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:







13 comments:

  1. Pretty amazing stuff here. I know this area like the back of my hand. I had friends living on Oana. I went to Perkerson Elementary and spent a lot of time at SL Shopping Center. The pictures here predate my time in the area by about 2 years though just looking at these pictures gave me a chill. In the first photo, in the upper right, is that gothic font. Was that Friedman's ? Can't remember dammit. Anyway we used to hit Jacob's also for some soda fountain action. Sometimes we would bounce over to Orange Julius which came a little later (as did Woolco). You could see the fireworks from the Southeastern Fair which came every Fall. I also spent lots of time at the SL Branch of the Atlanta Public Library which remains to this day.

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    1. Great reminder about the fireworks from the fair. I am polling my siblings for memories from the fair, a fall event that all school children looked forward to since we got a free ticket, and I believe, we got a 1/2 day the Friday before it.
      Who did you know on Oana?

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    2. On Oana it was the Smith family - can't remember the parents' names but the kids, Scott and Ken, were comparable in age to my brother and myself. We played baseball at Perkerson Park which, quite interestingly, is an active "Frisbee Golf" course held in some esteem by players of that sport. And relative to the Fair - yea they did float us free tickets via the Schools. One of my teachers didn't like that. Felt that it distracted us (we would be distracted even if they didn't give us the free ticket). I loved going to that Fair. We also used to go to Funtown and Goofy Golf next to 72 lanes. We also skated at the rink located behind 72 lanes. I had a Great Aunt who lived over in Lakewood Heights - you could walk to the Fair from her house.

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    3. Don't remember that name -- the Smiths --- but that was a long time ago. We used to walk to the fair as well before Lakewood Freeway was built, I think.

      I have lots of fond memories of Perkerson Park too -- my brother and friends played baseball there, and I was a grade school cheerleader for the football teams. We used to walk there and back all the time -- and I think it was several miles from our house.

      I went to Funtown and the skating rink there as well. On one of the sites listed above, I read comments from others from the area who talked about that goofy golf course. I had totally forgotten about it.

      Was it really 72 lanes?

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog -- there might be other entries here about Sylvan Hills that you like.

      I love the input. I find it fascinating what others remember about that area.



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    4. Yes. 72 Lanes was the Bowling Alley next to Fun Town and the Goofy Golf place. Across the street were some slot car racing places which later became a Shakey's pizza. There was also a Lum's restaurant very close by. They had another Lum's location on Sylvan Rd. in the same little shopping center that contained Hays and Weldon pharmacy. This was across from the Big Apple grocery store. I grew up right off of Stewart Avenue near where it intersected with Perkerson Rd. (Nalley Chevrolet was there). Anyway, I used to get ice cream at Dipper Dan and get my hair cut at the barber shop next to it. Those "barbers" were ancient and knew only how to give buzz cuts. I'll say one thing for them - they were quick - the entire haircut took about 2 minutes.

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  2. Bobby Mckenney/ Dr. Bob CummingsOctober 12, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    I remember all of these places. My step father was the manager of the Rhodes Furniture store. The Browz a bit was my favorite place. The manager used to give me boxes of paperbacks with the covers removed and I learned to read literature there and had a fascination for science fiction. That's probably why I went on to college and an eventual doctorate...
    I remember Stricklands hobbies, the barber shop, Dipper Dan, etc. I spent most of my childhood in the furniture store after hours.
    I went to Perkerson elementary from the 4th to the 7th grade and on to Sylvan high. Those were the days.

    I enjoyed reading these memories!

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  4. Nice comments! I grew up in this area as well. I lived in the Polar Rock neighborhood that was located at the southern dead end of Pryor Road. We shopped at Colonial Foods and went to the Otasco or Western Auto? Which one? I remember a small Drive In theatre across from Arthur Treachers Fish on Stewart Ave. Also at the Bowling Alley (72 Lanes) that had slot car racing as well which my older brother did. I remember at the skating ring on the back side of the bowling alley. The skating rink manager would throw at pennys on the rink floor for the kids. The penny's could be used for the penny candy coin machines and if you got the penny with a hole in it you got a free drink. I attended Brewer Elementary which was names after Lester R. Brewer, a former city of Atlanta councilman. The same Brewer for the Brewer Parway you mentioned? Also, about Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center, we regularly visited the Library on the same property next to the bank. The library had a summer film festival for the children. Across the street from their was Lee Optical and a Hostess Shop with a man would dress up like a Twinkie haha. Down around the corner was the only Kentucky Fried Chicken I remember from the area. We visited Hayes and Weldon Pharmacy on Sylvan road for milkshakes and that nice stick candy. Down the road on Stewart was Zayres and the McDonalds for the area. My family had a nice life living in our neighborhood. I loved growing up in Southeast Atlanta. :)

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  5. Hays and Weldon was a classic old school pharmacy. Soda fountain, comic books, etc. They also had that tube testing machine (lots of places did of course - like King Hardware). Just take your tube and check it out. I'm laughing because I'm betting that anyone under 45 reading this might not have a clue what I'm talking about ! There was also a slot car racing place in the same strip as H&W as well as a LUMs restaurant. My first crush lived across the street in what was then the brand new Caribou Apartments. She was so pretty but I could never muster the courage to say a word to her. The skating rink on the side of 72 Lanes was quite popular. Had lots of fun there. Couples skate / All skate - could never quite master backwards skating.

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  6. Hi Can someone help confirm the location of some businesses in that area from the 60s and early 70s ? I grew up there but my memories are fuzzy. 1) Caruso's I think was originally down next to Nalley Chevrolet on the same side was it not ? In the 70s it moved up next to the Kroger they built at Langston and Stewart. 2) Clete Boyer had a bar that I think was in the pocket across from Nalley. I also think that that same location had a bar called the Chicken Shack. Could someone confirm or correct ? Thanks,

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    1. I remember the Chicken Shack being across from Nalley on Stewart Ave. I was too young to go in there.

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  7. good day, discovered your blog concerning stewart Lakewood shopping center.

    The shopping center was built in 1952 . Lenox mall was first opened in 1959. I attended to opening day events there.
    S/L mall was built out in several phases. When it was first opened looking at the mall facing north, the orginal mall was the part to the right and faces stewart ave. Then the second addition was the part that is now demolished to the left of the mall. The third was the area that contained the theater and shops on the north side. North of the S/L mall was a Zayere's. Just a bit farther north and on the east side of stewart ave, was the funtown that was mentioned in MLK's speech. Growing up in the area I always enjoyed the ability to to be able to bicycle all of the area surrounding the mall area as at that time it was a great place to live. I lived there from 1952 -1974.

    On an additional note about the area. Fulton county ran a chain gang camp located on Cleveland ave. The camp still exists, located on the south side of cleveland on the fulton county school board property between I-85 and springdale. The convicts were marched up the then dirt road springdale to a rock quarry located off of sylvan rd just a bit north of peg road. Every day during the summer us kids would watch the convicts march all chained together to do their hard days labor breaking rocks with sledges.

    Brookdale park during this time was just an overgrown field that the local neighbors started clearing to make a place for us boys to play baseball and ride our go carts. It was also the site of the annual news years day barnfire. All the kids in the neighborhood after Christmas, would collect all the discarded trees in the area and have a great fire after dark on new years day. The kid that collected the most trees was allowed to throw the torch that lite the fire.

    From JW, a Sylvan Road resident

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  8. Yep - I used to play in that rock quarry as a kid. We could sneak into it from the parking lot of the small church that was located on Springdale Circle. Easy access. After the chain gang moved there were winos who moved into the quarry which had small caves. We got to know some of these characters. Anyway I've started a blog in Stewart Avenue at http://stewartavekid.wordpress.com to captures some of the grittier aspects of the area.

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