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White Lakes Mall

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Built: 1964 | Abandoned: 2010
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: Emily Cowan

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Through the Years

White Lakes Center received its name from the White Lakes Country Club that originated on the site. It had a 9-hole golf course that attracted people from all over Topeka. The plans were announced in 1962, it was estimated that it would cost $7 million to complete. Construction started in the early 1960’s on the 500,000 square foot shopping mall. Keith Meyers of Topeka developed White Lakes costing 8 million dollars and it was officially open on October 15, 1964.

White Lakes quickly gained popularity, a two-story Sears was a highlight for the mall with an Auto Center attached. As well as a two-story J.C. Penney’s with a freestanding Auto Center, it was one of the first full-line Penney stores. Sears was the anchor of the North hub and Penney’s was the anchor of the South hub. Some other tenant stores there were Walgreens, Toy & Hobby Mart which sold pets as well for a period of time, Command Performance Beauty Salon, and Robinson’s Shoes.

Bird cage featured left. Koi Pond Fountain featured center. Provided by David Mathias

Falley’s Market was a grocery store near the mall entrance doors that was accessible outside or from inside the mall. Having a grocery store within a mall was different for its time and even now. There were a few popular eateries in the shopping center as well, The Brass Rail was popular for their taco-burgers, and the Town & Country Restaurant had the best Onion Soup and Swiss Steak. The mall had unique features such as the cage which housed a squirrel monkey for a few years and then had live birds for a period of time after. There was also a few small koi ponds one with a unique fountain flowing into it was located by the cage and Walgreens. The other koi pond featured a small bridge over it and was by the Sears, this area would also be set-up with a stage for the Marionette Puppet Shows during the Christmas Season.

Closing

Left ca. 1964, Right ca. 2020

The shopping mall’s demise came slow and painfully. In 1988, West Ridge Mall had opened, by the time of its grand opening it had already snatched up the two anchors Sears and J.C. Penneys of White Lakes. With the withdrawal of both anchor stores in the mall other tenants followed in hopes of gaining more business since people were flocking to the new and updated mall of West Ridge. Housing developments sprung up to the west of the city, closer to the new mall. Eventually, remaining business at White Lakes were faced with having to make a choice between shutting down or moving closer to where ‘the action’ had moved.

“Growing up it was a special treat to get to go to Topeka and “the mall” which meant White Lakes until the late 80’s when West Ridge came in. I loved White lakes, I miss the familiarity and simplicity, it’s been there as long as I can remember. My husband and I’s love story began at White Lakes on a freezing January 22nd, 1983. Topeka Blvd was where everyone went cruising and the mall was where everyone hung out on the weekends. I was with a couple friends sitting in the parking lot when my husband Bert and a couple of his friends, who were actually suppose to be meeting some friends there, and accidentally thought our vehicle was their friends. They pulled in next to us and we started talking, went on a date the next weekend and here we are still together 37 years later.  In the late 80’s/ early 90’s we lived on SW Kerry Ave across the street from White Lakes and could see it from our home as it became an eyesore. “ said Patty Lanum about the Center.

Old New Vision

By 2000, most of the stores had moved out and the shopping mall was converted into an office complex with a few retail and service stores left. Tenants included Walgreen Drug that had been in the mall since opening, Electronic Data Systems, Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Kansas Children’s Services League, the State of Kansas, Kansas Rehabilitation, a daycare center, fitness center, beauty salon, and several restaurants. Mainline Printing leased the 190,000-square-foot area of the Center where Sears used to be. They are still located here today and have been sectioned off from the rest of the abandoned area of the mall. By 2007, all companies that used the office spaces moved out and the building was sold to Kent Lindermuth in September of 2009. He proposed his plan to demolish the southern mallway section and a new vision of exterior-entranced retail and office space. Mr. Lindermuth, unfortunately, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and these plans were abandoned, White Lakes sits on the market currently waiting for someone to give it hope once again.

Fire 2020

Taken by Phil Anderson

At around 6:30 a.m. on December 29, 2020 the Topeka Fire Department made their way to the derelict White Lakes Mall. A giant blaze was eating its way through the building and pouring out of the roof. Because of the deterioration, asbestos, and black mold present in the building firefighters were not able to enter the building. Flames were fought from the roof of the building and a few days later three teens were arrested on charges of arson, criminal damage to property, and criminal trespassing for causing the $100,000 worth of damage to the mall.

Fox White Lakes Theatre

Fox White Lakes Theatre Grand Opening Article June 13, 1967

Fox White Lakes Theatre had its grand opening on June 14, 1967, by National General Theatres. The debut film playing was the comedy 8 On The Lam. It is freestanding across the street but was still considered apart of the mall, developed by Keith Meyers as well. It would be owned by at least 5 more operators throughout the years with the last one being Wallace. In 1977, The Fox was closed so that the theatre could be expanded from a single screen to a duplex, the main 850 seating screen was split into two screens seating 425 and 396. The debut showings when it reopened were ‘The Gauntlet’ and ‘Telefon’. As well as two smaller screens added in 1983 that would sit 296 each. Fox White Lakes Theatre closed on March 16, 2004, after almost 37 years in business, for what at the time was said to be renovations but never reopened.

Article by AKS Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

Gallery Below




 

Bibliography
Special thanks to Susie Hoffmann for providing some old newspaper articles and photos for this post!

“MALL HALL OF FAME.” MALL HALL OF FAME, mall-hall-of-fame.blogspot.com/2008/03/white-lakes-mall-southwest-topeka_20.html.
“Vintage Photos of Lost Shopping Malls of the ’50s, ’60s & ’70s.” Malls of America, mallsofamerica.blogspot.com/2005/10/white-lakes-shopping-center.html.

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Janice Shannon
Janice Shannon
11 months ago

The day after Thanksgiving my family would go from Manhattan to Topeka to Christmas shop. One of our regular stopping spots was White Lake mall. How sad to see it in such condition.

Carol Burnett Goltra
Carol Burnett Goltra
11 months ago

It was the first mall I ever went to, and it was just the right size and mix of stores. My favorite was the Hat Box next to J.C. Penney’s.

Retta Evans
Retta Evans
11 months ago

So many fond memories of white Lakes Mall. I went there practically every Saturday night in the early 80s to watch a movie with my then boyfriend. We also love to cruise the mall parking lot. White Lakes Mall will always have a special place in my heart

Julie Wilkins Cooprider
Julie Wilkins Cooprider
11 months ago

Oh the memories. Such a great trip to go to the new Mall as a kid. Mom and Dad bought me a used flute from the music store.

Barbara Sibley Howell
Barbara Sibley Howell
11 months ago

In the 70s it was a family thing to go shopping there. None of us lived in Topeka, came from different parts of the state just to shop there. Sad but malls everywhere are dying or dead.

Lynn Carpenter
Lynn Carpenter
11 months ago

What a shame. Another of my favorite teenage memories are Gone!!

Debbie Vensel
Debbie Vensel
11 months ago

Sad ending for such an iconic place! I graduated from HS in ’68 (Oskie) so as you can imagine, we did lots of shopping there. Our class even had their senior pictures taken at Wichers (sp) in the mall. It’s too bad these types of malls have fallen out of favor in recent years.

Marty Heffner
Marty Heffner
11 months ago

I remember doing the Jerry Lewis telethon there one year back in the 80’s.

Jamie Rogers
Jamie Rogers
11 months ago

Sensory memory; Whenever I see the old pictures, I can immediately remember the smells.

Irene Thomas
Irene Thomas
11 months ago

My husband and I took our daughter in her stroller and walked up and down the mall. they had some good restaurants and we love to shop there.

Pam Morris
Pam Morris
11 months ago

We used to come to White Lakes from Marysville in the 60s when I was a kid. It was so thrilling to shop there

Mary Frost
Mary Frost
11 months ago

Always loved the little walk bridge over the water just before the Sears mall entrance. One of my favorite spots there.

Susan Watson
Susan Watson
11 months ago

I worked in the fabric store in 1968/69. It was a busy place then!

Bob Embry
Bob Embry
11 months ago

I was there as a kid in the mid 60s when it was new and wonderful. I loved going there, especially the music store and the store that sold electronic organs.

Kris Hayes Crane
Kris Hayes Crane
11 months ago

Oh no! My husband was born and raised in Topeka, and after we married, we made Topeka our home for over five years; spent a lot of time at White Lakes and was so sad when it closed…this is terrible.

Cathy McCullough
Cathy McCullough
11 months ago

So many memories of time spent there in the 70’s! My Uncle managed the Walgreens Restaurant and I worked at Windjammer one summer. The parking lot was the most popular place on Friday and Saturday nights for meeting friends and cruising the boulevard.

Justin Morgan
Justin Morgan
11 months ago

My grandpa use to take me there and walk laps in the 90’s when I was little. I remember the wood floor and the Alladian arcade.
Good memories with my grandpa.

John Cukjati
John Cukjati
11 months ago

I still remember going to this mall in 1987, right as the new Westridge Mall was breaking ground, one last time with my middle school choir. The following year in 1988 we went into the just opened Westridge Mall. Very sad to see this part of Topeka’s history finally come to a close

Rita Renfro Anderson
Rita Renfro Anderson
11 months ago

We were there on June 8 (can’t remember the year – 1960s) when the tornado hit Topeka.

Lori D Johnson
Lori D Johnson
11 months ago

Lots of memories shopping there as a kid and then working there for Kansas Childrens Service League later on.

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