Wednesday, October 21, 2009

History in the Making

Photographed off the ground-glass view-screen of a Speed Graphic 4x5 using a Lumix G1

I'm sitting in a favorite coffee shop, looking out the window onto the rain-soaked street, with my Grandson next to me. He's dressed in a brand-new blazer jacket, dress shirt, tie, docker-style pants and white sneakers. No, he's not on his way to church (as my wife's boss commented earlier). We've come from Dillard's, at the Winrock Mall, Albuquerque's first true mall.

There's an old movie titled "The Mayor", starring Anthony Quinn as the mayor of Albuquerque (I think his character resembles the real-life Clyde Tingley, Albuquerque's most historically notable mayor, and later governor and US Senator), wherein there's a scene in the movie (it was filmed in the early 1960's ,when I was a mere tot) showing the then-new Winrock Mall (named after Winthrop Rockefeller, who built the mall and then deeded it to the University of New Mexico). The scene in the movie shows the original part of the mall, a long, high, covered structure open at both ends -- a breezeway more than a true indoor mall. Over the years the mall was enclosed, then expanded, and went through the life-cycle that all cities and neighborhoods endure as they age from the fashionably new, to the well-established, to the decrepitude of the elderly.

As Albuquerque's northeast heights underwent explosive growth in the 1960's and '70's, another mall was built just 1/2 mile away, which was newer and offered a wider variety of stores. The youth migrated to the new mall as the place to hang out, while the older folks liked the quiet of Winrock as a place to take their indoor walk in the morning. Quiet is not a good sign for a mall, especially when the major clientele are slowly dying off. Winrock's slow demise had begun.

There were fleeting signs of new life, periodically, and then another anchor store would depart. Montgomery Wards closed down; J.C. Penny moved up the street to the other mall; little clothing and shoe stores, the standard Mom & Pop fare of any modern mall, one-by-one closed down.

The death knell came when a new, outdoor shopping area was built just across the street from Winrock, drawing another major anchor, Borders Books, away for good. All that's left is Bed, Bath & Beyond, a local sporting goods outfit, and Dillard's. Not just one Dillard's, but two.

In its heyday of explosive grown at Winrock, Dillard's found it necessary to build a larger building on the other side of the mall; but they didn't close down the original location, rather they kept the men's clothing at the older location and the women's in the newer. It is still this way even today.

When we showed up at the Dillard's men's store this rainy morning the parking lot was nearly empty; the clerk who helped my Grandson find some fancy duds remarked that we were the first customers of the day. It was almost eleven AM; a two-story department store, stuffed with fine men's and boy's clothing, and no customers save us. This does not bode well for the future of Winrock. But, nevertheless, we spent our money, we did our small part; we could have driven over to the other, busier mall, where we would have had to park further out from the building, on a rainy day, but we saved ourselves a rain-soaked walk; perhaps, in one's deepest fantasy, our small purchase may have also saved the old mall; but I seriously doubt it.

When I was a young lad my step-mom would send us out for the day with just a dollar or two, and I would have to make it last all day, for lunch or whatever. I would walk a diagonal route from our house, several miles away, stopping off at each of several malls for refreshment, cool air-conditioning on a hot day, and a place to rest. First Eastdale Center, with an old one-screen theater playing matinee movies, and a city park behind it to play and run and have fun; then further away would be the Wyoming Mall, via another park, where could be found Duke City Hobbies (now torn down, replaced by a Walmart) and across the street at the Hoffmantown Mall (still open) Campbell's Pharmacy's soda fountain, Pen & Pad Stationary (still open) and the public library. Further walking would lead, via another city park, to Winrock, our ultimate destination. The food court pyramid; Fool's Paradise novelty shop; Toys By Roy; all the fun stores for a young man to enjoy.

I'm getting older now, feeling the effects of middle age, and my Grandson is maturing faster than I can keep up with. But at least he had the opportunity today, to someday share with his kids and grand-kids, when on that rainy morning when he went to Winrock Mall with his grandpa to get a fancy blazer, shirt and tie.

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~Joe

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