Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Last Days of White Flint Mall, MD

I took Monday off as a vacation day, planning to spend the whole day working on a website that I'm building for a client, but then I spotted a friend's photos on Facebook of a shopping mall in Maryland. It is nearly completely empty and his photos conveyed a sense of awesome abandonment so that I fully expected to look at the next photo and see a zombie or monster staggering past a desolate escalator or crashing through an empty store window. I had to go and see for myself! So after forcing myself to complete a few hours on the website, I rushed out of the door and drove to Bethesda.
It seems that the closure of the mall wasn't favored by everyone and a few websites were started up for supporters. Friends of White Flint Mall kept a running commentary of meeting minutes, and the Washington Post took a farewell tour of the premises.
Even Lawrence Lerner, the brother of Ted Lerner,who owns the Washington Nationals. sued the owners of the mall in a last ditch effort to prevent the closure. But apparently all to no avail. I arrived at the nearly empty parking lot, and pulling up in front of the mall, noticed immediately the missing Dave and Busters sign, an ugly circular opening at the top of the facade where it had once been.
I threw my camera bag on my back and headed towards the doors, noting that to the right it looked as though some demolishing had already started. Signs warning of asbestos clearing were visible and as I walked through the glass doors the air was musty and a little moldy.
 I took some fun shots at the doors then stepped inside the building proper. The first thing I noticed was that it was freezing! I could hear the AC laboring heavily, probably still running on mid summer settings although it was now fall. The lights were bright but the once colorful and enticing store windows were now blank, dark, many covered with heavy opaque paper. I spotted a jewelers but as I peered inside, my inquisitive look was met with a frosty glare of two people packing up the remnants of display pieces. I turned a corner and saw Lord & Taylors at the end. I knew the store was still open but somehow I wasn't quite sure, there seemed to be a gloominess about the place despite the bright store lights. PF Chang's restaurant next door was also open, but I'd assumed this when I saw the huge horse statues out the front, despite that they'd looked tatty and neglected.
I walked the empty corridors and occasionally came across a flickering light that scuttled my senses a little. There really is something creepy about an empty shopping mall, I guess I've watched too many zombie movies. But the sound of the sporadic wailing screech from the escalators as they slowly rattled round and the distant squealing of kids fooling around in the distance really played on my mind. I only saw two other people walking about, one old man shuffling along with his head down and a young teenager, also with her head down, but in her case looking at her phone.
I had taken quite a few photos and was lining up a last shot of the double escalators when a man approached me and told me to stop taking photos. My finger pressed down, click. I took the one I wanted, glad my shutter sounds had been turned off, then turned to him with a broad smile. He informed me that photography wasn’t allowed and that I should stop. I mentioned that there were no signs on any doors prohibiting photography and that there were already hundreds of public photos of the mall on line. He agreed and asked if I wanted to talk to the building manager. I accepted his offer and we went up to the top floor where I was introduced to a lady with a limp handshake. I knew immediately that this would be a fruitless discussion and I was proved right. She was not open to any photography and even said she’d take down the photos already on line if she could. But she would not give a reason as to why it was not allowed, even when I said folks took photos of shopping malls all over the world. I gave in and politely thanked her for her time, wishing I had the courage to let her know about the huge lumps of mascara on her right cheek, that my focus had drawn to like a magnet, throughout our whole conversation.
I walked out of the building, respecting her wishes not to take any more photos, even though I didn’t understand why, and took a last long look at the battered mall as I turned the ignition key.A quote from says, "The new mixed development project will feature residential, office, retail and public uses including a large central plaza, a 2.3 acre addition to the existing White Flint Neighborhood Park, and an elementary school site. The White Flint Mall project will front Rockville Pike and the eastern part of Executive Boulevard, which, along with Nebel Street, will be extended into the site. A hotel is planned along Executive Boulevard, as well as offices. Residences are planned to include a mix of mid-rise and high-rise multi-family buildings. A series of new streets will be built to include ample sidewalks and attractive streetscapes that encourage walking. The majority of parking for the development will be underground."
A comment on the Washington Post that talked about the redevelopment summed it up for me, " it looks like suburban sprawl is being replaced with urban sprawl."


Lewis Francis said...

Great shots, Debby!

Debby Karalee said...

Thanks for the tip, Lewis :)