SUNSET CENTER
Plains Boulevard and Dixie Steet
Amarillo, Texas

The first major shopping center developed by Denver's Gerri Von Frellick was built in the northwestern environs of the Mile High City. LAKESIDE SHOPPING CITY, an open-air venue, was completed in August 1956. BIG TOWN MALL, in the eastern periphery of Dallas, was dedicated in February 1959. It was the Lone Star State's first fully-enclosed shopping center.

SUNSET CENTER was the third mall project that Gerri Von Frellick was involved with. It was built in Amarillo by a joint venture of he, Amarillo's M.T. Johnson and the Industrial Uranium Company of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sears & Roebuck had relocated from downtown Amarillo, into a 1-level (115,000 square foot) suburban store, on November 7, 1957. This structure occupied the northeast corner of a 58 acre site, located 2.4 miles southwest of center city Amarillo.

The remainder of the parcel was developed as the SUNSET CENTER mall. Ground was broken in December 1959. Designed by Dallas' Jim Collier, the original complex spanned over 300,000 leasable square feet and contained forty-seven stores and services.

A formal dedication was held September 15, 1960. SUNSET CENTER included a 2-level (45,000 square foot) J.C. Penney, (17,200 square foot) Safeway supermarket and (21,100 square foot) White Stores ("White's"). The mall's F.W. Woolworth and S.H. Kress 5 & 10s each encompassed 26,000 square feet.

Amarillo's original suburban shopping facilities were all located in close proximity to SUNSET CENTER. WOLFIN VILLAGE {.8 mile southeast} had opened in August 1953. WESTERN PLAZA {.5 mile south} welcomed its first shoppers in February 1968. These centers coexisted for several years.

J.C. Penney at SUNSET CENTER was doubled in size in the mid-1960s. Additional space was added to the west and south sides of the building and the partial upper floor was fully extended. An attached Auto Center was dedicated November 10, 1965, with new furniture, home appliance, sporting goods and hardware departments in operation by the spring of 1966. The new "New Look" store encompassed 102,000 square feet.

The days of SUNSET CENTER as a major regional shopping complex came to an end in the early 1980s. WESTGATE MALL {2.6 miles southwest, in Amarillo} held its grand opening in October 1982, snatching the shadow anchor Sears from SUNSET CENTER. J.C. Penney pulled out of SUNSET CENTER and re-opened, in a new WESTGATE store, on January 5, 1986.

SUNSET CENTER continued on in a diminished capacity. The vacant Sears had been expanded and reconfigured, as the home office and distribution center of Hastings Entertainment, in 1985.

Over the ensuing years, nationally-known chain stores at SUNSET CENTER were replaced by mom & pop-type tenants. These included Merchandise Recycler Liquidators, Tejas Western Outlet, One Price Fashion Shoes, Marmac Mini Market and the Penney Pincher Thrift Store. Goodwill Industries and Dollar General Stores also operated in the mall for a time.

Amarillo's C.W. and Anna Crouch acquired SUNSET CENTER in June 1992. After Mr. Crouch's passing, Mrs. Crouch continued to oversee operation of the shopping complex. A renovation was performed between 2003 and 2004. Fifteen retail and service tenants were relocated to exterior-entranced spaces, with the interior mall section being reconfigured as office suites.

As the remodeling was in progress, Mrs. Crouch was approached by Hunter Ingalls, a professor at West Texas A & M University-Amarillo. He wondered if it would be possible for some of his art students to rent space at the mall to use as studios. A temporary leasing arrangement was made which eventually led to most of the mall being repurposed as the GALLERIES AT SUNSET CENTER.

Today, this thriving art community is comprised of fifty-five galleries and art studios, including Sunset Gallery, Amarillo Art Institute, Panhandle Gallery, Art Gecko Studio & Gallery and Atomic Axe Studio & Gallery.

Sources:

The Amarillo Globe
http://www.amachron.com (Amarillo Chronology)
http://wolflinvillage.com
"Amarillo: The Story of a Western Town" / Paul Howard Carlson
Potter County, Texas property tax assessment website
http://www.amarillomagonline.com
http://www.thebowerbirdlbk.com