Stewart Lakewood Mall was built in several phases with the original groundbreaking taking place around 1952 with subsequent construction in 1962 followed by the addition of a spacious discount store called Woolco – a subsidiary of Woolworth which already had a presence in the Mall. I became an unwitting shoplifter at Woolco by walking out with a Duncan Yo-Yo (the Butter Fly model). I really didn’t mean to do that and considered returning to pay though a friend of mine had once been arrested because some youth-hating manager thought my friend was trying to return stolen merchandise to get some quick cash. (As if two T-shirts would be worth the risk). In general I noticed a reflexive distrust of youth coming from the older generations many of whom didn’t like anyone without a crew cut. Some level of inter generational tension is inevitable but the older store employees seemed to harbor special resentment for those they perceived to be “undisciplined young punks”. My track record with older people has never been that good. I once had an old timer call me a “long haired son of a bitch” just for quietly going around him in a Piccadilly (or was it Davis Brothers ?) cafeteria line. Others did the same before me though they were spared insult. My response was a simple, “Well Sir – at least I have hair”. The line workers got a kick out of that.
I was always dubious of Depression era people who seemed to think that everyone else was by comparison wasteful, ungrateful, and lazy. Not everyone felt this way but enough did so as to make it a true drag. Eating beans and rice every night and putting cash under a mattress isn’t evidence of being a good person (especially if you are going to be pr**k to everyone else) but there were plenty of old timers then who felt that way. I was fortunate in that while my oldest relatives lived through the Depression, and preferred the simple life, they didn’t begrudge my enjoyment of modern conveniences nor did they require me to suffer in some neo-Puritanic way as a demonstration of character. If you want to save every penny then good for you but don’t get angry with me because I’m having a good time and still find ways to save. Now there’s a grudge that I’ve kept for some time now. Could you tell ?
One of my geekier pursuits as a youngster included the assembly of car model kits which was then a really big thing with some kids pursuing it as a competitive hobby. Woolco offered a nice model selection and the hobby was interesting for a time though I became far more enamored with slot car racing because of its kinetic nature and the social interaction. Anyway, the better kits could have around 100 parts that required paint and glue so the acquisition of craft paint, brush sets, and high quality adhesive became necessary. I recall Tester’s being a popular brand and, if you weren’t of age, you had to have an adult make the purchase since underage glue sniffing (aka “huffing”) had become a problem at least as far as the media was concerned. While I never actively pursued this method of intoxication, the model building process involved long hours in the presence of fumes which could easily result in (at least to me) an unpleasant lightheaded dizzy feeling. It seemed to me that a glue high was akin to drinking rot guy whiskey and therefore must be a refuge for only the most desperate. But there were always those “glue heads” who swore that it was a “good kick” followed by some pseudo-jive lecture on which brands provided the “cleanest high”. In my experience, huff heads occupied the lowest rung on the thrill seeking ladder and were generally ostracized by everyone unless they were buying lots of drinks and only then for the duration of the drinking session. No one liked these guys, especially cops and women, and they generally met with untimely ends. Only a glue head can tolerate another glue head.
In the middle of the Mall, between the parallel walkways, was a free-standing, glassed-in kiosk containing pay phones. In the Summer this structure became a lung-melting heat trap appropriate for use in at least one of the nine Circles of Hell. I used to rifle the coin returns for left-behind change and frequently came up with something although my actions were motivated more out of boredom and borderline OCD behavior as opposed to financial need. One day my Father and I were walking by this hothouse and noticed a very tall man slowly dropping to the ground as if kneeling to pray before flopping over onto his back where his head rocked back and forth a few times and then stopping still. “Damn ! A heart attack“, I thought. My Father entered to check it out thinking that the guy might simply be drunk (a reasonable suspicion) but he wasn’t. And while I don’t remember the exact dialogue, the cause for the fainting spell had a lot to do with the guy’s total lack of preparation for the sweltering temperatures of Atlanta in August. Speaking of the parallel walkways, I would sometimes take my bike to the Mall and cruise up and down them which angered store owners and patrons although I never went very fast. But again, it was just one of those generational things and there were lots of old women who would be startled by the smallest of noises. So you know – better to dismount and push the bike when on the premises. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series if you want to vicariously experience the SL Mall then visit Ansley Mall which I believe has preserved the outdoor parallel walkway structure. You could always drive to SL Mall now and despite the fact that there are stores there, a lot of it is in ruins and doesn’t present a good idea of what it used to be like.
The stand out memory of Stewart Lakewood Mall relates to the horrible Atlanta Child Murders which took place from 1979-1981 (approximately). On January 3rd, 1981, Lubie Jeter was selling automobile air-fresheners and had made his way up Stewart Avenue towards the Shopping Center as he stopped at establishments along the way including Brothers Three. It was a particularly busy Saturday so I paid almost no attention to him as he leaned into the store propping the door open with one of his feet as he asked if anyone wanted to purchase some car air-freshener. (These types of solicitations were fairly common). I told him “no” and he proceeded towards the shopping center (or at least appeared to be) where he, according to the published chronology of the case, was picked up by Wayne Williams. Obviously, I had no idea who he was at the time and even when the story broke I still didn’t put it together that he was the kid. It wasn’t long thereafter, maybe a week, that an attractive blond woman (I believe she was with the GBI) came into Brothers Three and asked myself and Terry if we had seen this young man selling car fresheners. When I responded in the affirmative she pulled out a pad, made some introductory notes, and calmly asked a series of questions. It was long ago but I recall that the questioning was very thorough and that she concluded the interview by verifying my personal information along with a comment that there would probably be a followup…. and she was right.
Listen – we’ll come back as often as we like and we’ll ask as many questions as we want and as many times as we want”.
I received visits from the Atlanta Police (for sure) and FBI (I think – or it could have been the GBI again) who basically asked the same series of questions to help nail down the sequence of events. When I was a kid I thought that cops, like Joe Friday, wanted “just the facts” but that’s not the way it always works. They like to ask the same question many times (at different times in the conversation) to establish consistency. Standard stuff really. The larger problem, well more of an inconvenience, was that they never called ahead, choosing rather to just show up unannounced. This wasn’t a problem for me but it was for my older co-workers who might be discussing their sports betting strategies for the upcoming week which might not go over well with the four plain clothes cops who just walked through the door. But if the cops/agents heard anything they didn’t seem to care. After all they had bigger fish to fry. They kept asking the same questions trying to get more details which is natural but I was coming up dry. I don’t know if I came off as disrespectful but one of the plain clothes guys said something like, “Listen – we’ll come back as much as we like and we’ll ask as many questions as we want and as many times as we want”. Okay…… I get it. There is immense pressure to solve this case and I’m definitely happy to help (and had been) but there is only so much I can offer based on a 5-10 second interaction….. It would be some time before the case was solved but at that time the larger impact was that everyone in town became aware that Stewart Lakewood Mall was a spot where a child met his demise so then the distillate thinking became that the south side of town must REALLY be going down hill.
As I’ve attempted to convey in several posts on this blog, I believe that it is only a matter of time before this area experiences a revival since there is a dearth of in-town properties. Prior to the real estate bubble burst (circa 2006) there was talk of Home Depot possibly moving into the Mall (more likely replacing a large part of it) in anticipation of home flipping and renovation. However, that never played out as the market froze solid so no moves were made. I haven’t been able to find out anything more recent though willingly concede that I haven’t researched it very hard. My sense is that with the nearby movie studios and amphitheater as well as close proximity to downtown and the airport that this area simply will rise again and when it does the land on which SL Mall sits would make an excellent shopping locale for a new generation of residents. There might be a Part 3 to this – might not. I tend to let things float into my head based on how (and if) people respond which might trigger long dormant memories. There is much more to say for sure some of which I captured in my post on The Stewart Lakewood Library which was located in the “corner” nearest the Huddle House. When I think back on this scene I now realize how close everything was then and I pretty much walked from my house (or grandmother’s place) to the Mall and to School. I had a bike I would use now and then but walking seemed more fun as I encountered many of the Stewart Avenue characters. I don’t know that I would have had it any other way. © 2018 The Stewart Avenue Kid