When the sprawling Randall Park Mall opened near Cleveland in 1976, it was briefly the largest in the world.

Developers touted it as a symbol of the good life in suburbia. The small town where it was located added two shopping bags to its municipal seal in homage.

This year, after decades of decline, it’s being torn down.

Photographer Seph Lawless documented the abandoned mall, along with another nearby shopping center also scheduled for demolition, in a new book called Black Friday.

The photos were the last ever taken of the mall.

“I was chased out of the Randall Mall by police and demolition workers as they were beginning the demolition process,” Lawless says.

For Lawless, the images represent the failure of the economy in Cleveland, which has lost nearly half of its population since the malls were first built, and in the country as a whole.

“I wanted Americans to see what was happening to their country and hopefully encourage people to care instead of continuing to ignore these problems,” Lawless says.

“Most Americans are too busy watching reality television to fully understand the reality that surrounds them.”

The malls he photographed aren't the only examples.

Over the next couple of decades, as many as half of the malls in the U.S. may be abandoned.

While Lawless blames the economy, at least part of the shift also has to do with bad design.

Fewer people want to live or shop in the suburbs, and fewer people want to spend their free time under depressing fluorescent lights indoors.

If malls are going extinct, that's just another opportunity to retrofit suburbia--either by building smarter, denser developments, like this new neighborhood built in a former mall parking lot, or by turning the land back into green space.

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2014-04-21

Co.Exist

Eerie Photos Of Abandoned Shopping Malls Show The Changing Face Of Suburbia

In his new book Black Friday, photographer Seph Lawless documents how the shifting economy has brought about the demise of these old symbols of American commercialism.

When the sprawling Randall Park Mall opened near Cleveland in 1976, it was briefly the largest mall in the world, and developers touted it as a symbol of the good life in suburbia. The small town where it was located added two shopping bags to its municipal seal in homage. This year, after decades of decline, it’s being torn down.

Photographer Seph Lawless documented the abandoned mall, along with another nearby shopping center also scheduled for demolition, in a new book called Black Friday.

The photos were the last ever taken of the mall. “I was chased out of the Randall Mall by police and demolition workers as they were beginning the demolition process,” Lawless says.

For Lawless, the images represent the failure of the economy in Cleveland, which has lost nearly half of its population since the malls were first built, and in the country as a whole.

“I wanted Americans to see what was happening to their country and hopefully encourage people to care instead of continuing to ignore these problems,” Lawless says, calling himself an "artivist" who uses his work to promote change. “Most Americans are too busy watching reality television to fully understand the reality that surrounds them.”

The malls he photographed aren't the only examples: Over the next couple of decades, as many as half of the malls in the U.S. may be abandoned.

While Lawless blames the economy, at least part of the shift also has to do with bad design. Fewer people want to live or shop in the suburbs, and fewer people want to spend their free time under depressing fluorescent lights indoors. If malls are going extinct, that's just another opportunity to retrofit suburbia--either by building smarter, denser developments, like this new neighborhood built in a former mall parking lot, or by turning the land back into green space.

[Photos by Seph Lawless]

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23 Comments

  • Michael Pritt

    You must not be from the Cleveland area. I lived the next town over from Randall park mall. It didnt shut down because people didnt want to shop in the suburbs. It shut down because gang bangers started mugging patrons and stealing cars from the parking lot. The police and the property owners didnt do a thing to stop it. People started shoping at parma mall which was farther away but safer. I remember they opened a Magic Johnson theater there in the 90s and there was a shooting opening night.

  • Joseph Henry Ceja

    I agree with you. I am from the Cleveland area and, as I remember, Randall Park was built in specifically because the area was not the most desirable and it was thought the mall would help improve things. It did for a while, but it was not to last. I still remember the radio commercials for it..."The biggest mall..in all the world...is Randall Park!" Unfortunately, after a while it became the biggest nest of crime.

  • Christine Solheim Hartman

    With a great deal of thought put into retrofitting and redesign could these abandoned malls be turned into senior living facilities? There will soon be a lot of us senior Boomers, all living into our 90's and 100's. I went to a local mall (the largest in my city) on a Monday night for the first time in several years and it was truly depressing. The guys working at the kiosk businesses looked more like carnival workers than retail employees.

  • Claire McPartlan

    this would be a fantastic opportunity for a competition to repurpose these spaces. possibilities such as primary school systems, universities, corporate headquarters (such as Google) and all-encompassing communities with gardens, parks, theaters, etc. these could be the cities outside the cities, attracting a younger generation that desires the convenience of having everything around them, without the frantic buzz of the city.

    or perhaps, this stands as a reminder to modern retail for the need to revolutionize the way we shop. in-store purchases are not extinct, but online dollars are a serious force to be reckoned with. Angela Ahrendts, the Burberry CEO who's on track to join Apple, recognized this challenge and took major steps with the company to change how they present and sell their product, and their revenue has never been higher. if the rest of retail follows suit, they stand not only to revolutionize, but to capitalize - tremendously.

  • Katrina Blatt

    These are amazing shots! I used to love going to Randall Park Mall...then the gangs took over the area and it became Scandal Dark Mall.

  • David Alley

    Much of the Belmar Shopping District used to be part of the Villa Italia Mall. The city of Lakewood produced a plan to create a vibrant community including residences in the space left behind. Would I live in this "high-density" area? No. Do I shop there? All the time. Not to mention great restaurants and other entertainment. it can be done, and it can be done well.

    http://www.belmarcolorado.com/

  • Christopher Spellman

    Great pics, but it is a flimsy premise that malls are deserted because of people leav8ng suburbia like lemmings to live in crowded, polluted, and dangerous urban centers. While this 'artivist' most certainly keeps company with those desirous of a Euro-Socialist city feel, that doesn't mean that the suburbs are dead. Plenty of regions are still experiencing tremendous suburban growth from residents seeking similiar value sets, safety, and their own 'green spaces', (yards, they are called). As already mentioned here previously, many malls close because of mismanagement, better malls locating into the same area, and white flight when urban-ghetto types move into an area and make it dangerous.

  • Linda Luke

    I've seen this before, and with recycling, upcycling, remodeling, and the desire of the youngest generation to be more eco-friendly, in a tough economy how would it be to convert these spaces into communities? They are so huge, and often beautifully designed. There is adequate plumbing, plenty of room, and it would take some interior remodeling, but the structures are very sound. Why not? It sure beats the idea of tearing down millions of dollars of investment. Rent is getting out of hand, and buying is still tough... would this idea help?

  • Rackspace's US headquarters began life as our Windsor Park Mall. You can see it in it's glory days in the movie, Cloak and Dagger, with Dabney Coleman. The mall is adjacent to what was once one of the nicest areas in San Antonio, the Windcrest neighborhood.

    Rackspace are now doing their part to try and revitalize the surrounding area, now rife with gang activity and Section 8 housing.

  • Christopher Alan

    Some of these pictures are of Rolling Acres mall located in Akron Ohio 45 mins south of Cleveland

  • Mary McNamara

    Interesting, but I question the photographer's reasons for the mall's demise. Maybe the area around that particular mall changed and that caused its failure, but here in south Florida, we had 4 Debartolo-owned malls that were built in the 1960's & 1970's. Every single one of them ended up looking just like the one pictured, all but one has closed, and the reason was gross mismanagement, as each one of them was located in some of the most thriving areas in Palm Beach County, then and now. The only one currently in existence is located in Wellington - one of the most posh areas in the county (polo anyone?) - and it's got a horrible reputation. No security, gangs of teens, and all the good stores are moving out. People here drive 10 - 20 miles to go to the Palm Beach Gardens Mall, which is hugely popular, because it's a quality mall. The old Palm Beach Mall (one of the demolished) site now has a new outlet mall on it that's also hugely popular and doing quite well.

  • WWW.SEPHLAWLESS.COM

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    "This isn't social media. This is a social movement."-Seph Lawless

  • "Fewer people want to live or shop in the suburbs, and fewer people want to spend their free time under depressing fluorescent lights indoors."

    What is your source for this? Those of us that live in San Antonio like our suburbs. Not all town centers are bustling metropolises teaming with greeny hipsters. I am getting fed up with you Berkeley hummers trying to convince the world that suburbs = bad and everybody should cram together into city centers. Living in a concrete hamster cage is not how this guy is going to live, no matter how much you suburb-haters go on about how they are destroying the world.