Mondawmin Mall; Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore’s busy, urban Mondawmin Mall opened in 1956 as Mondawmin Center, an open-air mall located just three miles from downtown, at the intersection of Gwynns Falls Parkway and Liberty Heights Avenue.  The name Mondawmin was chosen because it was the name of a Native American corn spirit from a 19th century Longfellow poem, and the mall was built on a former corn field.  Mondawmin Center was the very first development by Maryland mall magnate James Rouse, who would later build an empire of shopping centers, planned suburbs and festival marketplaces around the country - before his company was ultimately sold to General Growth in 2004.

Anchored by Sears and a supermarket, it took a few years for Mondawmin Center’s 58 store spaces to be filled to capacity; however, once they were, the mall became very popular.  Meanwhile, competition came calling from nearby Westview Center in 1958, which opened a few miles away in the suburb of Catonsville on US 40, and from Reisterstown Road Plaza, which opened in far northwest Baltimore City in 1962.

In 1963, Rouse enclosed Mondawmin Center, renaming it Mondawmin Mall.  It was supposedly one of the first shopping centers to coin the term ‘mall’ as such, and with the enclosure came a new owner.  Rouse sold the mall during the mid-1960s to a Baltimore real estate developer, which ultimately proved to be a mistake.

In 1973, Sears departed Mondawmin Mall, leaving it without a real anchor.  In 1972, a brand new, larger Sears had opened at the west-suburban Security Square, a regional mall which was much larger and better located along both I-70 and I-695.  At the same time, the demographics in the area immediately surrounding Mondawmin began to change for the worse, as middle class families left in droves following race riots and general social unrest in the late 1960s.  Those who chose to stay in the area were mostly lower income and African-American, which continues to be the dominant demographic today.

The balance of the 1970s and early 1980s were a period of decline at Mondawmin Mall, as the owner of the mall did little to rejuvenate it.  However, previous owner Rouse realized possibilities here, as Mondawmin is one of Baltimore City’s two enclosed malls, and bought the mall back in 1982.  Immediately, Rouse reinvested in it and finally replaced the vacant Sears with in-line space, added a parking deck to the west end of the mall, and renovated the entire structure.  The result was a hodgepodge, confusing floorplan with shopping areas on four distinct levels, though most of the mall is on two levels.

Then, in 1983, the Baltimore subway debuted, and a station next to Mondawmin Mall opened, connecting the mall to downtown and points beyond.  This reinvigoration helped the mall’s success through the rest of the 1980s, though into the 1990s the mall fell into decline once again, mostly due to a perception of crime.

In 1999, Rouse had plans to renovate and expand Mondawmin Mall once again, but they were scrapped, even despite the city’s plans to change the Mondawmin subway station into a regional transit hub.

In 2004, Rouse’s company was sold to General Growth, who embarked upon a 68 million dollar renovation and expansion of the mall, beginning in 2007.  The expansion included adding a Target, AJ Wright, and Shoppers Food Mart grocery store to the mall, and the renovation involved gutting the 1982-era interior.  This project gave Mondawmin Mall anchor stores for the first time since Sears departed in 1973, and gave Baltimore City its first Target store as well.  The reinvigorated interior also included new glass entrances, landscaping, restrooms, lighting, flooring, and other modern design accoutrements.  In addition, the spiral staircase and fountain at center court - the centerpiece of the mall – were also reimagined.  The natural greenery at center court was removed too, so that more kiosks could be installed.  Think you can get away from the dead sea people here?  Think again.

Regarding the renovation, take a look at two sets of photos I took from similar vantage points:

March 2004, before renovation:

August 2008, during renovation:

March 2004, before renovation:

August 2008, during renovation:

Today, Mondawmin is a reinvigorated center positioned for success.  While the perception of crime will keep some away, the mall itself is safer than many realize.  Despite the fact that many murders have occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding Mondawmin, the number of murders that have actually occurred on the property are rare.  And, the number of random crimes that take place at Mondawmin is rarer yet.  Still, many people use the crime statistics for the area in dictating their shopping habits, and choose to avoid Mondawmin completely.  Possibly one of the greatest hindrances for success here has been the perception of crime, and word of mouth marketing as well as the center’s repositioning - away from the dark 1980s look and into modernity - will help Mondawmin in the long run.

I visited Mondawmin Mall twice, in 2004 and 2008.  The differences before and during/after renovation are stark, so be sure to check out the pictures and leave your comments.

March 2004:

August 2008:

Finally, contributor Michael Lisicky sent us these two vintage shots of Sears at Mondawmin Mall:

17 Responses to “Mondawmin Mall; Baltimore, Maryland”

  1. I don’t really care for that renovation – it makes the mall look like a glorified warehouse. I think they made the same mistake PREIT made with Cherry Hill Mall – thinking modernity means sterility – but a thousand times worse. At least CHM has some plants & water left.

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  2. The popularity of malls has always been, in part, because of the perception that they are safe. malls often have been successful at keeping reports of crime out of the papers. I once was visiting a mall in another part of Cleveland where a bus driver was stabbed in a department store rest room. The driver was Black. The mall was in a an area that was entirely white for miles and miles around. It never made the papers. Malls where crime or unruly behavior are a function of delinquent or just obnoxious white kids, seem to get a pass from white shoppers. Change the race, but not necessarily the behavior and it’s a problem. getting people to visit a “problem” mall after most of the problems are mitigated is a problem and one reason why dead malls often never revive even if they are basically ok places to shop. I live in the city (DC), but work in the ‘burbs on the edge of a classic collection of suburban strip malls, with many big box retailers. I don’t feel any less safe shopping in neighborhoods that are economically and otherwise mixed than I do in the middle/upper-middle class suburba where I work, but many of my colleagues wouln’t dream of shopping in places in the city where they would face no more concern than in their own backyards.

    The term “mall” began to appear in the 50s, even for open air complexes. The never malled Shoregate shopping center near Cleveland had a small, outdoor mall space (it did have some overhead coverage, but no real roof or climate control) that was addressed as “Shoregate Mall”. This was built onto the center in ’58. Great Lakes Mall, a few miles further out opened in 1961, but only the center section, with a few stores was fully covered and climate controlled when it first opened. the mall was not fully enclosed until the end of the 60s. I’m sure there were other examples, elsewhere of pre-1963 use of the term mall.

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  3. Some of Rouse’s older malls like this one as well as Northway and Greengate malls in the Pittsburgh area were pretty unique for its time in that they all had birdcages, ornamental features such as a indoor clock tower, fountains, etc. By the 1980s, their newer properties were a contrast to the older ones–stale and bland, such as the prosperous Mall in Columbia.

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  4. Amazing story of a mall surviving for decades without a real anchor store. The post-renovation exterior is really nice, but the center court area looks worse than before. I hope the final product was more colorful.

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  5. I remember this mall back in its retro decor stage. Really sad to see they got rid of the fountain. The 2008 pics look as though the renovation project was still going on. What does the final product look like? I’d guess like White Marsh or the Mall in Columbia, minus the fountains.

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  6. My first impression when seeing the older vs. newer photos is they must have been reversed. They turned a nice warm-looking colorful mall into a drab colorless uninviting-looking place.

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  7. Are you all serious? That’s obviously not the final product. These pics were taken in the middle of renovations.

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  8. AceJay is right: it is in mid-renovation. I remember when I visited Padre Staples Mall when it was under remodel (it wasn’t pretty). At the point between Cherry Hill Mall’s decor stages (1990 and 2008), CHM was probably one of the ugliest malls in south New Jersey.

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  9. Just moved back into the city after spending several years living by many of the aforementioned malls (Westview, Security, Reisterstown Plaza) — none of which have a great reputation themselves these days. Since I live 5 minutes from Mondawmin, I decided to go there when I needed stuff for my new place. Some of the surrounding areas are really scary — open-air drug markets, shootings, etc. — so I had never really given it a chance before and avoided it unless I needed to go to the Motor Vehicle Agency. But I have to say that the renovations turned it into a whole new mall. The Target is perhaps the best-stocked one I’ve seen, and far nicer than any of the ones in the burbs; I’ve gone there at night and never felt unsafe because the parking lot is well lit and well patrolled. Oh, and I’m a 5’1″ white female. If experiences like mine aren’t enough to kill people’s misconceptions, then shame on them.

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  10. I first went here in late 2006 and it was just a mall with most of the stores occupied (A 2 level one) and I came back a year ago from now and now a lot of it Has TArget and a supermarket, what happened in between that time?

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  11. I am glad to see another hometown mall on Labelscar. Interestingly, this was a James Rouse mall (now GGP) predating Towson and Columbia, but the mall has changed over the years. I hope you enjoyed your time in Baltimore! When are they going to Labelscar Arundel Mills?

    Labelscar: the reason why I do my shopping online.

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    Caldor Reply:

    @James, We do in fact have (some) photos of Arundel Mills. I know I have a set from summer 2006 and Prangeway may have some as well…

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    All the malls on Labelscar aren’t necessarily dead. Even some of the biggest, brightest, most modern malls are covered and given attention like the small, dark, dead ones.

    There are lots of photos that haven’t seen the light of day, mostly dead malls. I’m still holding out for Forest Fair, and I’m writing a few more articles myself for submission.

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  12. I use to like goin to this mall before they called their self fixing the mall up 2 me it look worst then it did b4 I moved to Orlando for 3yrs came back to baltimore to my use to be favorite mall where I could go to get any and everything now I find myself just walkin n this mall and leavin back out very quick not that I dnt feel safe or anything but the shoppin habit is not the same The mall is very boring I remember THIS MALL USE TO BE SO LOUD because thefountain was there so people use to have to talk loud now it’s just dead no good stores no good food no good people!!! Not sayin it’s a bad mall or anything BUT I RATHER HAVE THE OLD MONDAMIN BACK

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  13. I remember the Mall when I was a little girl in 1959 when they had the grand-opening during the winter months with the famous historic clown Clarabelle (in which I still have a picture of). At that time it was predominately white. My family was probably one the first Black families to visit the Mall back then. It was a beautiful, friendly Mall that welcomed you with open arms.

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  14. Any of you remember the Escalator Inn? Many don’t It was the small restaurant located under the escalator. I worked there while in high school. Loved working there. Wish they would have placed something in it’s place.

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  15. Like to Druid Hill Park Mondawmin Mall is very much a part of Black History in Baltimore. I grew up not far from there and put many coins in the wishing well. Really sad and to think that wish you well will not be there, The wishing well has held the wishes, prayers and hope for so many decades, it saddens me that I will not be able to take my grandchildren there leaving maybe one day make a wish and toss a coin in. that wishing well with history the beautiful part of history inside Mondawmin Mall. going to thin donated his community to the children, I guess people just don’t think that time

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