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Oklahoma: a magical land of repurposed malls

Oklahoma: a magical land of repurposed malls

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Where would today's wannabe valley girl shop? The social security administration, of course. A closer look at repurposing dead malls. From roadside zombiesTM, which is a humorous look at the fascinations of everyday life.
Where would today's wannabe valley girl shop? The social security administration, of course. A closer look at repurposing dead malls. From roadside zombiesTM, which is a humorous look at the fascinations of everyday life.

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: H Christine Richards on Jul 13, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Oklahoma must be the land of repurposed malls (i.e., malls that have been converted to almostentirely non-retail uses after long, slow, very painful deaths as retail centers). Perhaps Oklahomansrepurpose malls because they have an undying commitment to malls and preserving mall structuresfor the education and enjoyment of future generations. Or perhaps not. Whatever the reason,Oklahoma has some of the best repurposing efforts that efforts I’ve seen—and they actually seem to be working.
Shepherd Mall, Oklahoma City, Okla.
I saw my first semi-successfulrepurposing effort on a bitterly coldday in January—the day before my 30
birthday to be exact. (Yes, I wentto Oklahoma City for my birthday. And I loved it. My husband surprisedme with the trip because he knows meall too well.) When it’s that cold out,malls are about the only sane places tohang out. In fact, malls were refugesfor my childhood birthdays, whichalways seemed to fall on winter’scoldest day.Shepherd Mall, however, wasn’t filled with the typical good times of child-hood—bulk candy, giant chocolate chip cookie cakes, and pre-teen fashions. Unless you were one of those super nerdy kids whose idea of a good time was visiting the social security administration. See,it wasn’t really what you’d think of as a traditional mall.The mall was dead from a retail standpoint, but still around 90 percent occupied. It was just occupied with the weirdest tenants I’ve ever seen. These tenants included the social security administration, various state offices like the Oklahoma Real Estate Commission and Senior Health InsuranceCounseling?, and even Astec Charter Middle School. Definitely weird, but totally awesome. At first it was a little surreal to see a mall full of non-retail stores, but as I wandered around lookingat the various bland offices in this clean mall environment, things started to feel right. It took me back to the horrors of waiting in long lines outside the Colorado driver license office, subjected to the brutality of Colorado weather. (It’s bitterly cold and just snows here all the time. Really, it’s an awfulplace to live and even just visit.) How relaxing it would have been to wait in a climate-controlledmall, listen to my favorite elevator version of Tiny Dancer, enjoy random indoor plant displays, andsip on the sweet nectar I retrieved from the convenience store down the hall (i.e., diet coke).
Oklahoma: a magical land of repurposed malls
from roadside zombies
 which is a humorous look at the fascinations of everyday life1 © 2010 by H. Christine Richards. All rights reserved
from roadside zombies
2 © 2010 by H. Christine Richards. All rights reserved
The success of this repurposed mall provided much humor to me, but as I looked into it, the reasonfor its success was slightly sad. The mall was built near downtown in 1964. My mother-in-law pointedout that this mall was the coolest in 1970s Oklahoma City. (Yes, not all mother-in-laws just nag you.Some, like mine, actually provide valuable insight and meaningful historical perspectives.) Thencame competition from malls that were located in their natural habitat: the suburbs. By the early 1990s, this mall was toast. With such an urban location, it wasn’t surprising.The mall was being repurposed into an office building in the early 1990s when the Oklahoma City  bombing took place. Several of the tenants in that federal building relocated to the mall, due to itscentral location and ample space, and still remain there to this day.
Eastgate Metroplex, Tulsa, Okla.
The next interesting former retail mall was 100 miles and 100 degrees away from Shepherd Mall. I visited Tulsa’s Eastland Mall on a dreadfully hot summer day—again, the humidity made the extremetemperature so much worse. Ugh. I was dying to get some good AC action going and quite excitedabout walking into the mall’s climate-controlled comfort. Well, I was shocked, in good and bad way, when I got there.The bad shock was not being able to get into the mall’s interior. I went entrance-to-entrance trying in vain to access the mall, but no luck. It was the first interior mall area that I wasn’t able to get into, with the exception of a crazy mall in Minnesota known as the Moorhead Center Mall (named after thecity right across the North River from Fargo, N.D.). Darn it.People in the parking lot must’ve had a grand old time seeing this overheated youngish womandesperately trying to get into the mall, peering into the windows, and taking some horrible photos of the mall’s interior through the glass doors. There were probably some jokes made about me beingconfused, and still trying to get in on shopping sales. Yes, there were people in the parking lot, which was the good shock about this mall.The mall, in fact, was no longer a “mall.” It had been christened with a new generic name, EastgateMetroplex. Not sure what the metroplex part had to do with anything, but hey, the name seemed to work. (As an aside, I looked up the definition of metroplex and it has sort of a weird background. TheNorth Texas Commission (NTC) developed the term metroplex (through the creativity of an adagency) and copyrighted “Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex” in 1972 to replace the term previously usedto describe the area: “North Texas.” In a series of surveys, NTC found that North Texas apparently  was a confusing term that made people think of the Texas Panhandle, not Dallas/Fort Worth. Uh,they didn’t need a survey to figure that one out. I wonder if the NTC changed its name, too. DFWMCis a much cooler acronym than NTC.)The name seemed to work because there were actually businesses in the metroplex. Now, likeShepherd Mall, they weren’t of the retail variety. Residents included a Coca-Cola customer servicefacility, (What sort of calls would they seriously handle there? “Hello? My Coke is flat and I need itreplaced stat.”) a Head Start center, the University of Phoenix, and Alorica, Inc. (which looks likeanother call center. What is it with call centers in abandoned malls?)Even though I couldn’t get inside, the mall’s exterior provided some interesting facets. The front of the old mall had been completely redone in today’s popular stucco and cultured stone motif (i.e.,

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