New mural shares Monroeville Mall memories through 50 years
The Monroeville Mall became one of the country’s largest shopping centers of its time 50 years ago.
Staff, elected officials and residents gathered Monday to celebrate, reminisce and tout the mall’s successes over the years.
A mural that included photos of the mall under construction in 1968, the old ice skating rink that was located where the food court is now and “Dawn of the Dead” movie set photos were displayed.
“I was just finishing up taking my drivers’ test and I had just joined the fire company,” said Monroeville Councilman Ron Harvey of what he was doing in 1968 when the mall first opened.
“And now, look how much this area has exploded commercially,” he said. “A lot of retail, I think, is down here because of the mall. And it’s still a great place to shop.”
The mall’s anniversary comes on the heels of an April shooting that led to an evacuation. No injuries were reported, but police say a man shot up to 10 bullets at a Macy’s Backstage first-floor entrance. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said last week that police have identified suspects, but no arrests have been made.
The celebration also comes as malls struggle to keep their doors open as several major retailers have vacated. In February, Century III Mall in West Mifflin mailed a letter to its stores telling them to leave within 30 days.
Others that have closed and have since been demolished include Eastland Mall in North Versailles in 2007 and Hempfield’s Greengate Mall, which was demolished in 2003 and re-branded as Greengate Centre, an open-air shopping center, two years later.
“When I was working here on opening day, I never had an idea or an inkling this place would one day be less than what it was,” said Harold Hale, a North Huntingdon resident who helped install the Monroeville Mall’s telephone lines when the building was under construction.
Hale, 88, said he has good memories of the mall throughout the years.
“That first Thanksgiving (the mall) was open, I couldn’t get out of here it was so packed,” he said. “But it’s still a beautiful mall.”
Dale Hoffman, 87, of Monroeville was another telephone line installer. He said there could still be string between the walls from when he and other workers tied telephone cables to balls of strings.
“We’d throw them over walls to connect the lines, pull the string and feed the cable through holes we drilled,” he said.
Hoffman and his wife, Marlene, 84, walk inside the mall with friends five days a week and are regular shoppers, Marlene Hoffman said.
Tom Gerber, the mall’s senior general manager, said the mall can accommodate more than 100 stores. He did not know how many are currently vacant.
“So that depends on how the spaces are divided,” he said. “But I can tell you our occupancy at the end of 2018 was in line with industry standards. We were at 91 percent (occupancy).”
After Gerber, Mayor Nick Gresock and Monroeville Area Chamber of Commerce President Sean Logan shared some opening statements, the mural was revealed. Around 40 people spent time looking at the historical photos and framed newspaper articles.
Gerber said the idea for the mural, which consists of submitted and archival photos and memorabilia, is to let it grow over time.
“It’s a living display,” he said, motioning to blank space beyond the last photo. “As you can see, we have plenty of wall space. We’ll continue to add more (photos).”
Of the memorabilia were movie posters from George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” 1979 cult classic and other photos from the set.
“This place – it has significance in people’s lives,” said Kevin Kriess, the organizer for the mall’s annual Living Dead Weekend and Living Dead Museum director. “It’s like the location of the movie is as important as its characters.”
The mall will continue to celebrate its 50-year anniversary from noon to 6 p.m. May 18 with vendors set up from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The mural can be seen on a wall just inside an entrance next to Party City.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .