Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Stewart-Lakewood Shopping Center

Built in 1952 at the intersection of Stewart and Lakewood Avenues and known to us as Stewart and Lakewood Shopping Center, the second open air mall in Atlanta, the first being Lenox Square, loomed and glowed less than a quarter mile from Oana Street, the location of my childhood home and where my family moved in 1955. Growing up in the shadow of a mall like that had its perks, but it also had its down side.
With a Colonial grocery store within spitting distance, any one of my siblings or I could be sent on the errand for a loaf of bread or five pound bag of flour. Since we would be given the exact amount of money, including tax, and the approximate time involved to run the errand closely monitored – to make sure that we didn't, you know, “dawdle,” we tended not to embrace this assignment.
 Frontage of Stewart and Lakewood Shopping Center
We approached the mall from the west side on Fleet Street, a short access road that began at Perkerson Road and t-boned and dead-ended at Brewer Boulevard, the main thoroughfare that gracefully wove through our area and neighborhood of Sylvan Hills.

Fleet Street also ran on the east side of Perkerson Elementary, my grammar school, and the muddy hill full of scrub pines and other unsightly vegetation banked up to the corner edge of the property and ran the length of the baseball field on the playground. A tall, chain linked fence boarded that edge, surrounded the perimeter of the school yard, and kept children contained during recess. It also prevented the seventh graders from ducking from the teacher's sight and strolling over to the mall.

When asked of what he remembers about Stewart and Lakewood, my brother Hunter wrote this:

Before the shopping center expansion, the land was just undeveloped scrub forest.  There might have been one or two ramshackle houses on the property, but if so I don't remember them.  I seem to remember that Fleet Street was not complete, but just dead ended half way down, with a dirt track heading east over to Stewart behind the original strip mall.

The expanded mall, set in a cross shape and completed in early 1960,  had two corridors of about twenty stores on each side facing one another across a green space and allowed for four main points of entry.

Some of the bigger stores like JC Penny, Colonial, and Woolworth's, where Hunter cruised the aisles checking out the 45s, had both a front and back entrance. The back entrance at Woolworth's had a single door opening on the side of the mall's east entrance. This accommodated those shoppers who wish to park near an entrance, run in a particular store, and not have to walk past other stores to get to it. The idea must have been to streamline the shopping experience.
Covered walkways, opened to the center of the mall, ran the length of the mall and perpendicular to the fronts of each store. Several covered walkway, like breeze ways, crisscrossed to stores opposite and provided shelter to the shoppers during inclement weather: the sound of pounding rain on the aluminum roofs is a distant but distinctive memory.

Thick, steel poles held up these roofs and made “cool” leaning spots for the itinerant teenager. On numerous occasions I wrapped my hand around one of those poles, leaned as close to the ground as I could, and then circled the pole till I was dizzy for entertainment. The smell of those poles lingered on my hands.

Giving the mall a park like feel were the many shrubs and trees that had been planted down its center. A lot of the time the grass grew high and unkempt and the trees topped the roof line. Poured, concrete squares gave the middle area plenty of gathering space.

On the left, JC Penny, and the right, Lerner Shops, draped either side of the west entrance or “our entrance.” {I had a part time job as a sales clerk at Lerner's when I was fifteen – the age when you could first work legally as a minor – }.

Lerner Shops, a budget store for women's apparel and accessories, boasted large, plate glass windows with dressed mannequins featuring the trendy clothes of the time. Longing for the money to buy “ready made,” I walked that side entrance many times and looked covetously at their displays.

On the east entrance was Woolworth's and Lee's Men Shop. The south entrance boasted Colonial and a jewelry store – {Friedman's or Thomas --- could have been one then the other}. I bought several silver charms for my bracelet [most notably a small boot with an “S” on it for being a member of my high school's drill team] from there.

Picked out by my sister Margaret, my daddy purchased a mother's ring from Thomas Jeweler, a popular piece of jewelry at the time. By the number of stones in the setting, in my mother's case four, the wearer showed the birth months of her children  –  we were garnet, diamond, emerald, and ruby. [The ring is now in my possession and worn in remembrance of her.]

Other stores at Stewart and Lakewood were Butler's Shoes, W.T. Grant's, Western Auto [where Daddy worked at one time], Federal Bake Shop, Rhode's Furniture, a shoe repair, Atlanta Federal Savings and Loan, Huddle House, Jacob's Pharmacy, Dipper Dan Ice Cream, and The Cricket Shop, which carried the designer Villager line. At one point, Stewart and Lakewood added a Kroger.

We shopped that Kroger when I was in high school, and they eliminated the need of bag boys to take out the groceries by giving out a “buggy number” so that Daddy could drive up and get in line to pick up our groceries, as the number of the buggy was written on a type of claim's check.

The mall also had their own fabric store that I despised shopping in since the strong dye from the textiles, probably polyester – LOL, made my eyes water. Unfortunately, we frequented it for patterns and material to send to my aunts in Virginia, who graciously and beautifully sewed clothing for my mother, sister, and me.

At Christmas, Stewart-Lakewood had a singular sight and famous in Atlanta, and people drove from other areas of the city to see it. The merchants decorated the center of the mall with a gigantic Santa Claus that towered over the one story retail stores and boosted Christmas sales.

As a child, that “thing” was huge and easily seen from all sides of the mall – but it reality, probably only twenty to thirty feet tall.

The red capped head, blue eyes, over rouged cheeks, his right hand raised in a wave [at one time, I think it actually moved], and white bearded face lorded over the mall.

When Santa was featured for the first time, I don't know, but in the waning years of the 1960s, he showed much wear and tear. Whatever he was made from or of [I distinctly remember chicken wire], it disintegrated, and the red material of his suit faded, the bottom pieces of black boots sported holes, and pieces fell or were misplaced from its façade. By the early 1970s, Stewart-Lakewood had quit the yearly tradition.

BTW: That big Santa had a funky, pungent smell – mold and mildew? Reindeer refuse?

During Boy Scout Jamborees, the local troops built small towers in the center of the mall and did demonstrations of climbing as well as other aspects of merit badges. I just remember my brother Kenneth having to stay at the shopping center all day on a Saturday for the Jamboree, and we had to do his chores.

See, I remember the important stuff.

In 1963, Perkerson's area Brownie and Girl Scouts troops had an event in the center of the mall that drew a crowd, eh, mostly parents. As a seventh grader, my sister and her fellow Girl Scouts wore green shorts and white shirts and danced to the “Peppermint Twist.” Totally jealous of that, I'm sure, we fourth graders and the lesser rank, a Brownie, performed some kind of  lame skit that told a story. I had a starring role, of course, as I dressed in a long, white gown, and at the end of the event lay prostrate on the platform – in a totally convincing imitation of death.
Margaret gets ready to "twist."
 "Come on baby, let's do the twist."
I sit on the side waiting for my cue.
I'm sure here I do or say something fabulous ...
and then I truly show my acting chops.
One story we all remember is the time that Hunter had an encounter with security at JC Penny when they accused him of stealing a pair of socks. The store manager called home and talked to mother who assured them that she had sent him there to return them. Her recalling of the color of the socks [maroon] convinced them he wasn't lying. We rallied around Hunter and were positively miffed that he had to suffer the humiliation of such an accusation.

Lawd. Socks. It was an innocent time.

My best friend Marcie and I rode her bike or walked to Stewart and Lakewood when we were allowed. We hit up Jacob's Pharmacy and split [two straws] a cherry Coke, the fountain kind with the turbo, carbonated water, syrup, and the actual cherry in the bottom of the Coke glass. If we had an extra twenty cents, which wasn't often, we headed to Federal Bakery for a chocolate éclair, stuffed with real whipped cream, a decadent treat that brought me much joy. That yeasty smell and sugary deliciousness forever embedded in my childhood bank of memories along with the tinkle the bell made as we opened the door.

One afternoon as Marcie and I were returning from Stewart and Lakewood and on Fleet Street, a man flashed us from his car. So close, yet so far from home, and frightened as well as puzzled by such an act, we sprinted up the steep street, made a left on Brewer, and fled to Oana and the confines of Marcie's house. There we breathlessly promised each other to tell no one of what had occurred – we knew it was bad, and we didn't want our parents to keep us from our treks to S&L. From then on, when visiting the mall and headed home, we, spooked like race horses at the sight of a snake, always ran up Fleet Street. The experience made an indelible ugly mark on our excursions for Cokes and éclairs. When we were adults, Margaret told me of a similar incident she had there.

By the time my parents left Atlanta's south side in 1978, they had abandoned most of their shopping at S&L except for groceries, the shoe repair, or the National Bank of Atlanta which was later located in a stand alone building in the parking lot of Stewart and Lakewood next to the public library.

Built at the fall of 1965 and less than five miles west on Route 166/Lakewood Freeway [now named Langford Parkway] the air conditioned comforts and heated air of Greenbriar, Atlanta's third closed mall, took the shopping away from Stewart and Lakewood.

When we became teenagers and more mobile, the attraction of its upscale stores like Rich's, Thom McAnn Shoes, and the Five, Seven, and Nine Shop had us speeding down Greenbriar Parkway/or the Lakewood Freeway to the environs of a “real” mall. In our eyes, Stewart and Lakewood became "no where."

I got into some serious trouble at Greenbriar one time, but who's interested in that?

Thanks to the following for pictures and information for this blog entry:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Barbarian Nurseries

For the past four years, Araceli Ramirez worked for the Thompson-Torres family as a live-in maid. Located high in the California suburbs with a view of the Pacific, the huge house that she keeps sparkling clean has been a constant source of curiosity for her – especially the expansive library of books, electronic toys, and spaciousness of the bedrooms of the two oldest children – a place that she calls “The Room of a Thousand Wonders.”

Araceli dreams, fantasizes, and desires a different kind of life, but after fleeing from Mexico City, the home of these Americans with their guest quarters, which she occupies alone, seems a place for her to gather these reveries and work toward a reality she wants, one of autonomy.

When Scott Torres lets their full time nanny and groundskeeper go because of a soft economy, the quality fabric that had been the Torres's life begins to tear and snarl, and Araceli finds herself caught in its unraveling: first, with more responsibilities, ones of which she, with her limited English, navigates poorly and second, with a domestic situation that sets off a chain of events whose tenseness becomes palpable.

In Hector Tobar's The Barbarian Nurseries, the life of Araceli, the Torreses, and the decisions they both make in the wake of unsettling events underlie this fascinating novel of class and culture.

Tobar's ability to find the voice of all involved, his attention to details that matter, and the taut suspense that permeates the atmosphere of the plot seals his place as a true American novelist.

BTW: After I had read about one half of this novel, I told my friend Laura, “these people worry me.”

Friday, July 19, 2013

Moonlight Feels Right

As I was just now reading a review in the Atlanta Journal about a pretty successful cover band out of Atlanta named Yacht Rock Revue, I came across the name of a band, also from Atlanta, that I had totally forgotten --- Starbuck.

My friend Darlene loved these guys. When they played at one of the venues, the Mad Hatter or Scarlet O'Hara's, in the mid 1970's at the then hopping Underground Atlanta, she made sure she had a front row seat.

If I was ever there for that, I don't remember -- but I do remember listening proudly, as an Atlantan, whenever this song played on the local radio station. Oh, and I think they played it a lot.


"The wind blew some luck in my direction
I caught it in my hands today
I finally made a tricky French connection
You winked and gave me your okay...."

Feels Right.

And yeah, we thought they looked cool.

FTR: One guy on You Tube claimed this song climbed at one point in 1976, to number three. According to this site, it was number 34 on the Billboard pop charts in 1976.

Hard to believe.

But maybe.

After all -- on that same list, just look --- they were beaten out by the likes of Johnnie Taylor, Wild Cherry, and Hot Chocolate.

I mean, after all, it was the 70s.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Asheville, 2013

From the late 1940s up until her death from leukemia in 1964, my mother's oldest sister Nancy and her husband Uncle BW lived on a road that led up to Beaucatcher Mountain in Asheville, North Carolina.

That mountain's name always tickled me -- "Beau catcher" -- and I used to love to say it; you can, of course, imagine its origin. I mean it's not that hard ---


David and I went to Asheville [and visited the Biltmore Estate] on a snowy weekend in 1988 -- and I asked him to marry me, but that's a story for another blog.... perhaps, I invoked the power of Beaucatcher Mountain.


This past weekend, David and I set out from our mountain house in Lakemont to visit Asheville, and see what has become of it --- [it's only about 90 miles], and as I had heard -- it's a place under renovation -- or should I put it -- renaissance? Cool, hip, and bustling with energy, the sleepy, mountain town of my childhood had vanished and replaced with a town impressed with itself.

Note to self: Uh, that was like fifty years ago.

We decided to drive straight into downtown, and we ran right into -- you guessed it -- traffic and tourists -- the double whammy of freedom. Not a single parking slot on the street, we pulled into a parking high rise and paid a dollar to park for as long as we liked, unlike the big metropolis of Atlanta where your parking slot can cost as much as your lunch.

So, we took a stroll and mingled with businessmen and women in their office attire, aging and young hippies in their retro garb, panhandlers, and the "every corner" had one --- long haired and fragrant, street musicians strumming for donations.

Among the many kinds of food [noodle shops, Thai, sushi, Italian, Salsa] to choose from for lunch, we ended up dining at Farm Burger, the place with the longest line and the most locals, the litmus test of where to dine. I found out later that this is a chain. *shrugs*

 the simplicity of the table set -- [but then a friend of mine wondered about whether children could possibly have licked the utensils.... you know before we got there]

love the chairs

always thrilled to have his photo taken


Taken outside the Asheville art museum -- don't know if this is about basketball or wine...

but it was pretty cool looking.

 a boutique

 a coffee shop

and I bought a couple of postcards from this photographer.


That's all I got.