Unveiling the heart of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, the Monroeville Mall is more than a shopping center—a historical emblem, a community gathering spot, and a witness to the ever-evolving landscape of retail and camaraderie.
As you delve into its rich past, present allure, and promising future, you’ll discover a narrative intertwined with that of the town itself, reflecting the changing tides and enduring spirit of Monroeville.
Historical Landscape Before Monroeville Mall
Before the emergence of the Monroeville Mall, Monroeville was a quaint, rural farming locale; the pastures were vast, and the pace of life was slow.
Nonetheless, a notable change loomed. The Pennsylvania Turnpike emerged in the early 1950s, and as it wove through the landscape, it heralded a new era.
This was further propelled when Interstate 376 (Parkway East) rolled onto the scene in the early 1960s.
These infrastructural marvels fueled the growth of Monroeville and its eastern suburbs, paving the way for a commercial renaissance.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 376 were not merely roads; they were the harbingers of change, ushering in an era of commercial prosperity.
Moving on, November 1954 marked a significant milestone with the opening of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center.
This bustling hub of commerce came alive with numerous shops and eateries, becoming a precursor to the greater things ahead.
As the 1960s rolled in, shopping malls became the new vogue, and the residents of Monroeville and the eastern suburbs soon found themselves drawn to the now-defunct Eastland Mall in nearby North Versailles, or the Greengate Mall in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.
In this budding commercial landscape, the seeds for something grander were being sowed.
The stage was set for a monumental establishment redefining the essence of shopping and community engagement in Monroeville.
Conception and Construction of Monroeville Mall
In the heart of the 1960s, Don-Mark Realty, later known as Oxford Development Company, envisaged creating a shopping behemoth—the largest mall in the United States.
They acquired a sprawling 280-acre tract of land known as Harper’s Mine, undeterred by local skepticism regarding the site’s suitability.
By 1966, the site buzzed with activity as grading equipment rolled in, prepping the ground for what would become a hallmark of Monroeville’s commercial landscape.
Unfazed by the whispers of doubt, the machines roared to life, embarking on a journey to create a commercial haven.
As the construction wheels set in motion in 1967, a whopping $30 million investment saw the rise of the Monroeville Mall over the next two years.
The construction saga saw more than 5,000,000 cubic yards of dirt moved to level the 110-acre portion of the site, with excavation costs towering to $2.5 million.
The fruition of this extensive labor was a mall with parking lots spacious enough to accommodate 6,500 vehicles—a clear testament to the grandeur that awaited the residents of Monroeville.
The excitement in the air was palpable as 1969 approached. The anticipation of something magnificent was about to burgeon in the heart of Monroeville, and the residents could hardly wait.
Grand Opening and Initial Features
The dawn of May 13, 1969, was unlike any other. The sun rose, casting its golden rays on the brand-new, 1,130,000-square-foot Monroeville Mall.
As the doors swung open, Gimbels and Joseph Horne Co. greeted visitors at opposite ends, with JCPenney holding fort in the middle.
The mall was a marvel, with 125 stores spread across two levels, offering a blend of high fashion, hardware, and everything.
Every corner of the Monroeville Mall was a narrative of innovation, offering a kaleidoscope of shopping experiences.
One of the crown jewels of the mall was the Ice Palace, a skating rink that offered a slice of wintry magic in the heart of Pennsylvania.
Adjacent to the rink, a local Italian restaurant provided a cozy dining experience, with large picture windows allowing patrons to enjoy views of skaters gliding on the ice.
The mall didn’t stop at just retail; it presented a spectrum of experiences, making it one of the most exciting things to do in Monroeville, Pennsylvania.
Additionally, the lower level housed the G.C. Murphy five dime store, a nod to the past where shoppers could find many items at budget-friendly prices.
It was a place where the thrifty and the extravagant shopper could find joy. The mall was not just a shopping destination but a reflection of the community’s diversity and evolving needs.
As the days rolled on, the Monroeville Mall continued to thrive, becoming a beloved staple in the community. The mall’s opening also had a ripple effect on the neighboring shopping centers.
For instance, the nearby Miracle Mile Shopping Center felt a shift in consumer preference as JCPenney relocated to the Monroeville Mall.
Though initially impacted, business at Miracle Mile gradually leveled out over time, a testament to the dynamic retail landscape of Monroeville.
In the heart of Monroeville, the mall stood as a beacon of community and commerce, embodying the spirit of growth and togetherness.
The Monroeville Mall was not just a brick-and-mortar structure but a living, breathing entity that evolved with the times.
Its opening marked the beginning of a new era, one filled with promise, community engagement, and a boundless retail adventure.
Surrounding Developments and In-mall Projects
With Monroeville Mall now a central hub, the areas around it began to buzz with activity. The 1970s saw a surge in developments, such as a movie theater and a Marriott hotel, which added to the allure of the mall. Retailers, auto service centers, and restaurants sprung up, making the vicinity a booming commercial zone.
The mall acted as a nucleus, around which the community and commerce flourished in synergy.
Inside the mall, change was the only constant. The mall annex blossomed with the addition of an A&P supermarket, which later made way for notable establishments like Burlington Coat Factory and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
1984 witnessed the transformation of the iconic Ice Palace into a food court, a move that was met with mixed feelings.
The distinctive clock tower, a symbol of timelessness, was dismantled to make way for a stage, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
As the winds of change blew, the mall adapted, showcasing a remarkable ability to evolve while remaining a steadfast community center.
The Largest Renovation and Expansion
The turn of the millennium brought with it a wave of modernization. The largest renovation and expansion project in the mall’s history was embarked upon in 2003. CBL & Associates Properties took the helm, injecting a fresh vibe into the aging giant.
The main entrance area metamorphosed into an 80,000-square-foot lifestyle center known as The District. Inside, the mall saw extensive upgrades; new escalators, lighting fixtures, and seating areas breathed life into the space.
Renovation was not merely a face-lift; it was a rejuvenation of the spirit of Monroeville Mall.
The food court, too, received a touch of modernity with new tables and seating arrangements. The glass elevator was refurbished, and the fountain near it was removed to maximize the seating area.
The mall was not just rekindling old flames but igniting new ones. In 2012-2013, a new wing anchored by a 12-screen Cinemark Theatres and additional in-line shops were constructed, adding another layer of allure to the already mesmerizing mall.
The Monroeville Mall continues to evolve, embracing the changing times. Fresh endeavors such as ‘The Colab’ for nurturing small enterprises, alongside establishing a $92 million VA Outpatient Clinic, underscore its lasting significance within the community.
Monroeville Mall stands as a testimony to the town’s indomitable spirit and the endless possibilities that lie within its boundaries.
Monroeville Mall remains an epicenter of community interaction, commerce, and entertainment from its humble beginnings to its grand stature today.
As the mall marches into the future, it carries the rich tapestry of its past, promising more chapters of exciting evolution.
Monroeville Mall in Pop Culture
The Iconic Dawn of the Dead
Monroeville Mall has been immortalized in popular culture, mainly due to its role as the primary filming location for George A. Romero’s 1978 classic horror film, Dawn of the Dead.
The mall served as a fortress for four human survivors trying to escape a zombie apocalypse. Filming occurred overnight after the mall’s closure, often continuing until dawn.
Located on the upper level, this museum celebrates zombies in film and pop culture, with a particular focus on Dawn of the Dead. It features artifacts, memorabilia, scale models of the mall depicted in the movie, and life-sized replicas of movie zombies.
More Films and TV Shows
Aside from Dawn of the Dead, Monroeville Mall has appeared in other movies and television shows:
- The mall’s ice skating rink was featured in the 1983 film Flashdance as the audition location for the character Jeanne.
- In the 1984 enchanting children’s fantasy film The Boy Who Loved Trolls, 12-year-old Paul meanders through the mall, revealing once-beloved storefronts like the Candy Tree.
- Episode 1483 of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood filmed a cake decorating contest in the mall’s old fountain court.
- Season 2, Episode 5 of the Netflix thriller Mindhunter cleverly transforms one of the mall’s entrances into a gateway to the San Francisco International Airport.
- WWE Pay per view WrestleMania Backlash 2021 referenced the mall during a zombie lumberjack match by Monroeville native Corey Graves.
Embarking on a retrospective journey through Monroeville Mall’s corridors, we’ve traversed history, community, and commerce.
As a cornerstone of Monroeville, PA, the mall is a testament to the town’s resilient spirit and evolving essence.
It continues to be a cherished venue, fostering connections and mirroring the broader narrative of Monroeville’s growth.
Through its doors, each visitor steps into a story still unfolding, a legacy in motion, and a community ever vibrant.