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What is the history of Independence Mall?

Ben Steelman
StarNews

Originally intended as a Bicentennial project, Independence Mall, at 3500 Oleander Drive, Wilmington [Map this], was launched in the mid-1970s as a partnership between Strouse, Greenberg & Co., a Philadelphia-based real estate firm, and The Oleander Co. of Wilmington.

Under Hugh MacRae II, The Oleander Co. had developed Hanover Center on Oleander Drive in the early 1950s. Sydney Greenberg, a partner in the Strouse, Greenberg, emphasized his local ties to Wilmington reporters; he had spent many summers at nearby beaches, and his grandparents had operated S. & B. Solomon Wholesale Dry Goods.

The site chosen — directly across Oleander Drive from Hanover Center — was mostly pine forest in the 1970s. A baseball field had reportedly once been on the site. According to Anna Pennington, the Air Progress firm, run by the Dunn brothers, operated a small airstrip on part of the future mall’s location in the 1940s.

The project was bitterly contested, in Wilmington City Council and elsewhere, by residents of the nearby Lincoln Forest neighborhood, who sought a barrier from the heavy commercial development and feared the effects of the mall’s parking lot on local drainage. Plans went forward, however, with groundbreaking ceremonies in July 1977. The architectural firm of Stevens & Wilkinson of Atlanta was responsible for the design; press releases emphasized its “humanistic” elements, including a central court (which was originally sunken).

The grand opening came on Aug. 1, 1979. At the time, Independence Mall was Wilmington’s first major shopping mall to be totally enclosed. The arms, radiating from the central court, led to the three major anchor stores, Belk Beery, Sears and J.C. Penney. (The former Belk Beery building downtown would eventually be renovated as the New Hanover County Public Library.) Originally, a total of 75 shops lined the walkways to the department stores. The original size of the facility was 727,000 square feet.

A notable feature of the mall was (and still are) the mosaic murals depicting Wilmington landmarks and landscapes, designed by artist and retired savings-and-loan executive Samuel D. Bissette.

In 1997, Strouse, Greenberg’s share of the mall was acquired by Westfield America, a subsidiary of an Australian company which owned a number of American shopping centers. Westfield’s management would oversee a major expansion, which would add a fourth arm to the mall, anchored by a new Dillard’s store and including a 400-seat food court. Dillard’s opened on March 16, 2001, with a grand opening for the new wing on March 21, 2001.

In 2006, Westfield sold its majority interest in Indepence Mall to Centro Properties Group, another Australian-based company which owned and operated mall properties in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Independence Mall Cinemas, a three-screen theater complex operated by Carmike Cinemas, stood in a separate building at 1843 Independence Blvd. It opened in 1979 but was demolished in 2000 to make way for the Dillard’s wing.

User-contributed question by:
Mike Breadley

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One Response to “ What is the history of Independence Mall?”

  1. On August 20, 2009 at 11:28 am Liz wrote:

    Does anyone have pictures of the mall when it first opened or at least the mall before it was renovated?



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