HSP HISTORY Blog
Interesting Frederick, Maryland tidbits and musings .
HSP HISTORY Blog
Interesting Frederick, Maryland tidbits and musings .
I certainly smiled the other day when I saw the Frederick News-Post article announcing the recent groundbreaking for the Frederick Towne Center project (aka the Frederick Towne Mall “Facelift”). I am truly excited to see the results of this new chapter in the history of this iconic Frederick landmark.
I suddenly began to reminisce about fond times had in my youth with my late father and two younger brothers. This was the magical, weekly trip to the mall on Saturday afternoons. And not just any mall, but the Frederick Towne Mall complete with with the old school spelling of “towne,” or should I say “olde school?”
The Frederick Towne Mall opened amidst great anticipation and fanfare in late summer of 1972. It was located amidst former sleepy farmland west of Frederick on West Patrick Street/ US40 West. This route would soon see rapid commercial development and soon earn the moniker of “the Golden Mile,” thanks to Millard "Mick" Mastrino, a Maryland State Police trooper who would eventually retire a sergeant with the Maryland State Police and president emeritus of United Steam-Fire Engine Co.
The original owner and developer of this “Shopping Taj Mahal” was the Shopco Company of New York City (owned by Harold Yasky and Arnold Praver). It would eventually be sold years later to DeBartolo Development, under Edward J. DeBartolo of Youngstown, Ohio. Now the name may be familiar to 80’s fans because Edward J. DeBartolo bought a professional football franchise in 1977 as a gift for his son Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr. This was the San Francisco 49ers, winners of multiple NFL Super Bowl titles during the decade.
The 580,000 square foot structure included 73 stores in its heyday. It was anchored by major department stores: JC Penney’s to the west, and Montgomery Wards to the east. In the middle, was Eyerlys (later known by its full name of Bon-Ton Eyerlys).
About 20 years ago, I found an original brochure from the Mall’s inaugural. It hadn’t traveled far since it was in a stack of local paper ephemera at the Wonder Book Store, located directly across the street from the once regal mall. The brochure proudly boasted that the Frederick Towne Mall was “…the most modern shopping center in the world—with the charm of Colonial America!” This was a pretty bold statement, but one that likely held truth since I didn’t remember anything quite like it when my parents dragged us down to Williamsburg during the 1976 Revolutionary War Bicentennial period.
What did catch me off guard when perusing this brochure closer was the artist depiction of an indoor skating rink in front of J.C. Penney. I remember the open space, but never any ice or skaters.
The true selling point of this Colonial themed consumer hub was free, easy-access parking that could accommodate 3,500 cars. At this time, a burgeoning Downtown Frederick sans parking garages was not convenient to shoppers who had to scramble for parking spaces, and feed meters. Now we may have no problem doing this today with a lunch or shopping jaunt in Downtown Frederick today (even with many parking decks at our disposal), but imagine having to find, and pay for, parking every time you have to go to any of the many box stores and “box restaurants” we have today? You can see the allure.
It’s no wonder the heavily marketed catch slogan of this place would become “The Frederick Towne Mall…The talk of the town!” As I have dabbled in product development and marketing myself, I personally don’t think the message was as powerful and poignant as that of the later, greater Francis Scott Key Mall (aka “The New Mall”) which would one day proclaim “The Francis Scott Key Mall: We’ve got shopability!” But the Frederick Towne Mall was our first indoor shopping center, the original, the trendsetter, and possessed so much more charm and personality than FSK….at least in as much as a shopping center could do.
The “Old Mall” was a big player in the onetime death of downtown Frederick. The story was the same in many other places. The suburbs were booming both commercially and residentially. My family was part of it when we moved to the Indian Springs area northwest of Frederick City in spring 1974. Clover Hill 1 and West Hills were newfound oases, far from town, existing almost like the early Las Vegas of the 1931 when Nevada legalized gambling. There was no Old Farm, or Whittier developments— just wide open farm land. Our house off Stonehouse Road, at the foot of the mountain, was among the first of a beautiful little neighborhood to grow up in. Traffic free streets to ride bikes, and acre sized lots that gave good separation between next door neighbors, while allowing you to build backyard sports complexes if you chose.
One of the nicest perks of our home location was that it offered a virtual backroads shortcut to the Frederick Towne Mall. Mapquest wasn’t on anyone’s radar back then, but one could get from Point A (our home) to Point B (the mall) by using a route that included Rocky Springs Road, Kemp Lane, (a quick 50 yards on) Shookstown Road and Waverly Drive. That was it, and we didn’t even have to get on the Golden Mile! Best of all, it only took about 8 minutes by use of our trusty, 1972, bright orange Ford Pinto station wagon.
Every Saturday, my father would take me and my brothers Tim and Jon to the mall. The rationale was twofold as my Dad had to run errands yes, but this was also a chance to give my poor mother a respite from the constant fighting or heated sport/game competitions involving boys. The trip would always start with a lunch stop. The Minute Grill (which would evolve later into the Casa Rico restaurant) was my Dad’s favorite and it can best be described as a poor man’s Ponderosa Steak House. As a matter of fact, it had been a Ponderosa before.
Oh, the magic of the times, one in which the western motif idealized in television shows of the 50’s and 60’s had now carried over into eating establishments like Arby’s and the Rustler. The sole survivor of this craze remains today and is one of Frederick’s own (literally and figuratively) Roy Rogers restaurant. And my Dad had us there at the grand opening when Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were on hand to open Frederick’s first of the fabled franchise on the Golden Mile, conveniently located directly across from the mall. As for the Minute Grill, it was always hamburgers and fries for us. However, the beverage portion of the meal was memorable as this was the important period in American history of the advent of the “all you can drink,” free refills. Something we would learn to regret week after week as we suffered from soda-induced stomach aches.
After lunch, we were soon heading across the parking lot to the mall. We were greeted by the delightful smells wafting from Pappy’s Pizza upon our official entry on the mall’s south west side. No offense to “the west end,” but the “meat and potatoes” end of the mall was on the east end, but not the far east side. And when I say “far east side,” I’m not talking about the east wing extension which included two Asian-American owned businesses: “Your Custom Tailor” and the “Real-Rich Ice Cream” establishment. The latter was owned by the Korean Cha family of town. A daughter, Virginia Cha, a Gov. Thomas Johnson High School grad is one of the most beautiful and talented women to grace the mall (and our fair county). She would hold the title of Miss Frederick, Miss Maryland and was runner up for the title of Miss America in 1990! The Princeton graduate has had quite a successful career as a news reporter and correspondent with stints throughout the country including CNN and HLN. Currently she is with KGTV ABC10 in San Diego.
The eastern end of the mall had our three favorite venues. For me, it was Waxie Maxies record store. Tim eagerly longed for the Time Out Arcade. My youngest brother spent an inordinate amount of time in Walden Book Store, but not by choice. This was my father’s favorite store, and since Jon was the runt, he had to accompany Dad as Tim and I got to do our own thing in our respective stores. This gave us our first real sense of freedom, as our dad left us unsupervised, and it didn’t hurt that all three establishments were next to each other in succession.
I would spend hard-earned allowance money (garnered from cleaning our house) on records, particularly 45 rpm records. I spent a lot of time and money in that store, eventually collecting over 1000 45’s and hundreds of 33rpm vinyl albums—more relics from the past. Meanwhile, Tim was spending just as much, however he was doing so one quarter at a time. He was caught up in the Pac Man craze of 1980, followed by the darker Donkey Kong period of Arcadia. I didn’t get crazy over video arcade games, because I preferred sports games. Back then, these were pretty clunky and some featured running in the form of spinning a stationary duckpin bowling ball, which lived in a recessed cavity in the arcade game's tabletop framework. I was much more satisfied kicking my brother's butt at home in football and baseball as our family was one of the first to acquire the coveted Mattel Intellivision, the “best in show” of the gaming world in the early 80’s.
Any quarters I had in my pocket weren’t wasted on video games, They would be “wasted” on miniature NFL plastic football helmets hailing from a lone coin vending machine attributed to McCrory’s—the Darwin missing link to the Wal-Mart of today. It was also home to one of the most impressive mall snack bars in the nation. It was an amazing place where commerce and coleslaw collided for a down-home store-cooked meal. Can young people today even comprehend an eatery amidst a 5&10/drug store?
For being patient in the bookstore, my youngest brother earned us a trip to KayBee toys, even if it was only a chance to simply window shop and play with toys within the confines of the store. KayBee was across from McCrory’s and next to another fine eatery, Friendly’s. Sometimes we’d get to eat at these establishments instead of the Minute Grill. Friendly’s was known for its colorful, sherbet inspired Fribble, while McCrorys had the best hot dogs, served on a grilled roll. And this was the same grilled roll that could be had at Friendly’s if you were in a seafarin’ mood, desiring the almighty Clamwich. Now that was fried goodness with an overwhelming “tang of the sea.” But why stop there, because true aficionados could make the trek to Long John Silvers, the only one of its kind in Frederick, for a bounty of fish planks and hush puppies.
The Center Court festival area featured mainstays like Radio Shack and the Earring Tree. Shipleys Sporting Goods was nearby and always captured our imagination. Moving in a westerly fashion from this locale was basically “Yawnsville” for our pack of young boys, save for the occasional chuckle when passing JoAnn’s Nut House, which would usually bring on a brief chastising by our father to mind our manners. The Hallmark Store, Hanover Shoes and Melart Jewelers elicited zero reaction.
We couldn’t quite figure out what role Fashion Bug Plus would ever play in our lives either. There were other girls’ clothes and shoe stores too, all of which barely register any name recognition to me. JC Penneys stood proudly at the west end, and it was big fun to ride the escalators to the second floor. The tradeoff, of course, was having to suffer through our father perusing the latest offerings from the Kenny Rogers Collection, but that was a “gamble” that was well worth it because the upstairs had electronic gadgets, and was a showroom for us to bug our dad for upcoming Christmas presents.
As we departed the mall’s biosphere by that southwest entrance and made our way back to the car, my brothers and I experienced that sad feeling that usually accompanies the end of a great vacation, holiday season or visit with long-distance relatives. This had been the high point of our respective week. Even harder to bear was the fact that we had to suffer through another six days until our triumphant return. Or maybe it was because we had the knowledge that we weren’t heading home just yet. We had to go to the grocery store for the weekly family shopping spree. And nothing for us was more unbearable, tedious and boring than going to the grocery store, something I still despise to this day.
The Frederick Towne Mall was an important part of my childhood, and I look back fondly at the male bonding experience had with my father and brothers during those days. “The Old Mall” was definitely something more than a close-quartered haven of trade and commerce, or a joyful recreational shopping experience and endless buffet of fried seafood— It was a childhood friend. Thank you Frederick Towne Mall for the memories...you were certainly “The talk of the town!” back in your day.
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