How did we get here?: Topekans remember White Lakes Mall after demolition

ByBasilia D. Griffith

Apr 10, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

TOPEKA (KSNT)- What was the moment a Topeka treasure has now been turned into rubble, making home for some thing new to possibly just take its area.

On Dec. 29, 2020, a fireplace broke out in South Topeka within the historic White Lakes Shopping mall. The fire was the commencing issue for its demolition on March 8, 2022.

How did the after-flourishing shopping mall turn into an eyesore that sat empty on Topeka Boulevard? Was it a lack of fascination in going there? Was it the more recent shopping mall on the other aspect of city? Or, was it built to just sooner or later finish in this destiny? To remedy that, let us take a seem again at the mall’s history.

Photograph Jason Pickerell

If you grew up in or close to Topeka like Jason Pickerell and Patty Lanum, you know what it was like hanging out at White Lakes in the 70s and 80s.

“I signify, we favored every thing,” Lanum said, recalling her time at the shopping mall as a teenager from Netawaka, KS. “It was just like the location to go.”

“It was always a…fun to get out of the smaller town and appear cruising right here in Topeka back again when I was a teen,” Pickerell remembers about the mall.

It intended a great deal to these two who came down to Topeka on the weekends from their smaller cities. Lanum fatefully satisfied the appreciate of her daily life, her spouse Burt, in the mall’s parking whole lot on Jan. 22, 1983. She claimed it was a cold day when she and a team of buddies arrived down to Topeka to Cruise the Boulevard, a custom wherever motor vehicle lovers experience down Topeka Boulevard in front of the shopping mall. Back then, the tradition finished with people going into the mall to store and hang out when they were being accomplished watching the cars and trucks.

“They [Patty’s husband and a group of friends] have been intended to be conference anyone there and they assumed we have been them and we weren’t. So we started conversing,” Lanum said about assembly her husband. The two have been married due to the fact 1985.

Oh, and of program, no a person forgets the Orange Julius stand.

“It was normally a handle when I was a minimal kid in the 70s,” Pickerell reported who is from Valley Falls. “That was one particular way my mom lured us to go searching because I hated purchasing. But I would get my Orange Julius and it created everything far better.”

Lanum and Pickerell frequented and manufactured reminiscences at the shopping mall two decades after it opened. At this time, it was even now remaining looked following and taken treatment of.

White Lakes Shopping mall formally opened on Oct. 15, 1964. It was a rather significant deal then. So much so, that the founder of J.C. Penney stopped in Prime City to check out his latest retail store and meet the buyers. Sears, Walgreens and Woolworths also joined Penneys at the “Mall of Tomorrow”. Not to point out, there was a Falley’s Grocery store there as well. But genuinely, the cherry on top rated, it was all local people today who designed the eyesight of the mall come to lifestyle.

Keith L. Meyers was the developer of White Lakes Shopping mall. He was liable for quite a few distinctive developments about the metropolis, like Fox Theatres. Don Chubb, a Topeka historian, stated a group of golfers from the Shawnee Nation Club talked about how good it would be for a mall to appear to Topeka, and how good it would be for the metropolis. Chubb mentioned they didn’t know how to truly construct the shopping mall, which is how they uncovered Keith Meyers who realized how to wrangle a team to make the vision happen. But to start with, the mall required anchor tenants.

“Keith Meyers was capable to get Penney’s and Sears to be the anchors,” Chubb mentioned, a Topeka historian. “And they essentially owned the land below their properties. Each individual experienced 150,000 sq. foot, around, so that they experienced more than enough skin in the recreation that confirmed that the national folks thought this would get the job done, so the nearby people could borrow the dollars they essential.”

For a though, South Topeka was booming. Then it was, “Go west, younger man”. The west aspect of Topeka was starting up to acquire form the way we know it now. Corporations, housing developments and a lot more were opening on the other facet of city, as perfectly as a new shopping mall, West Ridge.

Chubb reported this shopping mall was different simply because it was in fact constructed by individuals in the shopping mall field. With very careful consideration of how malls ought to seem and be effective, people began to move on from White Lakes, and so did the companies. J.C. Penney and Sears, the two nationwide retail merchants, explained goodbye to White Lakes, and hello to West Ridge. Chubb explained, even nevertheless persons had been having their company west, this didn’t signify the fast stop of White Lakes Shopping mall.

“Westridge didn’t get rid of off the mall,” he reported. “It just hurried the conclusion of White Lakes.”

The shopping mall went through a number of homeowners, some who tried out everything to retain it practical. Renovations and expansions were being happening in the course of the 70s and 80s. There was even hope for the shopping mall just after it survived in the 2008 recession. As the outlets began going out, companies like Blue Cross Blue Sheild turned areas into offices. In 2004, Mainline Printing occupied the previous Sears space.

But, it wasn’t ample. The the moment loud and vibrant area went silent.

“It was just dead peaceful,” Emily Cowan mentioned. “The only seem that I could hear was dripping h2o from 1 of the ends close to Mainline Printing.”

Now, 50 plus yrs later on, in 2020 the mall is however standing, on the other hand, empty and deserted. Homeless camps occupied areas they could safely and securely be in in which there wasn’t h2o having up room. Emily Cowan is with Deserted Kansas, a non-income firm that operates to maintain deserted spaces in Kansas.

Cowan frequented White Lakes Mall back again in January of 2020 and documented what it was like inside the mall. The roof was broken, moss was growing in sure areas and matters were thrown about. On major of that, dangers like asbestos and black mold were being commonplace.

The city could not knock it down due to the fact it was owned by KDL Inc., which was run by Kent Lindemuth. He acquired the shopping mall again in 2009. The final proprietor of the making. Lindemuth experienced a deadline to provide it right before the town took in excess of. He did not provide it by then, which intended the town was in regulate.

In August of 2020, the developing was condemned which intended the Topeka Hearth Office could not go inside of for security reasons. This is critical to notice because as soon as the hearth strike in December 2020, they could not go inside of. Only working outside the house the constructing to set out the flames.

On Dec. 31, 2020, Topeka Fireplace investigators arrested a teenager and two minors for arson prices. Investigators discovered arrested Joel Sink, then 18, and two minors. The shopping mall suffered $100,000 in harmed right after the hearth. An anonymous suggestion to the Shawnee County Crime Stoppers uncovered a video on Snapchat of the individuals inside of the making setting up the fire.

Cowan doesn’t think the fireplace was the straw that broke the camel’s back again to get rid of that constructing for great. It was only the starting up stage for individuals to comprehend how perilous and unkept the making was once it was deserted.

“I don’t automatically believe it was the straw that broke the camel’s again,” she mentioned. “But I do think it was what spearheaded them demolishing it. Certainly.”

Even when the shopping mall was becoming demolished, trespassers reportedly tried using to enter the premises, disrupting operate crews. Now, the shopping mall has been split in fifty percent and will soon be nothing but an vacant lot.

“Things arrive and go and our interests occur and go and White Lakes Mall…we weren’t interested any more,
Chubb said. “We voted by not staying there, that it wasn’t viable.”

Now, the mall is heading by a demolition that begun in March of 2022. Leaving powering 58 years of recollections, in the hopes to start about, and make a new starting for yet another 58 several years.