It was once boasted as Georgia’s largest shopping mall.
Constructed in July 1978 by renowned developer Edward DeBartolo, Regency Mall was the former home of more than 70 retail stores.
However, within its first 25 years in business, the more than 800,000-square-foot facility off Gordon Highway gradually saw every single one of its stores vanish.
The doors were shut and the vacant mall went dark.
Regency Mall’s steady decline began back in 1993 with the sudden departure of the Upton’s department store. But soon after, Regency Mall began suffering more serious financial blows such as the closures of Belk in 1996, which had already converted to an outlet a few years earlier, and the departures of J.B. White and Piccadilly Cafeteria in 1998.
The exit of Montgomery Ward in 2001, following the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, seemed to seal the mall’s ultimate fate.
Following the departure of the commercial retail businesses, a small section of Regency Mall was oddly transformed into office space for a few government agencies such as the Richmond County Health Department and the Richmond County Marshal’s Office.
But in 2004, Richmond County Marshal Steve Smith was the final tenant to move out of the mall. Even though the marshal’s office had the cheapest rent in town with a bill of $1,000 a month for 5,000 square feet of space, the conditions in the building were quickly becoming undesirable for his employees.
For more than 15 years, this community has continued its debate over what should be done with the property. All the while, the mall’s current owner, New York-based Cardinale Holdings LLC, has kept the property in complete limbo with an asking price that has been as high as more than $50 million.
As the trees grow taller around the enormous property, many newcomers to the Garden City aren’t even aware of Regency Mall’s existence.
But for long-time Augusta residents, the memories of this magnificent mall are still very vivid.
Folks remember enjoying a fresh slice of pepperoni pizza with their friends at Dino’s Pizza on the lower level of mall. Or waiting for their new set of tires at the auto center in Montgomery Ward.
Augustans remember climbing up on the little concrete animals in the kids’ play area located at the bottom of the mall’s staircase. And they recall how beautiful J.B. White’s Christmas decorations were every year.
To this day, many Augustans can’t see brown-speckled terrazzo floors without thinking of Regency Mall.
Such deep nostalgia for former malls and commercial businesses is what helped inspire the creation of a website featuring a blog called, “Sky City: Southern Retail Then and Now.”
This website, skycity2.blogspot.com, began in 2006 as a collection of photos and memories of Georgia retail businesses as a means of documenting the history of various malls, both past and present.
As interest in the blog began to grow, the focus also expanded to malls and commercial businesses throughout the South, including Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi and Florida.
One of the malls highlighted on the website is Augusta’s own Regency Mall.
In a two-part series on Regency Mall that was posted in January 2012, the founder of the website, who is referred to only as “James L,” describes the first time he came across the former mall in south Augusta back in 2003.
“Driving through Augusta, I was simply exploring the city going west of downtown on Gordon Highway,” he writes. “I was certainly not expecting anything since I had never really explored Augusta much off of I-20. There on a hill was a Montgomery Ward sign and an obviously abandoned mall. I did not hesitate to pull in the parking lot and snap nine pictures on my old and now retired film camera.”
“James L” writes he was absolutely stunned by what he found.
“This is the first time I had ever seen not just a mall, but a very large one, completely abandoned,” he writes. “Its gradually mildewing white paint made it a true-to-form white elephant. A big giant failed concrete chunk of retail history. It was obvious not only was the mall abandoned, but that it was completely trapped in the ’70s.
“The sign along the road was plain and very dated. The mall still looked to be in good condition, but was relatively recently boarded up all the way around. I would find out the mall had only been closed about a year, but I did not know this upon my first encounter with the then-mysterious Regency Mall.”
What follows is a series of almost 200 photos of both the outside and inside of Regency Mall along with commentary by “James L” regarding his impressions of the mall and the memories surrounding it.
Because Regency Mall has been closed to the general public since 2002, entering the mall to take photos of the building is obviously not legal. Therefore, some of the photographers associated with the website, “Sky City: Southern Retail Then and Now” and its Facebook page weren’t willing to speak on the record to the <<IT>>Metro Spirit<<IT>> about their experiences inside the mall.
However, one photographer agreed to be interviewed if he was allowed to use the pseudonym “Kaz” in the article.
After seeing some photos of Regency Mall that had been previously posted on Facebook by followers of the “Sky City: Southern Retail Then and Now” website, “Kaz” said he was immediately “hooked” and determined to visit the mall.
In 2011, “Kaz” and another photographer involved in the website met in Augusta and walked over to the mall from the former movie theater located next door. They both had already agreed they weren’t going to break into the mall or do anything illegal that could get them into trouble.
As soon as they approached the building, they immediately noticed how the structure had fallen into disrepair.
“We saw how bad the Belk looked, with that mirror finish falling off, and things were seemingly rotting away on the façade,” he stated. “The J.B. White looked to be in good shape from the outside, but you can tell where people tried to steal copper from the AC units… Walking further, there it was, in all its ’70s glory: Montgomery Ward. Burnt orange tile and original signage still up. It was a sight to see.”
When “Kaz” had originally seen photos of Regency Mall’s Montgomery Ward on Facebook, he knew he had to photograph the building.
“I had only been inside one Montgomery Ward as a kid, but as a retail enthusiast, seeing that burnt orange brick and 1970s logo lit up a smile on my face,” he said. “People told me how, before the mall closed, it retained its 1978 look. I knew I had to at least see it for myself.”
“People told me how, before the mall closed, it retained its 1978 look. I knew I had to at least see it for myself,” said “Kaz.”
Around the corner, the two photographers discovered the Auto Center’s door was partially open, exposing the inside of the facility.
“Signs for ‘shocks’ and ‘alignments’ still hung about,” “Kaz” said, adding that the other photographer walked through the doorway to take more photos.
After several minutes, “Kaz” realized that the other photographer must have discovered an entrance into the main mall. “Kaz” said he couldn’t resist taking a look inside.
“I went through the door opening… and there I was, inside the top floor of Montgomery Ward,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. My knees were weak. I could hardly say a word. My heart was going a million miles an hour. From this point on, the entire time I was inside, I only whispered. It was so quiet inside, that you felt like you were loud with every step you took. Talking normally felt like you were yelling.”
“I went through the door opening… and there I was, inside the top floor of Montgomery Ward. I couldn’t believe it. My knees were weak,” said “Kaz.”
“Kaz” said he was so fascinated by the history that still hung inside Regency Mall back in 2011.
“Everyone told me the mall didn’t change a bit since it opened,” he said. “It was the personification of time warp.”
“Everyone told me the mall didn’t change a bit since it opened. It was the personification of time warp,” said “Kaz.”
“Kaz” said he was “blown away” by several aspects of the mall, including discovering the original Claire’s sign hanging above the store and seeing the auto center signs still intact. But those weren’t the biggest treasures he found that day.
“Finding the J.B. White logo sign still inside hanging up above the store was my absolute favorite,” he said. “I didn’t know any still existed and to find it just hanging up there was amazing. I also found the original blueprints for the Belk store — which I didn’t take — and I found the log book for the receptionist — which I also didn’t take.”
“Kaz” also discovered a cool credit card advertisement for the Montgomery Ward’s charge card, which he now has framed in his living room.
“The natural light from the beautiful skylights came in, exposing the entire mall to us,” he said. “I felt like I was a kid in the late ’70s shopping at an amazing showplace, despite the musty smell and the water and dirt on the floors.”
“I felt like I was a kid in the late ’70s shopping at an amazing showplace, despite the musty smell and the water and dirt on the floors,” said “Kaz.”
For more than two hours, the photographers explored the main sections of the mall. They walked by the former locations of the Lens Crafters, Chick-fil-A, The Avenue store, MasterCuts, Lerner New York (with its original signage), a Kodak camera shop, Lane Bryant, Camelot Music, Lady Foot Locker, GNC, Piccadilly Cafeteria, King’s Jewelry, Cullum’s department store and many more.
“This easily was an amazing trip, and my favorite retail adventure I’ve ever taken part in,” “Kaz” said, explaining he has explored malls as far north as Montreal, Canada, to as far south as Orlando, Florida. “We went there with no real intentions of going inside. Thus why we had no flashlights.”
Months after taking the photos, “Kaz” said he longed to return to Regency Mall, but he heard stories of fires being set inside the building and read reports of the fire marshal’s plans to gut the facility.
“I knew it was a matter of time before it was demolished or gutted, so I am glad I got to see it,” he said. “Regency is now just a memory, but thankfully, we captured it, and I hope everyone can enjoy.”
From a very early age, “Kaz,” now 26, said he has been fascinated with retail stores.
“I collected die-cast cars along with my father, so trips to stores like Kmart and Toys ‘R’ Us were weekly occurrences,” he said. “By the year 2000, most all my favorite stores had closed up, and there wasn’t much left. Around 2008, I started noticing more stores closing, and it reminded me of my favorite stores closing as a kid.
“I started researching and found several websites with photos of stores I frequented as a kid. I eventually moved south and found the Sky City blog. I was already interested in retail, so I volunteered to go out and visit these places.”
“Kaz” says he enjoys visiting these malls and seeing the history right before his eyes.
“I love finding a store using a logo from 30 years ago, knowing thousands of people have just passed by it without a thought, or that the store’s fixture and advertising people never bothered to change it,” he said. “It’s hard to go back in time, but if you pay attention to detail, you can easily find things in modern day retail that aren’t so modern.”
When the “Sky City: Southern Retail Then and Now” website published the photos of Regency Mall in 2012, more than 100 people commented on them, praising the photographers for going inside the building and documenting the mall’s past.
“Kaz” said he wasn’t surprised by the reaction because he knew that Regency Mall has become one of the most popular “dead malls” in the South.
“Regency has been the one everyone had their eyes on,” he said. “It was special due to the fact it had never been updated or remodeled. It still had original signage and had been sitting vacant for so long.”
Clearly, many people in Augusta have long been wanting something to be done with the former mall, “Kaz” said.
“The townspeople seemed interested in fixing it and reopening it, or just demolishing it and starting anew, but the frustration level with the owner was huge and it seemed like there was no solution in sight,” he said. “I knew people would at least want to see what the mall still looked like inside, and I knew if I could capture what it was like before it met a wrecking ball or construction crew, people would look back on the photos for years to come.”