SEVERANCE CENTER
Mayfield and South Taylor Roads
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Ground was broken for Ohio's first fully-enclosed shopping mall in February 1962. SEVERANCE CENTER, designed by Seattle's John Graham, Junior, was developed by a joint venture of Cleveland's Austin Company and Seattle-based Winmar Pacific. The 70-acre mall site was located 7 miles east of Cleveland's Public Square. It had previously been part of Longwood, the 125 acre estate of local philanthropist John L. Severance.

Two Cleveland-based anchor stores opened for business August 5, 1963; a 3-level (257,000 square foot) Higbee's and 2-level (150,000 square foot) Halle Brothers Company's or Halle's ["Hal-eez"]. Higbee's, designed by Los Angeles-based Welton Becket & Associates, stood at the northeast end of the mall, Halle's, at the southwest.

SEVERANCE CENTER was officially dedicated October 17, 1963. The 17 million dollar complex encompassed 900,000 leasable square on 2 levels. Most retail stores were located along a Mall Level, that stretched between the two anchors.

There was also a basement Lower Level, which included a bowling alley and five office suites. A Convenience Wing extended from the Lower Level, toward the northwest. It housed a Fisher Foods supermarket, Diamond's Deli, liquor store and three additional tenant spaces. These stores had only exterior entrances onto a lower level parking area and were not connected into the upper (Mall Level) corridor.

Within 5 months of its opening, the center housed seventy-four stores and services. Included on the tenant list were Gray Drug, Hot Shoppes Cafeteria, Winkelman's ladies' wear, Milgrim's ladies' wear, Richman Brothers men's wear, a Sirloin & Saddle restaurant and F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10. The National Theatres Corporation Severance Theatre at the Mall showed its first feature March 10, 1965.

Retail rivals of SEVERANCE CENTER included CEDAR-CENTER PLAZA / UNIVERSITY SQUARE (1956) {1.2 miles southeast, in University Heights}, RICHMOND MALL (1966) {3. 1 miles northeast, in Richmond Heights}, RANDALL PARK MALL (1976) {5.7 miles southeast, in North Randall} and BEACHWOOD MALL (1978) {3 miles southeast, in Beachwood}.

SEVERANCE CENTER received a face lift renovation in 1972. The complex was physically expanded 9 years later, with a new Southwest Wing. Formally opened on November 5, 1981, it housed a 1-level (85,000 square foot) Worthington, Ohio-based Gold Circle discount mart.

A 20 million dollar renovation was completed in 1986. The Gold Circle space, which had been vacated in 1984, was enlarged and retenanted by Dunham's Sporting Goods, the 14-bay Galaxy Food Court and National Theatres Corporation Severance Movies 6plex.

This new theater, which opened April 5, 1986, operated in conjunction with the circa-1965 venue, which had been divided in 1971 and renamed the Severance Movies Twin. With this renovation, SEVERANCE CENTER housed one hundred and three stores under its roof.

Unfortunately, the mall was becoming a haven for crime. In a move to quell any negative perceptions, the Cleveland Heights City Hall, jail and court complex relocated to new buildings, at the northwest corner of the mall site, in 1986. The civic center and retail hub became known, collectively, as SEVERANCE TOWN CENTER.

The Halle's chain had gone belly-up on March 27, 1982. This created a vacancy that wasn't filled until August 17, 1989, when the Pittsburgh-based Joseph Horne Company opened a store in the vacated -and renovated- building.

Horne's was shuttered July 12, 1992. News surfaced about the store re-opening as a second Higbee's location. In actuality, it became part of a Dillard's "double-header", which was established in August 1992. Higbee's became Dillard's East (a Women's store) with the old Halle's / Horne's re-opening as Dillard's West, which carried Men's, Children's & Home merchandise.

Dillard's closed both SEVERANCE CENTER stores in June 1995. Within months, a plan to redevelop the shopping hub had been formally announced. The abandoned anchor stores were the first structures to be demolished.

A 1-level (113,800 square foot) Home Depot, built on the old Halle's / Horne's spot, welcomed its first shoppers on October 29, 1998. A 1-level (126,200 square foot) Wal-Mart SuperCenter, assuming the Higbee's spot, opened for business in January 1999.

By this time, the inline store section of the mall had been bulldozed, with the Convenience Wing left standing. It was worked into a 475,000 square foot power plaza, that retained the SEVERANCE TOWN CENTER name.

The complex was officially dedicated early in the year 2000. Its stores and services included a (30,400 square foot) Marshalls, (25,700 square foot) Borders Books, (68,400 square foot) Dave's Supermarket and Regal Severance Town Center Stadium 14 megaplex.

Within a few years, there was a new lifestyle center in the vicinity. LEGACY VILLAGE {2.5 miles southeast, in Lyndhurst} was dedicated in 2003. Chicago-based Syndicated Equities acquired SEVERANCE TOWN CENTER in April 2004. Lake Bluff, Illinois-based Pine Tree Commercial Realty was enlisted to manage and lease the complex.

A major vacancy was created on October 15, 2013, when Wal-Mart was shuttered. The cinema shut down in March 2015. By this time, the shopping hub was over 40 percent vacant. It was foreclosed on and sold at a sheriff's auction in November 2015. The buyer, New York City-based CWCapital Asset Management, flipped the property, with Great Neck, New York's Namdar Realty Group assuming ownership in May 2016.

In July 2017, a tentative redevelopment plan came to light. It would reinvent the struggling retail facility in three phases, over a period of 15 to 20 years, and add amenities such as an arts center, public park and several entertainment venues.

Sources:

1964 and 1990 Severance Center brochures submitted by Mike Dannhauser
preservenet.cornell.edu/publications/Longstreth Branch Store.doc
https://clevelandhistorical.org
www.ech.case.edu  / "Cleveland History"
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
www.cinematreasures.org
http://www.city-data.com
www.syndicatedequities.com / "Severance Towne Center"
http://www.pinetreecommercial.com
https://namdarrealtygroup.com


FAIR USE OF SEVERANCE CENTER IMAGES:

The photos from The Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute them in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.