UPDATE 4/3/2010: I’m resurfacing this post from 2006 specifically because the Warwick Mall has been all over the news this week. Rhode Island’s Warwick Mall was a victim of a flood that was the worst Rhode Island has seen in 200 years, and the entire mall was buried under 2+ feet of water (and as much as 6ft in some places) and is currently closed indefinitely for a rebuilding and cleaning effort. Although the future of the mall is somewhat in question, it seems likely that the still locally-owned mall will be repaired and reopened in roughly the same state it was in before. Scroll down for some updates on the flood itself, along with photos (and links to more) of the Warwick Mall flood of 2010. Also, one unsubstantiated (and possibly strange) potential impact of this: the neighboring (and very, very dead) Rhode Island Mall has been rumored as a potential site for some short term leases for stores that were displaced in the flooding. Could this be the beginning of a return for Rhode Island’s only Gruen-designed shopping mall?
The Warwick Mall is a 1 million square foot enclosed shopping mall at the junction of interstate 295 and RI-2 in Warwick, Rhode Island. It is immediately across the freeway from the beleaguered Rhode Island Mall, which we’ve posted about before, though I wouldn’t say that the Warwick Mall was responsible for killing it.
Warwick Mall opened in 1972, just a few years after the adjacent Rhode Island Mall (which was then called the Midland Mall). For a very long time, the two malls coexisted very peacefully. Rhode Island Mall was anchored by G. Fox and Sears, while Warwick Mall featured Rhode Island’s first outlets of Boston-based department stores Filene’s and Jordan Marsh, along with branches of downtown Providence department stores Peerless and The Outlet, as well as a Woolworth. The JCPenney building at the west end of the mall was almost certainly added later, and Caldor replaced The Outlet some time in the early 1980s. Despite that Warwick Mall was almost twice the size of the Rhode Island Mall, it houses only seventy stores. This is because it houses six anchors instead of two, and the large size of these anchors and in-line store spaces. The Jordan Marsh store alone housed more than 300,000 square feet of floor space.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Warwick area became the king of Rhode Island retail, and the route 2 corridor became a boomtown of strip malls, stretching miles to the north and south. Both malls profited and continued to thrive, but by the late 1980s, the Rhode Island Mall may have gained a slight edge via a renovation and addition of a food court, plus its ability to actually hold more tenants in spite of its smaller size. The Warwick Mall responded with a 1991 renovation, which added the arched trellis ceilings you see in these photos today, and removed many of the mall’s more vintage elements, such as the sunken sitting areas, extensive greenery, large fountains, and statues. The mall’s historic clock does remain, along with a much smaller version of the center court fountain. Prior to the renovation, the Warwick Mall’s center court featured a large penny fountain with a large, vaguely Grecian statue. I wish I had some vintage photos of this mall, because the way I remember it as a child was truly stunning–very much the model of a “classic” shopping mall. One of my favorite features was a sunken sitting area in the center of the mall which housed an Orange Julius (the kind with the “wall of oranges” facade).
In addition, the renovation replaced the departed Peerless anchor with a large food court. Around this time (I’m not sure of the exact date), Woolworth’s also departed the mall and was replaced with an extremely large Express/Bath and Body Works/Structure combination store, which still has its own exterior entrance.
This 1991 renovation repositioned Warwick Mall as the dominant mall for the southern Providence suburbs, which is the status it retains today. Rhode Island Mall’s influence began to decline a few short years after the renovation when the May company acquired Filenes, and ultimately decided to shut their G. Fox store at Rhode Island Mall while expanding the Filene’s store at the Warwick Mall, adding to this mall’s overall square footage. The 1999 bankruptcy of Caldor didn’t phase the mall, as the space was filled relatively quickly with a large Old Navy store. Interestingly, however, the Caldor was a two-level anchor store, and the existing Old Navy is only one level, so the second level of the Caldor is not in use and could potentially even be something of a time capsule. Similarly, the 1999 opening of the massive and upscale Providence Place Mall had no measurable impact on the Warwick Mall, which has remained successful. A large Showcase Cinemas also opened on the mall’s outlots in 2000 or 2001.
In a strange twist, the Warwick Mall has remained privately owned throughout its entire history. Developed by Bliss Properties, Lloyd Bliss sold the mall to his son-in-law, Cranston City Councilman Aram Garabedian, the mall’s owner today. Today, the May/Federated merger has created the mall’s largest vacancy ever, with the 300,000 square foot former Macy’s/Jordan Marsh sitting dark. Garabedian has purchased the site from Federated and said he is exploring demolishing the structure (which, given its size, seems almost inevitable) and replacing it with a lifestyle component to anchor the southern end of the mall. While I agree that what the mall needs most is more in-line space (70 stores is tiny for such a dominant, super-regional mall), I’m not so jazzed about the lifestyle concept in general because I fear it will look tacked on. I’d rather see the mall receive a second level addition with a collection of alternative anchors at its southern end, but one challenge facing the Warwick Mall is that the success of its surrounding shopping district means that there are very few chains not already present. We’ll see. UPDATE 4/3/2010: Actually, the massive Jordan Marsh store was replaced with a Target store on the ground level, and a Sports Authority on the second level, as seen in many of the 2010 flood photos. At least one of my original 2006 predictions was correct!
In the photos, be careful to notice the distinctive copper-green awnings of the former Jordan Marsh/Macy’s, and the unusually large facade that Old Navy has inherited by occupying just one level of a two-level store. And if you want more, check out the virtual tour on the official website!
UPDATE 3/31/2010: Massive flooding due to storms in New England caused the Warwick Mall to be completely flooded with over 2-3 feet of water inside the mall and more in the parking lot. At the moment, it remains to be seen when the mall will reopen. Initially it seemed the severity of the flood in the area of the mall was comparable to many of the malls around New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina that never reopened, but on closer inspection it appeared that the mall was not as heavily damaged as originally suspected. Mall owner Aram Garabedian has stated that the mall should reopen in a matter of weeks or months at most, though it will remain closed indefinitely. A security guard at the mall had to be rescued by boat, and some bunnies being used in Easter photo shoots at a photography studio were drowned in the flood. More pictures and story here, via the Huffington Post. Photo below via the Providence Journal.
Prangeway: Here are some more pictures of Warwick Mall from August 25, 2001.