LIMA — The American Mall came down much more quietly than it went up.
The mall, demolished over the winter of 2013-‘14, was built nearly 50 years earlier despite the objections of just about everybody. Downtown businessmen didn’t want it; nearby residents really didn’t want it. The city was okay with it, willing to extend a welcome but not willing to extend waterlines or West Market Street. At one point the city erected barricades to prevent Market Street from being put through to the mall. A city councilman called developments like the American Mall the “death knell” of the central business district.
The American Mall was not Youngstown developer William A. Cafaro’s first venture in Lima. In fall 1960, the developer purchased a 35-acre site just north of Northern Avenue and east of North West Street. By Nov. 27, 1960, The Lima News was reporting that construction of “Lima’s new $3-million shopping center, Northland Plaza, is slated to begin within 30 days.”
The opening of Northland in 1961 paired with Westgate, which opened in 1956, gave the News cause to brag on Oct. 28, 1962, of the city’s growth as “reflected in the construction of two large shopping centers in the past decade on the west and north sides of the city …” And Lima was growing — in retail prowess as well as population during the 1960s. Considered the retail hub of a 10-county area, Lima’s population would peak at more than 53,000 by 1970.
The last days of autumn 1963 provided evidence that retail growth had just begun with a rapid-fire series of announcements that began Sept. 18 when the News reported a 51-acre shopping center and housing development was planned for a former dairy farm owned by Orville and Emma Koop. “The site is north of West Elm Street Road and west of Lima’s western limits,” the News wrote.
In the same story, it was reported the Montgomery-Ward store was considering a move from the Public Square to a proposed shopping center on land owned by C.C. Cary at Cable and Spencerville roads.
On Sept. 19, the News reported yet another developer had begun “negotiations for Lima property for use as a third commercial center. Speculation centers on Elida and Cable roads, west of the Rinks Bargain City Store.” That speculation was correct. Edward DeBartolo and Co., another Youngstown-area developer, would construct the Lima Mall on the site.
On Sept. 20, the News wrote that the city, ‘“reeling under the machine-gun rapidity” of the announcements, “today backed off to take stock of what is happening and what could happen. Particular emphasis was placed on development of a policy concerning water extension requests …”
Developers of the Cary site already had requested water. “By its vote, council will set the policy of whether water should be granted under the surcharge system with the hope of annexation or whether services should by withheld until the property is annexed to the city,” the News wrote Sept. 29, 1963. The Cary request was denied in November 1963.
Many, meanwhile, began to wonder how much was too much. “Not one of the developers believes erection of all proposed centers would create business hardship in the retail community,” the News wrote Oct. 27, 1963. Developers, the story continued, “said additional centers will stimulate buying not only by Lima residents but will bring thousands of more persons to Lima because of the variety of places in which they can shop.”
On May 13 and 14, 1964, the Lima Mall and American Mall, respectively, unveiled formal plans for “mall-type” shopping centers with concurrent announcements that Sears-Roebuck, Montgomery-Ward and J.C. Penney would abandon downtown to become tenants. Ward’s and a newcomer to the area, Bailey’s Department Store, would anchor the American Mall. City Councilman Neal O’Connell told the News the loss of the three national chain stores “sounded the death knell for the central business district.”
Foes of the American Mall had begun organizing against it long before that formal announcement. “Owners … of other property in the sector — location of some of Lima’s finest homes — launched efforts last January to head off commercial development,” the News noted April 17, 1964. “They voiced fear of depreciating property values. The West Market Street Boulevard, they warned, no longer would be a quiet street but instead a main thoroughfare — particularly if it were extended westward to a proposed commercial area.”
So, when plans for the American Mall became official in May, the group was waiting, filing for and receiving an injunction. That injunction was one of several that would be granted and subsequently lifted.
In August 1964, mall opponents scored a victory when a “request from a shopping center already under construction for city water suffered city council rejection Thursday night,” the News wrote Aug. 19, 1964. “Opposition to the shopping center was voiced by west-end property owners … . Their contentions were supported by a petition presented to council and bearing 730 signatures.”
Council, the News added, could find no reason “Lima should help a center which residents of the city don’t want.” A spokesman for Cafaro told the News that, while it “would run up the costs a bit,” the mall would “provide its own water.”
In early November, Councilman James Poulston recommended the city grant water to both the Lima and American malls. “We are not fooling anybody at this point with delaying tactics in the hopes that metal and steel on West Market Street will vanish one night and that shopping centers become a dream of the past,” Poulston told the News on Nov. 5, 1964. Council, backed by downtown merchants, defeated Poulston’s proposal Nov. 25.
“Sell all the water they can use when they are within the geographical boundaries of the city,” Thomas Gregg, of Gregg’s Department Store, said.
In December, the mall developers announced they would drill a 170-foot well on the property. They also threatened a lawsuit to force the city to remove water lines from their property.
By then the relationship between the city and the mall had been going rapidly downhill for several months, exacerbated by a late September attempt by Cafaro employees to extend West Market Street from the city’s western edge to the mall. The city put up barricades at the boundary, which Cafaro employees tried to remove.
“An attempt to wreck and remove city barricades placed at the end of West Market Street resulted in the arrest of three men shortly after noon today,” the News reported Sept. 25, 1964. “All three were employees of Cafaro and Associates, Youngstown developers constructing American Mall shopping center. The barricades were erected Thursday to prevent Cafaro’s extension of West Market to the shopping center.” The following day, the News wrote that “Lima’s miniature Berlin Wall separating the city from American Township and a shopping center under construction there was back in place late Friday.”
Cafaro found an unlikely ally in Councilman O’Connell, who had predicted suburban shopping centers would kill the central business district. O’Connell told the News Sept. 27, 1964, that Cafaro was guilty of three things: wanting to invest $5 million in Lima, wanting to create 700 to 1,000 new jobs and attempting “to improve a street which the city lacked funds to improve since 1925.”
On Oct. 15, 1964, the city planning commission recommended that 430 feet of Market Street west of Lawnwood Avenue be “neither opened nor improved.” Less than a week later, Youngstown attorney Ronald Galip, representing Cafaro, told the News, “There will be a shopping center on West Elm Street Road. It will be built with or without city cooperation. And you bet it is going to be built to completion.”
Next week: Cafaro’s first enclosed mall.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.