SOUTHTOWN MALL
Lafayette Road / US 27 and South Anthony Road
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fort Wayne's first fully-enclosed shopping facility, GLENBROOK SQUARE, was completed in 1966. Indianapolis' Melvin Simon & Associates (today's Simon Property Group) developed the area's second shopping mall, which was built on an 86 acre site, located 4.3 miles south of the center city and 6.7 miles south of GLENBROOK SQUARE.

SOUTHTOWN MALL was dedicated in July 1969. The single-level complex encompassed 567,000 leasable square feet and was anchored by a 1-level (100,000 square foot) Montgomery Ward and 2-level (114,000 square foot), Fort Wayne-based Wolf & Dessauer. A 2-level (183,000 square foot) J.C. Penney was completed soon after the mall opened.

Inline stores in the original SOUTHTOWN included Lane Bryant, Waldenbooks, Kinney Shoes, Patterson-Fletcher, Richman Brothers, Chess King, Hanover Shoes, Nobson's,  Baber Jewelers, Karmelkorn, Docktor Pet Center, Walgreen Drug, Azar's Big Boy, So-Fro Fabrics, Spencer Gifts, Orange Julius, an MCL Cafeteria and (60,000 square foot) G.C. Murphy 5 & 10.

The Wolf & Dessauer chain was acquired by Indianapolis-based L.S. Ayres in late 1969. They rebranded the store within a few years of the buyout.

The General Cinema Corporation Southtown Cinema I & II showed its first features June 30, 1971. The venue was expanded into a triplex in 1982 and was permanently shuttered in 2001.

The enlargement of the cinema coincided with a major addition to the mall. A Southwest Wing was constructed, which was built through a vacant G.C. Murphy. It extended to a 1-level (95,700 square foot) Sears.

New inline stores included GNC, Casual Corner, Maurices, Card Cage, Thom McAn Shoes, Malek's Ice Cream and Service Merchandise. In addition, there was the Patio Food Court. When the construction dust settled in late 1982, SOUTHTOWN MALL encompassed approximately 858,100 leasable square feet.

Unfortunately, the addition couldn't have been built as a worse time. International Harvester, a major employer for the region, eliminated 10,000 jobs during 1982, leaving the south side of the city, and SOUTHTOWN MALL, in dire straits. The new Southwest Wing would never be fully-leased.

The mall entered a downward spiral that it never recovered from. Montgomery Ward became the first anchor store to pull out, on April 15, 1983. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based Kohl's stepped in to fill 70,000 square feet of the empty store space. Spiece, an apparel retailer, leased the remaining 30,000 square feet.

Richman Brothers, Old Mill Pottery and Spiece were shuttered in 1992. After a 3-year vacancy, Kohl's opened a prototype Outlet Store in the old Spiece space. This operation was short-lived.

1997 was an especially brutal year for SOUTHTOWN. L.S. Ayres, who had planned on shuttering their store in 1992, decided to continue on until the lease expired. The store closed for good July 31, 1997. J.C. Penney had shut down June 28. Service Merchandise moved on at around the same time. MCL Cafeteria served its last meal in August.

On March 6, 1999, Kohl's locked its doors, re-opening the following day in the newly-completed APPLE GLEN CROSSING {5.5 miles northwest, in Fort Wayne}. This left the meandering, 800,000 square foot SOUTHTOWN MALL with only Sears and a smattering of inline stores.

The Simon Property Group, after considering various renovation scenarios, sold the moribund mall in July 1998; the buyer being North Carolina's Whichard Real Estate. Within 2 years, the company was $222,000 in arears for property taxes.

The shopping complex was put on the auction block in March 1999. No one made a bid on the property. Its sale was confounded by revelations of asbestos in the older structures and eight underground storage tanks not in compliance with more recent federal standards.

It appeared that progress was being made in June 2000, when two local land developers made an offer to buy the mall for its delinquent taxes. However, this effort was stymied by years of litigation between the de facto proprietor of the property and the City of Fort Wayne.

Meanwhile, Sears was shuttered January 26, 2002. The mall, itself, shut down February 1, 2003. The city government condemned the property and took possession via eminent domain. The wrecking ball was brought in in August 2004, leaving only the old Penney's Auto Center standing (this would eventually be razed, as well).

The site was redeveloped with a 1-level (225,000 square foot) Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based Menards Home Improvement Center and 1-level (217,000 square foot) Wal-Mart SuperCenter. Menards held its grand opening March 20, 2006, with Wal-Mart being dedicated September 20.

A strip center structure, the SHOPPES AT SOUTHTOWN (Phase 1), was also built, which included T-Mobile, Great Clips and Star Financial Bank.

Sources:

www.labelscar.com
"Southtown Mall" article on Wikipedia
www.cinematreasures.org
www.deadmalls.com / Posts by Robert Gaul, Michael Woehnker and Ross
www.movie-theatre.org
www.cityoffortwayne.org