HANCOCK CENTER
East 41st and Red River Streets
Austin, Texas

By January of 1964, Little Rock's Dillard's Department Stores chain had five locations, which operated under the names Mayer & Schmidt, Brown-Dunkin and Gus Blass. These stores were located in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

A sixth unit, the first to operate under a bona fide Dillard's banner, began business in February 1964. The 2-level (88,000 square foot) store was one of two anchors at Austin, Texas' new HANCOCK CENTER.

Noteworthy as the city's first mall-type shopping hub, the 500,000 square foot, open-air complex was the second mall built by Chicago-based Homart Development (the first being Fort Worth's SEMINARY SOUTH CENTER). HANCOCK CENTER sat on 34.2 acres, located 2 miles northeast of the Texas State Capitol.

The shopping hub had had something of a rocky start. Its story began in the year 1900, when Austin Mayor Lewis Hancock established the Austin Country Club. This property was acquired by the City of Austin in December 1946. In the late 1950s, a 34-acre section was zoned commercial and sold to the newly-formed Homart Development Company, of Chicago.

A lawsuit was filed, protesting the sale of public property without a referendum having been held. The issue was put to a vote in February 1962, with Homart prevailing. Construction of HANCOCK CENTER was soon underway. In October 1963, Crowdus Baker, President of Sears Roebuck & Company, was on hand to cut a ceremonial ribbon. Also attending the mall's grand opening were Austin Mayor Lester Palmer and Jeanne Amacker "Miss Texas 1963".

The primary anchor of HANCOCK CENTER was a 2-level (147,800 square foot) Sears. In addition to the aforementioned Dillard's, the mall included Wyatt's Cafeteria, Sommers Drug, Snyder Chenard's ladies' wear, Leon's ladies' wear, Merritt men's wear, Shaefer & Brown men's wear, a Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio, G.C. Murphy 5 & 10 and H-E-B (Howard E. Butt) supermarket. There was also a subterranean Town Hall community center.

Subsequent shopping malls in the Austin metropolis included HIGHLAND MALL (1971) {1.6 miles north, in Austin}, WESTGATE MALL (1972-1997) {6.6 miles southwest, in Austin}, NORTHCROSS MALL (1975) {3.9 miles northwest, in Austin} and BARTON CREEK SQUARE (1981) {5.7 miles southwest, also in Austin}.

The proximity of HIGHLAND MALL created a great deal of commercial competition for HANCOCK CENTER. Fairly well hemmed-in by its location on a small 34 acre site, the mall was physically expanded only once; the H-E-B grocery doubled its size, with a 30,600 square foot northern extension, during the late 1970s.

The HANCOCK CENTER Dillard's was shuttered in early 1990. Homart relinquished ownership of the mall in April; the buyer being Bethesda, Maryland-based Interstate Equities. They initiated a 10 million dollar renovation in July 1991. An 88,000 square foot block of stores on the southeast, which had housed Sommers Drug, was demolished. Remaining exteriors were spruced-up and the fountains and flower beds of the original mall were removed and grassed-over.

Unfortunately, the shopping center did not enjoy a retail renewal and slipped into decline once again. A second renovation commenced in February 1997. This time around, 143,100 square feet of retail area was knocked down.

The existing Sears, its freestanding Auto Center, the original H-E-B structure and a two small sections of stores were retained and remodeled. A (90,200 square foot) H-E-B Superstore was built, along with three open-air retail blocks. H-E-B commenced operation at its new location March 21, 1998. The remainder of the new complex was dedicated soon after.

HANCOCK CENTER now encompassed 410,400 leasable square feet and housed tenants such as Petco, 24 Hour Fitness and Bath & Body Works. The shopping venue was acquired by Jacksonville. Florida-based Regency Centers in 1999.

Sources:

http://companies.jrank.org/pages/1297/Dillard-S-Inc.html
Austin Chronicle / Feb 14, 1997 / "Hancock Center, R.I.P. : Everything Old Is New Again at 41st & I-35" / By Mike Clark-Madison
www.ci-austin.us
www.regencycenters.com
www.hancockna.org
http://www.austinmonthly.com