Friday, October 16, 2015

A walk through North Oaks Mall 2015.

This is my second recent trip to the North Oaks Mall, click here for the first.
North Oaks Mall once connected to the far anchor which was a Target, but was mostly closed off to expand the retail stores with exterior entrances. Currently the cinema is the only business open in the mall corridor. 

Here is the view when you walk into this small remaining corridor at the North Oaks Mall.
A vintage MacFrugal's sign at the mall entrance to Big Lots. Several years ago all of the different closeout stores under the Consolidated Stores Corporation all became Big Lots stores and the MacFrugal's and Odd Lots names disappeared.
As you can see this was a very slow night for the movie theater. 
The other entrance to the mall corridor at the back of the center.
Looking from the above entrance towards the theater.
A view of one of the former mall stores. 
Another former mall store down what is left of the mall corridor that once stretched to what was a former Target.
This is where the mall corridor abruptly ends.
Looking from the dead end to the theater entrance.
The back side of the Big Lots.
Looking back towards the main entrance.

A retro wall from an old store across from the Big Lots.

23 comments:

  1. Thanks for the photos, these are very good. I have not seen some of these areas in probably ~16 years or so since it‘s been a while since I‘ve seen a movie at that theater. I think the last movie I saw there was either Blues Brothers 2000 or Major League III.

    It’s really interesting seeing the old storefronts. One of those was probably the old arcade (Aladdin’s Castle maybe, but I forget which exactly), but I can’t say for sure at this point which one it was. It’s also interesting seeing the back entrance. Some people like to say a mall isn’t a mall if it does not have parking all the way around it, but North Oaks Mall did/still does have that small parking lot in the back. I wonder if the openings covered with the teal painted wall was actually the mall corridor or old stores. That’s about where the corridor was. It’s hard to tell.

    It’s interesting that Big Lots still puts up price tags facing the mall entrance. I guess a decent number of people still pass by there to go to the theater. I guess the number isn’t big enough though to reopen the mall entrance or to get new signage in that area. It’s great seeing the MacFrugal’s sign though.

    Anyone who is interested in reading about some of the past stores at North Oaks Mall should read the reply I wrote to the previous post about this mall. I know I put some stuff in there. The outparcel RadioShack has closed in more recent times, but the center is still doing well as far as I can tell. I was shopping there just a few weeks ago. I brought a Milli Vanilli cassette at the Half Price Books of all things. That was a nice retro purchase at a retro former mall.

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    1. As you can see, the night I took these pictures was the best opportunity to see this place without people. The cinema usually has a line of people at the ticket counter especially on weekends. That Tuesday night during the school year was a rare occasion to see the place nearly empty.

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  2. That particular MacFrugal's/Big Lots was originally a TG&Y (from what I've read), but I'm not sure when this particular TG&Y would have closed. Perhaps it was soon after the Walmart at 1960 and TC Jester opened in 1987 or 1988? Walmart ended up relocating that store to a Supercenter but the Walmart at 1960 and Cutten near Willowbrook Mall was expanded to a Supercenter a bit earlier.

    That MacFrugal's sign is certainly an odd site to see at this point in time. I'm not sure when MacFrugal's originally opened at this mall, but it was in 1991 or 1992 that the Pic N Save name in Houston was replaced by MacFrugal's. It was no later than 1999 though that the mall entrance/exit to the MacFrugal's was made into an emergency exit.

    I may be paranoid but I find it very creepy that the mall corridor is still used despite the mall being empty except for the theater. If I were female, I absolutely would not enter the mall alone except at a really busy time for the theater.

    Do we know exactly which other AMC theater replaced this one? AMC opened a more modern theater in Greenspoint (not the mall, but the neighborhood) in 1984, but also opened a theater across from Willowbrook Mall in 1989. I have to think one of those two was the official replacement for the North Oaks theater.

    Ironically, both the General Cinema/GCC theater at Greenspoint Mall (which opened in 1976, the same year as North Oaks) and the 1984 AMC nearby closed in 1996 because of crime overtaking the area. Surprisingly though the former AMC is now a more upscale Movie Tavern. GCC also had a theater at Willowbrook Mall that opened with the mall in 1981 but for some odd reason was sold to AMC around the same time as their 1989 theater across the street opened. Both of these AMCs were replaced by the AMC Willowbrook 24 in 1999 or 2000. The GCC chain continued to exist until 2002 when AMC bought it.

    That sign that says "Theatres" at the North Oaks theater is the same sign that AMC installed in 1976, only minus the AMC part! I know of an AMC multiplex in NJ that opened in 1983 and had that same signage until 2013 when a major remodel happened.

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    1. Thanks for that extra information about the mall and nearby cinemas. There have been so many changes over the years that have claimed many top movie companies in the US. AMC has been the most resilient and made the acquisitions and changes necessary to continue to thrive.

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    2. One fact that's odd about AMC is that their first 8-10 screen multiplexes (1983 was around when they were new) is that they borrowed a lot of design features from the small AMC theaters of the 70's. That "Theatres" font is one example. The circa 1983 AMCs also usually were built with wood shingles on the facade, but around 1985 the old sign font and 70's-centric wood were discontinued. I thought late 80's AMCs looked WAY more modern than their early 80's counterparts.

      Also, let me let you in on a secret: United Artists theaters still exist today, but are owned by Regal. I don't get why Regal kept the name, but the United Artists theaters tend to be older and more obsolete than the theaters with the Regal name. In fact it seems the United Artists theaters have been closing one by one as their leases expire, but Regal has been remodeling the theaters with their own name.

      What's sad is that both GCC and United Artists survived well into the 1990s (both started building multiplexes in the late 80's, not far behind AMC) but ended up selling out to AMC and Regal who now have something of a duopoly in parts of the country. Often AMC and Regal have theaters near one another, but agree to not show the same movies as one another.

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    3. I can’t really say which theaters replaced which, but there was also an old two screen theater (I’m not sure who operated it) that was located on FM 1960 between the North Oaks Mall location and Willowbrook Mall that closed sometime around the time that North Oaks opened.

      You probably know this already, but Greenspoint Mall got a new theater a few years ago. The old JCPenney was torn down and a Premiere theater was put up there. I don’t know how well it’s doing, but it’s there.

      As for the Willowbrook Mall area AMCs, the original location in The Commons across from the mall was recently torn down and replaced with a new Academy store (Academy previously had a freestanding location next to The Commons that opened in the mid-1990s). The old AMC was distinctive because the driveway in front of it (which was the center of the shopping center) was completely covered. Sadly, that’s gone now. I believe the two anchors next to the Academy may be empty too, but maybe something has come up there that I have not seen. One is the old Phar-Mor-turned-Room Store. The other was an OfficeMax that recently closed.

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    4. Thanks to the above commentors for providing great information regarding the movie theaters in the area and beyond.

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    5. I didn't realize the RoomStore at Willowbrook Commons was ever a Phar-Mor. When approximately would this Phar-Mor have closed? The chain went out of business in 2002, but I'm pretty sure RoomStore opened at the Willowbrook Commons site no later than 2000.

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  3. Wonderful pictures! I had no idea this mall existed.. There is a shopping center at 290 and W. 34th in Houston that has a very similar layout with the center corridor heading all the way to the back. According to a site plan Weingarten is still trying to rent out the spaces inside the mall, and also it looks like there's a corridor around the back of Staples, were they once connected?

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    1. The North Oaks Mall corridor was once connected to what was previously Target (now Staples). There are a few small store spaces in the old mall corridor that could be used again.

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    2. There were a few shopping centers with indoor corridors in the Houston area. North Oaks Mall was probably one of the most prominent ones. Another prominent one was the Westchase Mall. That was a related Weingarten development similar to North Oaks, but it was a little bit different. Westchase Mall still exists as a regular shopping center, but it does not have any remnants of the mall still open like North Oaks Mall AFAIK.

      I think Weingarten actually sold North Oaks a couple of years ago, but I think the leasing plan is still available from their website. AFAIK, Weingarten was trying to lease out the spaces inside the mall part of the center, but obviously those are a tough sell.

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  4. I do have to wonder... why is this theater still open? And considering it's in a mall/shopping center that never rally has been "dead", I'm surprised it was converted to a dollar theater in the first place (once AMC closed/sold it).

    Might it have sat empty for any length of time once AMC closed? I'm thinking it did because it seems that most chain theaters that close are redeveloped into retail or restaurant tenants. Maybe the dollar theater in this case was the only taker for the space after a few years of vacancy.

    By the way, has North Oaks as a center been hurt by the Target moving out?

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    1. The theater does good business most nights, I have seen the hallway filled with people waiting to get in on the weekends. I am not sure if the cinema ever closed, but it has been open for several years while the mall was mostly blocked in.

      The Target leaving hurt that section of the center for a while. A small portion of the former Target has not been redeveloped yet. The center does very well and stays busy especially on the weekends. Further down 1960 at Kuykendahl, 4 big box centers are at that intersection. Only one is doing well, and the other 3 have several vacancies.

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    2. I can't really recall if the theater was closed for any period of time, but the dollar theater has been there for many, many years now. It's still a popular theater as je says and I'm sure that the theater drives a lot of customers to the several eating establishments that are at North Oaks right now.

      Plus, it'll be hard for the center to redevelop that space for anything else since it's located further back than the rest of the center. It's probably ideal for a theater. The center would have to eliminate the Half Price Books, Bedrock Comics, and Ashley Stewart store (or a big chunk of the Big Lots) to reconfigure the theater and mall corridor into a traditional retail spot. It's probably not worth it for the center to lose 3 long term tenants (plus the Half Price Books is a very popular draw) for the sake of trying to attract one tenant.

      I'm sure that losing Target did hurt the center, but they were fortunate to get Hobby Lobby and Staples as replacements. The center does have a lot of popular discount type stores (TJ Maxx, Ross, Big Lots, and 99 Cents Only) along with some niche big boxes like Mardel and Half Price Books. The center also has a number of eateries and the theater too of course. I'd call the center a powercenter even if it has an odd mix of stores. It's certainly a lot more successful than many other shopping centers along FM 1960 as je says.

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    3. A gym would probably be one of the few good reuses for the cinema site if it ever closes. A gym would require very little reconfiguration of the remaining mall space and they would be able to push the entrance up to where the mall corridor meets the front of the center.

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    4. You're right, a gym would be a good use for that theater spot if it ever opens up. 24 Hour Fitness is already across the street in the old Albertson's, but maybe someone like Planet Fitness would be a good fit. I think converting the theater space to a medical facility might be another good use of the space if a retailer can't be found. Something like a bowling alley might work too, but I can't even recall the last time a new bowling alley opened up around here. It was probably in the early 1980s.

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    5. The Main Event Entertainment places have bowling alleys, but they require a large amount of space to put bowling, pool, bar area, video games, restaurant, and laser tag in the same building. The bowling alleys that have survived have expanded or offered a much better environment than older bowling alleys. I remember when I was younger most bowling alleys had a strong smoke odor and dingy fixtures.

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  5. Houston has several AMF bowling alleys, most (all?) of which started as Fair Lanes. It was around 1995 that AMF bought Fair Lanes. At least three of the Houston-area Fair Lanes (Diamond, Windfern, and Bunker Hill, all still open) opened sometime in the 70's and have changed not much since. AMF Willow Lanes though was a Fair Lanes that opened around 1985. Also I think AMF Woodlands Lanes was a Fair Lanes from the very early 80's.

    AMF is a company with a really unusual history. It began as a maker of all kinds of sporting goods as well as power equipment. DeWalt tools, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Hogan golf balls, pool tables, gymnastic mats, bicycles, and lawn tractors were all made by AMF at one time. I have no idea why but now bowling is AMF's only business. It was sometime in the 80's that they stopped everything else except making pool tables (that division disappeared in the early 2000s).

    Strangely, the AMF gymnastics division was spun off in 1980-something and renamed AAI, but the AAI products were at first identical to the AMF products that came before, and an AAI logo was created that was identical to the AMF logo (even though AAI broke off from AMF). One of AMF's gymnastic product lines was called AMF American and this continued as AAI American.

    Ironically, in the 21st century, AAI scrapped their AMF-style logo a number of years before AMF Bowling did a total logo redesign. I found it strange to begin with that when AAI ditched AMF (around 1985), AAI chose to reuse the AMF logo, which was created in the early 70's and by 1985 was already looking dated. At some 50's or 60's bowling alleys (either AMF-owned or not), you still today might see equipment with the AMF "circle" logo from that era. The logo that inspired the AAI logo is what I would call the "triangle" logo because of the triangle jutting into the top of the M in AMF.

    Here's a REALLY strange fact that I found out not too long ago: around 1993 (some time after AMF shrunk to bowling/billiards only), a gymnastics company whose name I now forget (it was "Sports Supply Inc" or something similar) started selling a line of gymnastics equipment with the AMF name, using the AMF name under license. This must have been a short-lived experiment but now I have to wonder... why did they do it? It's like AMF and the other company in the joint venture were creating totally unnecessary competition for AAI (and yet the AMF and AAI logos during the 1990s were still identical to one another).

    I wonder if AAI either sued or threatened to and this is why the joint venture ended. But I have a different theory that maybe only a very small number of the "new AMF" products were made, and that maybe this was a test-marketing exercise that was done to see how re-launched AMF gymnastics items would sell (maybe AAI was considering returning to the AMF name but didn't want to risk losing money themselves if it turned out to be a failure)? So maybe AAI had something to do with the AMF name being revived by the third company...

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    1. There is an older AMF bowling alley in Humble also, but I don't know if it was a Fair Lanes.

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    2. It probably was one. I looked at it in Bing Maps and it looks a lot like the AMF buildings at Windfern and Bunker Hill. They all have a rock/pebble finish on the outside walls. Safeway used a similar design on a number of their stores.

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  6. Actually I might be wrong about that "theatres" sign being the original from 1976. For some reason I am thinking it was an early 80's sign, but then that raises the question of... why would a sign from 1976 have to be replaced so soon?

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  7. Hello mall entheusiasts! I am an employee at North Oaks Cinema 6, and have been since August of 2015. I came across this blog during an effort to find some providence of my workplace, and I am so excited that there is this much disscussion and history that is remembered.

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    1. It is rare these days to find a cinema from that era that is still operating with few changes over the years.

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