Friday, March 14, 2014

Almeda Mall


Almeda Mall. 

It seems a bit strange to write a love letter to a shopping mall, I'll admit. 

But she's like your great aunt whom you remember so fondly from your childhood, dressed to the nines, in her gleaming, gorgeous home, with her cookie jar flowing with fresh sweets, and her sparkling house so modern and fine, with all the amenities you wish you had at your own house, as you gaze upwards through her sunshiny windows or sit and play on her cobbled tile floors. Getting to go see her meant it was a special day. And all your cousins (and in this fantasy, you have a bunch who all get along) would be there with you, playing in the yard and teasing one another and feasting on the great dinners with corn on the cob and tomatoes fresh from her garden, and a chicken from the hen house. 

And now, when you try to go back, just to get a whiff of those days gone by?

Your great aunt has gone off the deep end and owns sixty cats and pulls a shotgun on you as you pull into her driveway. The yard is overrun with weeds, her roof is caving in,  and you're slightly frightened that she'll be featured on an episode of Hoarders before long. 

But it wasn't always like this. You can't bring anyone with you who wasn't there in your childhood. They'd never believe you. But your cousins remember. 



Almeda Mall was constructed in 1968, but the Foley's had arrived two years earlier, in the spring of 1966, with her spaceship themed elevator and giant Aztec sun gazing down in glorious 60s splendor on the shoppers riding the escalator.

The outside of the building was brick with ten two-storied peacock-blue awnings on each side -- remembered by children as sleeping giant eyelids or elephants toes, depending on who you talk to. 


The handles of the doors were done in a decorative brass "f". The Foley's font was all lowercase, with a flower in place of the apostrophe.  That flower, according to the Foley's press releases, was an Azalea, chosen as the flower of Almeda, with special azalea bushes groomed to bloom "on command" the week of the grand opening. Mayor Louis Welch cut the ribbon at the grand opening from a string of azaleas, as well. 



Click here to see more 1965 - 1966 details of Foley's at Almeda Genoa photos and info

If you reminiscence about Almeda Mall, you have to start with Foley's. It's the living room of the place.






This article from the 1967 Chronicle morgue files calls the Almeda store "A Store on the Prairie":

Because of the wide open spaces, Foley's was betting not on the immediate success of the store but on developments that would take place 10 years from today when the housing patterns change. Today, Almeda sits out in the middle of the wilderness, all alone by itself. But next year, the 65 acre site will be a completely covered air-conditioned mall with a major J.C. Penney store for a neighbor and about 80 other stores for company.

Where does Almeda draw from today? From the NASA Space Center, from Galveston and from the surrounding areas connected by freeways which are gradually building up. . . . Already, though it is less than a year old, the Almeda-Genoa store is running ahead of the Sharpstown store's first year of sales, despite the absence of any housing in the area.

(I'm not quite sure where the writer was getting his information, since there was housing along Almeda-Genoa already and houses in Kirmont and Sagemont already underway and going up fast in 1967.)



Click here to view more photos from Foley's Groundbreaking and Grand Opening 

The children's shoe department featured a pirate ship built along its back wall, with carpet-covered stairs and deck, wide banisters, and two little cannons peeking out of the portholes. It had a big sail with a red cross on it and the bow and stern were raised areas that let a little kid feel amazingly tall, gazing out over the sea of shoe shoppers and across the aisle, to the land of enchantment, the toy department. 




The first found photo of the Foley's Shoe Ship, taken for the first volume of the Dobie Yearbook 1969



Click here for the Shoe Ship Photos uncovered from the Bob Bailey holdings at the University of Texas Briscoe Center


found via Google Image search in 2009: Foley's Toy Department


Upstairs was the Terrace restaurant, a dining room on the left, the lunch counter on the right, and the gift wrapping department, and the huge layouts of the finest in 60s furnishings, turntables, and one wall of entirely televisions, some in color! 



This was the age of the department store, with its attempt to offer the shopper everything they needed under a single roof. You could buy guns and ammo as well as furs and candy and tickets to games and events. You could get your hair did while they fixed your watch, schedule a carpet and drapery cleaning, or just shop for new ones. You could plan a trip with a travel agent or get your family's photo taken at the studio upstairs. There was a stationery store, because people actually wrote letters to one another on a regular basis, and records, and books, because people actually read, too. 

Click to here to read more about Foley's on what would have been its 50th anniversary

When the rest of the mall opened in 1968, it was an architectural marvel. "Anyone who thinks there is nothing new under the sun should come out here and see this beautiful mall," said Rep. Casey at the formal opening ceremonies. (Thursday, October 10, 1968)




Click here for many more photos and information from the University of Houston Foley's Archives that I visited two year after this post you are currently reading.



"completely air conditioned with temperatures maintained at 72 degrees the year 'round."








I purchased the print of this negative in the Houston Post holdings from the Texas Room at HPL last month. It was taken in 1969 from the center court looking down to the Penney's. The Sampieri's sign is just out of sight on the right. The Singer Sewing Machine store, Lerner Shops, and Woolworths run down the rest of the right side in the photo. Hardy Shoes' sign is just visible by the last two letters in the foreground at left. Le Petit Restaurant is visible with their striped window coverings, and I believe Kinney Shoes might already be in place after Le Petit. 



Click here for the full set of 1969 Photos taken by the Houston Post, purchased from the Houston Public Library's holding.

The other print I ordered was of the other side of the center courtyard, from Christmas 1976, looking the opposite direction, with Penney's behind the photographer. The Leopold, Price, and Rolle Windows are on display at right. You can also make out the Baskin Robbins striped sign in the far back, left. The center fountain with pineapple top is behind the Nut Hut. 




Click here to view the full set of 1976 Almeda Mall Christmas photos purchased from the Houston Public Library's holdings. 

That pineapple fountain  was the home to endless pennies and little kids falling in,



as well as a popular place for yearbook photos. (Although, to be fair, lots of places in the mall show up in the Dobie yearbooks.)



Click here for many more Almeda Mall photos from Houston area yearbooks. 



Click here for exclusively Dobie Yearbook Almeda Mall photos






Almeda was, in many respects, the town center of our neighborhood. We didn't have a square other than this one, and even if we did, nine months out of the year no one would want to be outdoors in it. Almeda was air-conditioned and out of the endless Houston rains and sauna heat. It marked off the seasons, with decorations galore and new fashions in every window. 



On your birthday, if you were lucky, you'd get your birthday party at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor, where you'd all wear straw hats and they'd beat the drum and make a huge deal out of making your stand up on the chair while everyone sang to you and you got the gigantic vat of ice cream to share with all of your friends. 


The Doctor's Pet Store was just down from Farrell's and out front, for a good while, there were large animals you could climb on. I remember they were painted in bright yellow and orange and green and blue. If memory serves, there was a lion, a hippo, and a couple of other wild animals waiting to be ridden. What I'd give to see a photograph of those again.


In the same wing was the Gold Mine Arcade, once you got tall enough to see over the controls. 




And the Pipe Pub, with their amazing smells wafting out into the mall, 


next to the piano store, complete with life-size Liberace standee. 

Battlesteins was the large store across from Liberace and the Pipe Pub at first, and then Bealls moved in and took over the space. Foley's sat at the end of that section, with the rounded glass ceilings letting in the sunlight or the dreary gray light through the clouds.  

On the October day I popped in in 2009 to see what was still recognizable, it was sunny with a side of ghost.

It was the place, when you were a pre-teen, that you would mark that amazing coming-of-age moment when your parents dropped you off with your friends, unsupervised, for hours. It was where you could go when you were a broke student on date night and window shop and hold hands and steal kisses in the out of the way corners of the mall. It was record stores with giant center tables of endless vinyl records, and the wall stock changing from 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs. The teenagers' hairstyles changed even faster than that. 

In the center at the Pineapple fountain, heading towards Penney's, the Food Court was on your right and Palais Royal on your left, with an appliance store with huge windows that once occupied space on the main drag beside Palais Royale. At the opposite corner, Wicks and Sticks competed with cookie smells for your attention. At the end of the food court wing was, and still is, the Picadilly Cafeteria, with its brass ape statues (now gone) sitting out front in which you could extinguish your cigarette before dining. 






Across from the Picadilly was the El Chico, before that known as The Saloon. 
(Ad from 1976 Leader)

Kay Johnson Jackon posted this picture from the Chuck Wagon Restaurant (pre-dated Farrell's in that spot in the mall) on the Almeda Mall '68-'88 Facebook page.

And her photo from inside La Petit, also 1970

At each entrance, the interlocking A symbol was stationed on large banners.

(from the Leader files)

And the marquee on the Gulf Freeway sported the same logo. (Blue Foley's awnings visible in back.)


(From the 1977 Dobie yearbook)


What none of these pictures or words completely convey was the sense of community the place provided for a neighborhood that was first seemingly "on the prairie" and then, in very short order, swallowed up by the insanely fast outgrowth of Houston. For those first two decades, the people who built first houses and raised families were a mixture of blue and white collar worker bees, commuting into Houston or down to NASA in a post-Vietnam world where everything seemed to be changing at a pace we couldn't quite comprehend. 

This mall, its stores, and especially its people, held that disparate and unlikely group together. It's why we still try to orient someone to our childhood home by saying, "You know where Almeda Mall is?"

 And why, whenever we get together, memories inevitably include this place, sort of mystical and timeless to us, when life was just a bit simpler and sweeter. 



in the parking lot of Almeda Mall

Grand Opening list of stores, 1968


1976 directory


Aerial 1985




Additional Almeda Posts of Interest

Click here for more on the BEST Site across the street from the Mall






last updated: May 28, 2017



15 comments:

  1. Well hell, this post made me tear up a little. Thank you again for all the effort you put in here.

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    1. Very welcome! The more I share, the more memories people share with me -- win, win!

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    2. Also, I am dying to know what a "french poodle special" was...maybe someone can share that information ;)

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    3. Didn't all their menu (hot dogs and hamburgers) get the "Le" everything treatment? Le Jumbo French Poodle Supreme = one big ass hot dog with fries. But that's just a guess ;)

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    4. HEY, i HAVE PICS OF MYSELF AND MY COUSINS SITTING ON THOSE ANIMALS YOU MENTIONED LOVING SEEING AGAIN. LOL 1977 HOW CAN I SHOW YOU.

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    5. MIKE!! I just saw your comment!! can you email them to me? torimask@yahoo.com. I won't be back in town until the Fall, but you don't have a way to digitize them, I could do it then. Just let me know. And thank you!

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    6. sure I scanned them already

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  2. Thank you for this - it brought back unexpectedly vivid and precious memories from my childhood!

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    1. you are welcome! There's just nothing like those childhood memories to bring on the warm fuzzies.

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  3. Thank you for the blog and especially the photographs. We moved to the area in the early 60's first living on Santa Monica then later on Southport where we moved in December 1966. I remember when Foley's was built then Penney's then the mall that joined the two together. Sabo Road from Fuqua to Kingspoint was first an oyster shell road then they later paved it in asphalt. As a kid I remember getting hair cuts at Perez Barber Shop, riding my bicycle to the Bracewell Library and the Mall. Before all the apartments at Sabo and Kingspoint, a bus selling fireworks would show up every Summer for July 4th and Winter for New Year's.

    Great memories!

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  4. I have fond memories of this Mall from the late 60's through 79! I worked there when in High School, and, always enjoyed the stores including Morrow's Nut House!

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  5. Are you sure the foleys toy department photo is from the almeda location? Those square ceilings with the black backround makes me think this is actually the Greenspoint foleys, not almeda.

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  6. The wonderful memories of that mall. My granpa used to take me to the cafeteria, my first job was at McDonald's in the mall, back in 77-78. Many records were bought in the mall, So much fun with my friends there. What's going on with the mall now?

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  7. Thank you for putting together this photo history. I spent many an hour at Almeda while growing up in Pasadena. My grandmother worked at the Piccadilly Cafeteria for several years in the 70s, so mom would take us there pretty regularly. I had totally forgotten about the shoe ship. Loved that thing.

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  8. I just found your blog, but remember the mall fondly from my childhood. Thank you so much for the wonderful trip back in time! It was a very special place, indeed!

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