For shoppers and teenagers in Montgomery County, there was a time when White Flint Mall was the spot. The place to be. The bee’s knees.
When the first six White Flint stores opened in early March of 1977, it was still a time of innovation for shopping malls. Just before the opening, the mall’s owners announced that they would issue a White Flint Mall credit card, the first of its kind, mailing 100,000 applications to Montgomery County residents. A Washington Post story heralded “a 20,000-square-foot, cafe-style dining facility that offers fast-food service from 12 different nationalities.” Today we call it a food court.
America and Maryland were already well familiar with shopping malls but White Flint had Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and I. Magnin. There were dazzling glass elevators and a strip made to look like an Italian streetscape. When a Red Line station opened in 1984, you could take the Metro to the mall, although the walk from the station was no picnic.
But the time to be wowed by indoor shopping malls has long since passed.
Now White Flint Mall is on its last legs. The mall’s owners, Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Cos., plan to redevelop the property into a massive town center. Bloomingdale’s closed in 2012 and was demolished. Most other stores have closed or plan to with the exception of Lord & Taylor, which sued to stop the redevelopment and remains oddly but enthusiastically open.
A final closing date has not been announced. Until then you are free to head up Rockville Pike, pull into any parking spot you like and wander around. We did.
Midday on a Saturday. It’s a pleasant time for shopping, but hardly anyone is at the mall’s entrance. Dave & Busters is still open. Bloomingdale’s used to stand to the right of the main entrance, but was demolished in the fall of 2013. The ground floor of the mall’s three-story central atrium, all but deserted. A few stalls down from the former Bloomingdale’s space, Williams-Sonoma is clearing out. Mannequins at clothing store H&M have nothing left to wear. Jerry’s Subs and Pizza, all alone both on the directory and in real life (far left.) Walking into Lord & Taylor is like stepping back in time. The store remains open as its parent company battles the mall’s owners in court of the redevelopment plans. Lo rd & Taylor’s message to the community. (Shorter version: “We’re not planning on closing.”) Lord & Taylor’s message to the community. (Shorter version: “We’re not closing.”) Heading upstairs, a look through the empty atrium at one of White Flint’s glass elevators, a hallmark of high-end malls from the 1970s. Dave and Buster’s, still open and lit up, but now practically alone on the third floor. On the third floor, the AMC Lowes movie theater in its final hours, with few people on hand to check out the last showings of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” The rear parking lot and garage. If the current redevelopment plans go forward, this spot next to White Flint Park could be home to residential buildings. Want to take a final visit to White Flint yourself? Finding a parking space should not be a problem. In the plan Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Cos. have for White Flint, the mall would become a walkable town square surrounded by offices, apartment buildings and shopping.
Photos by Jacqueline Dupree. For more White Flint photos, visit her page.
White Flint plan courtesy of Lerner Enterprises.
Jonathan O’Connell and Jacqueline Dupree are on Twitter at @oconnellpostbiz and @JDLand