Community Stories

Do You Remember Parkway City Mall? The Brown Times: Part Two

With the renovation of Parkway Center, Parkway City Mall emerged in the spring of 1976 as a less elaborate space than The Mall. It was built on a smaller scale, with lower ceilings and much, much more brown. 

The entryways were a nondescript coffee color with plain yellow lettering. Inside, the floors were bright white, but there was a lot of beige brick and wood. Mid-mall kiosks gave the appearance that they were fashioned from peach baskets atop apple crates. The coffee color was here, as well, framing the shops’ facades and low-key signage. 

Convenient to Jones Valley and South Huntsville, Parkway City almost instantly attracted a more mature, affluent clientele than The Mall. Two snazzy department stores, Parisian and Pizitz, anchored the south end, and a huge movie theater, The Madison, was toward the northeast corner. From there, one trekked down a lonely passageway to northeast extremity of the structure — Montgomery Ward. 

Maybe it was doing well in other cities, but in Huntsville, I never could figure out exactly why the Montgomery Ward existed. There never seemed to be anybody in there, and every single aspect of the place seemed, in the words of my Aunt Bettye, “Like tryin’ to and cain’t.” 

Long before Sears, J.C. Penney and K-Mart began their national decline, Montgomery Ward offered a preview of retail oblivion.

I can’t prove it, but I’m going to say that the decline of Parkway City began with Montgomery Ward and worked its way southward. The Madison closed, and attempts to fill the space it occupied were never especially successful. 

Still, though, the two anchor stores, Parisian and McRae’s — who bought out Pizitz — were doing well. Word was that even when a colossal, splashy, high-tech new Parisian opened four miles west at the new “supermall” — Madison Square Mall — the Parkway City location always sold more merch and made more money. 

At roughly the same time, The Mall was getting a little rough around the edges, but it continued to do pretty well into the 80s. At some point or other, though, somebody must have considered the competition, looked around and determined, “This place just isn’t brown enough.” 

The Mall was never an especially bright space. A translucent clerestory provided constant ambient light during the day, and direct lighting made for moody pools of illumination in the evening. 

The era’s demand for brown would make The Mall even darker. The greyish, textured concrete floors were covered with brick veneer. That wasn’t so bad, but they also added dark bronze, semi-reflective metallic slats overhead, obscuring the blueish natural light. 

Human beings are meant to have brown earth beneath us and blue sky above. Having that much brown looming over  one’s head was oppressive, imparting the ambiance of a lignite coal mine. Whether this makeover marked the beginning of the end for The Mall is open to debate, but it was almost certainly the end of the beginning. 

Loveman’s closed in the early 80s, and in 1984, J.C. Penney moved to Madison Square.

The Loveman’s space was occupied by Books-A-Million and Toys ‘R’ Us. A new south entrance led to a corridor running between the stores, into The Mall’s main concourse. The opening into the mall was equipped with a formidable security gate that closed at 9:00, so that Books-A-Million and Toys ‘R’ Us could stay open after mall hours. 

The Mall limped along for a few more years, but eventually, inevitably, the gate closed for the last time, the mall opening was bricked over, and the south end of The Mall became a free-standing entity. 

Demolition began for a complex named “The Fountain,” but I’ve never heard anyone call the loose assemblage of Home Depot, Costco, Staples and Starbucks by that name. 

A Huntsville landmark — which could only be described as beloved — had returned to the red clay from which it arose, and a generation of Huntsvillians would bristle when anyone dared to refer to the upstart Madison Square as “the mall.” 

About the author

Brad Hall

Brad Hall

Brad Hall is a pastor and the author of "Lousy Roger and Other Tales: A collection of Lectionary-based Sermons," available on Amazon.com. In 2014, after 27 years of courtship, he married pop culture scholar Deborah Ann Miller. They share a place with two dogs, Glancye and Scotty, and two cats, Quirkie and Brucie.

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