Easily qualifying today as “super regional”, Atlanta’s LENOX SQUARE MALL had more humble beginnings. The center was first conceived in the mid-1950′s as an open-air shopping plaza of 52 retailers. It was originally anchored by two department stores, Rich’s and Davison’s, and -upon its grand opening in August of 1959- featured a Colonial supermarket, Kresge 5 & 10, Haverty’s furniture store, two local bank branches, a bowling alley, and an outparcel Gulf service station that resembled a spaceship. It was, after all, the era of futuristic, “space age” style architecture…that, now known as “Googie” or “Populuxe”.
In its original incarnation, LENOX SQUARE was built on two levels, with the parking lot having two levels as well. The first, coming off of the Peachtree Road lot in front, had the Rich’s store and open-air, landscaped, main corridor, which extended toward East Paces Ferry Road. Then, there was a descent onto a large, open court, which had tree planters and two fountains. The main entrance to the second anchor store, Davison’s, was situated on this lower level court, as was the Kresge 5 & 10 and Colonial supermarket.
Also along this lower level was the parking lot which was entered from Lenox Road. There was a bevy of stores facing onto this lot, built underneath those in the main mall above. These stores were not a part and parcel of the upper level main corridor. Many today, who recall earlier incarnations of LENOX, do not even remember these lower level stores being there.
Likewise, the existence of a movie theater -within the actual shopping mall- is sometimes forgotton. However, the mall did have one. Lenox Square Theatre was not in operation at the time of the 1959 grand opening, but came along later, in June, 1963. The theater first started out as a nicely-appointed, 660 seat, auditorium. A second, less elaborate, one was opened in conjunction with the first, in 1967.
The early days -space age design- version of LENOX SQUARE existed until the early 1970′s, when the main mall corridor was enclosed. The soaring concrete arches overhead were ripped out. A new mall corridor was also added, with a Neiman Marcus department store at its end. Another major renovation took place in 1980, when the open-air, lower level court was torn out. The Colonial supermarket, by then a Big Star, was razed, and a stunning new tri-level food court built. This was soon joined by a MARTA rapid transit station, located adjacent to the mall’s new rear entrances. This opened in December of 1984. It was also around this time that a multi-level parking garage was built in the Lenox Road lot.
Even more renovations have been done. These completed the transformation of the circa-1959 “Googie style” center into the sprawling, “new millennium mod” mall of today. In 1995, the main corridor had a second level concourse added. The old Rich’s anchor store was also enlarged and its facade modernized to comply with the 21st century aesthetic. Moreover, a second multi-level parking structure was built in the lot off of East Paces Ferry Road.
The present-day, 665,000 square foot -four level- LENOX SQUARE currently boasts over 240 stores, and is billed as the “Southeast’s premier shopping destination”. Quite a contrast to the open-air, space age center of nearly 50 years ago. Witnessing the glitz and glamour of LENOX SQUARE today, one finds it almost impossible to believe that, in a bygone day and age, this same shopping center featured, as tenants, a modest 5 and 10, supermarket, bowling alley, movie theater, golf driving range and liquor store. Granted, there were also the upscale clothing shoppes, as well as the “full service” Rich’s and Davison’s department stores…but there did exist a distinctly middle-class element to the mall. This was true of most, if not all, shopping mall meccas of the 1950′s and 60′s. It was not until the late 70′s that shopping malls tended to court a classier clientele across the board.
Soon after this shopping mall shift to the more upscale, “full service” department stores across the nation began downsizing their operations. Individual store chains, which had operated in many cities since the nineteenth century, were bought and absorbed into a more centralized national corporate entity. Hence, the Davison’s store at LENOX became -first- a Macy’s…….then a Bloomingdale’s. The Rich’s moniker hung around for a bit longer, but the store eventually came under the Macy’s nameplate in the late 1990′s. The LENOX Neiman Marcus is the only anchor in the mall that has retained its name-identity since it first opened.
So, LENOX survived the retail store upheavals of the late 20th century in stride. The proliferation of abandoned, obsolete, “dead malls” in the late 1990′s did not phase it one iota. The mall thrives today where its early 60′s metro-Atlanta counterparts (namely, Smyrna’s COBB COUNTY SHOPPING CENTER and Decatur’s COLUMBIA MALL) went belly-up, and were “renovated” with a wrecking ball.