hope Valley Baptist youth group practically ran ChicFilA. Which was cool b/c I knew them all and could get free food. Brooks, DA Kellys, Hofmeimers shoes. Trying on prom dresses at Montaldos, knowing we'd never afford one. Working at the Gap. The tiny elderly lady who worked the baby section at Belks. York Steak House, The Piccadilly, we ate lunch there one of its last days. Cards N Such. World Bazaar, Charms of the Orient. I took some outside pics just before they tore it down. And I think I have a picture of my friend working at Athletic Attic. And our Jordan yearbook sold an add to The Woods, with a picture of the staff standing in front of the store. Actually, now that I think about it, the 1988 Talon has a section of students at work, and most were at South Square. Several pictures of the students, but not too much background of the stores. I remember the heavily varnished railings and those slatted wood benches. I remember parking at the food court most times and nearly busting my tail on the slick brick walkway whenever it rained. (sniff) good times . . .

Anon I have no insight into the timing of that development, but that was the "University Marketplace" development I was referring to. My sense is that they got caught in the recession like most real estate developers, but the good news is that they've done a nice job rebooting Hope Valley Square - their capability there seems to give some cause for optimism that (eventually) the University Marketplace project will get off the ground. GK

What's every to become of the "Chuck E Cheese" side of this area. I had high hopes when they hung the mock up designs for stores like Poppies, "purchased" Crenshaw Law office, and placed a chain link fence around the area. The fence is now gone, Crenshaw seems here to stay and the cinder block piles I think move during the night. Any ideas or are we doomed to urban blight for many years to come?

It's rather sad to drive around the South Square area now. It seems so vacant and run down compared to 10 years ago when it was a hub of activity. It seems as if Southpoint is pretty much dominating the Durham retail market. I remember hearing rumors that once Southpoint wasd approved South Square stopped renewing leases to speed up the mall emptying out. I was always suprised the developer of the "new South Square" didn't try to include Dillards in the redevelopment plans prior to the store closing.

Tim Surprisingly, this was the only picture of South Square I could come up with. I have to imagine that people have some 3 x 5 or 4 x 6 shots of their own adventures at South Square sitting in a box somewhere - if anyone out there has more pictures that give a good sense of the interior or exterior of the mall, please scan and send them to me. I didn't encounter the mall until I was in college (1988,) so my experience was a bit different, but I well remember eating at Spinnaker's with college friends, buying stuff for my dorm room at Thalheimer's, getting Chik-fil-a and an orange julius at the food court, the movie theater, etc. GK

Gary, Great pics of a peice of Durham I grew up with in the early 80's. I was wondering, do you have any pictures of the interior? If I recall, it had a very mallish-80's flavor but it would be cool to see some pics of it again. I was sad to see it go. Many trips to South Square's Kaybee Toy Store were made much to my parents dismay...

What bothered me the most about the demolition of South Square was the loss of the covered parking deck - an actual place to park in the shade during the summer. That would have worked fine for the stores that they have there.

When I was born, my parents lived on Pickett Rd., and remember when the land that became South Square was rolling countryside. Of course, after it opened, we did a lot of our shopping with South Square. My main memories were of riding the escalator and throwing pennies in the fountains. South Square did have very nice indoor fountains. For a few years after we moved to Asheville, my grandmother and great aunt continued to live at the Valley Terrace Apartments on Chapel Hill Rd. One of their favorite lunches was to go to the Picadilly Cafeteria on the upper side of the mall. Clyde Edgerton's Lunch at the Piccadilly pretty clearly is about that location, even though it's supposedly set in a fictitious town. (His aunt went to church with my grandmother and great aunt at Pilgrim UCC and were friends, and we're pretty sure that there's a joke in the first chapter that's a quote from my great aunt Dilly.) On the one hand, so much more could have been done with the South Square site. On the other hand, at the time that the current bigboxopolooza went in, I rationalized it this way -- South Square lasted a scant 20 years before getting torn down. It sat vacant for a couple of years before something new went in. What are the chances that shopping center is going to last much more than 20 years? In 15 years or so, we'll get another shot at doing that space better, a design and an architecture that's worth keeping around. I'm with John M. on this. I don't much miss South Square, as the real loss came when it went in, not when it went down.

I miss South Square.' First I missed the stores that once were in my little home town of Hillsboro. Then I missed the stores in downtown Durham. Now I miss South Square. Things seem to change and move farther away. Get used to it. When South Square is a meadow again no one will be around to appreciate it.

OK, I've got to chime in. I bear no love for the lost South Square. It was loud and bright and busy and brash and far less tasteful than the comparatively calm (yet at that time thriving) Northgate. It had more stores than Northgate, yet few that sold anything I seemed to need. As a result, I went to Northgate far more often (and would still, if Northgate had any stores left...) That said, I did take my young kids to South Square to get pictures with Santa & the Easter Bunny. So strange that -- with my kids now barely in college -- South Square is but a whiff of memory! But it was, architecturally, hideous, both inside and out. I had to steel myself every time I went in. Even the big box stores that replaced it have better lines. And I find myself going to Target far more than I ever went to South Square. So I don't mourn its passing much. And the area may yet recover: I LOVE the new Asian market nearby, next to Toys R Us, where Circuit City used to be. This area may yet turn into a real town. Some day, it may even offer something more to pedestrians than a couple of brick walkways through the Sams Club/PetSmart/Target parking lot...!

I'm with the other dude, I miss the land that was where SouthPoint is more than SS mall. I had friends that lived closer to I-40/751/fville/barbee and when I got my drivers license we loved cruising the dirt roads crisscrossing through those woods. I wanted to live there when I "grew up" but then they tore down all the forest to make Southpoint area when I went to college.. I spent a lot of time and money at Gold Mine / Tilt in SS mall. That arcade was my babysitter for several summers. I could make 10 dollars last all day long in that mall.

@Anon I sympathize with what you're saying, and if I had ever lived in that part of Durham, I'd probably feel the same way about Southpoint. My personal preference would have been for retail to stay downtown. Then I could ride the Bull City Connector to B

I can me and my friends would spent hours in the game room mainly playing the football games back in the late 70's thru the early 80's. It became so popular that they used to have leagues. After that I would go to Schano's pizza and the 2 slice special. My-my-my.....those were the days.

to John Martin . . . You say that you prefer Southpoint to South Square. Interesting, since the way you feel about what South Square did to the landscape is exactly how I feel about Southpoint. I grew up near there. My school bus rode right down Fayetteville Rd. There were small farmhouses, beautiful rolling pastures, huge 100+ year-old oak trees. And now it's all gone, and the sprawl is spreading like a cancer, just as the powersthatbe promised they wouldn't allow it to do. I have yet to set foot in that horrible place. It's a matter of principle.

@John Martin I think you're hitting on a really interesting point about malls vs. strip malls. I can't stand any malls, mostly because of the sea of parking around almost all of the them and the general lack of interesting, independent stores (well, that

I quit my job at the Golden Corral Steakhouse on Chapel Hill Blvd to go and work at the York Steakhouse which turned out to be a big mistake but I still got to go girl watching and I got to hangout in the game room. It was a great place to socialize with other high school students in the 70's. what I would do to just relive those days for just a summer. R.I.P. South Square.....

> The tiny elderly lady who worked the baby section at Belks. I worked in the baby section part-time in high school. I remember her too, but I can't remember her name. She was a sweet old lady.

Why are all the cool old 70s malls the ones to be remodeled with ugly stucco or closed and demolished... especially here in the south!? SouthPark, Carolina Circle, Crabtree to an extent... I'm glad we have a few vestiges of that era left such as Dillard's University Mall.

A few years after South Square was built came the end to Mike Rubish's Golf City. Early 80's maybe. Driving range, par 3, miniature golf and a stocked pro shop. Mike was one of Durham and Chapel Hills very interesting characters. If I remember correctly he played football at UNC and possibly the NFL.

Man, I miss that place... even bought our wedding bands there at Forrest Jewelers.

I think Erik's point is very, very interesting, and one that gets at what I found interesting about doing this post - I suspected that people would have a lot of great memories from the mall; at the same time, the mall was pretty abysmal architecture/sea of parking, etc. To extend Erik's good points about the problems with strip malls/big boxes vs. mall, I don't believe you'll ever see the kind of stories and memories recounted in the comments above about Target, Sam's Club, et al. I, too, would take a vibrant downtown any day over the mall, but there is no denying that - perhaps particularly for my generation that grew up in the 70s and 80s, the mall was the hub of social activity, where parents would drop off their too young to drive teens, and we'd wander around, socialize, try to get up the nerve to go talk to someone, eat, look at stuff we'd like to have, etc. And that's really the stuff that gives places salience over time - memory, social interaction, context for our strong memories of being a teenager/young adult. So it is for the places downtown that people remember from the 40s and 50s. So the mall succeeds in being a place that people value - at the same time, it creates problems - particularly for young people, by its isolation, lack of non-privatized 'public' space, etc. I agree with Erik that the strip mall lacks the mall's virtues - it is purely utilitarian in allowing people to procure stuff in a car-based world. And I think that's an opening for downtowns - because people are still going to crave places that create social interaction, and I have to wonder about whether, as the malls become more and more regional, the 'social space' density need doesn't stay at a smaller scale. It's also interesting to me to speculate about the effect of our previous generation of strip malls - the 1960s and early 1970s were really heyday of the strip mall, when stores abandoned downtown and moved (locally) to Lakewood, Forest Hills, Northgate (as strip center), Loehman's, Wellons' , etc. People express memories of those places, but they haven't seemed to be the same - perhaps they went with a parent when they were really young, or similar. But was it a place you could (or would) hang out all day as a teenager with a meager amount of money in your pocket? I'm pretty far past my pay grade here, but what's the net effect when downtown is near dead and being torn down, as it was in the 1960s, and the retail hubs around which people will congregate have no provision of 'socialization/activity space' It's clearly important that we have those spaces - the question then comes back around to where they are created and who can create them. And that gets into the bigger questions about highways, etc. that John raises- because privately built retail/social spaces are going to follow household income density and car accessibility. Fascinating stuff- thanks everyone. GK

Tim Thanks for upping my Durham cred score, but I'm afraid I'm going to lose it again when I say that I haven't ever heard of Batton's Quickshop on Guess - thanks for mentioning it - GK

Gary, Spinnakers!!! Not that you don't already have the most Durham-cred of any person I know but remembering Spinnakers just took you to a whole new level. Wow, impressive is all I can say. Btw, this is an incredible sight and I love not only reading about Durham's past but also getting updates on where we are going as a community. I really can't say how thankful I am to you for doing this. Great, great sight. PS- Ever heard of Batton's Quickshop in the 80's next to Jimmy's Grill on Guess Rd? It was a little hole in the wall but it had local fame for great biscuits and chuckwagons when I was growing up.

That grainy picture at the top really looks like a scene from Dawn of the Dead. It would have been a great place for a zombie lurch

I was strongly opposed to the construction of Southpoint, in part because of concern for the environment, but even more because I thought it would hinder efforts to move retail shopping back downtown. I thought it added insult to injury that they fashioned Southpoint to look like fake Durham. But as the new Downtown Durham has begun to really take shape, I'm actually kind of glad that the big chain shops -- the Gap, Ambercrombie & Fitch, etc. -- are all located somewhere other than downtown. The only chain that I can think of in Downtown Durham is the McDonalds, and hopefully that will go at some point. And I do end up shopping at Southpoint, so in the end, I'm not as disturbed by it as I thought I would be. I have so many, many memories of going to the old South Square. When I close my eyes and picture walking around inside, it is tough for me to even reconcile my memories with the reality that it's not there anymore. It just felt so permanent. I didn't really have any love for the mall beyond the nostalgia of my youth. A mixed use solution to that space would certainly have been more interesting, but then again, who wants to live right by a highway? Incidentally, Jim, I do remember Blair House (a place I did go), and Blueberry Hill (a place I wanted to go, but couldn't -- too young). I remember driving to Chapel Hill as a pre-teen, and my mom telling me that at the rate they were going there would be no trees between Durham and Chapel Hill, and that it would all be bulldozed and turned into shopping centers. I didn't believe here at the time, but she sure was right.

I remember when South Square was built also Northgate Mall. When I was in high school we hung out at Northgate every Friday and Sat. nite. but, when I was a kid South Square had a store called the World Bazaar(sp). My friend and I were at Mike Rubish's Golf Course (where Toys R Us is located) we were playing putt putt and decided to walk the golf course and found a bank bag at the pond. It was the zipper kind we opened it and it was full of checks to the World Bazaar. No cash just checks we called the police and met them at JC Penneys. The World Bazaar had been robbed and the robbers took the cash and threw the checks in the pond. Sad thing is my little brother got the reward, he told the owner he found the checks (the little s@$t) all was forgivin.

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