|City/Town: • Topeka|
|Location Class: • Commercial|
|Year Built: • 1964 | Year Abandoned: • 2010|
|Status: • Abandoned|
|Photojournalist: • Emily Cowan|
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.
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.
“I grew up at White Lakes. My family owned The Hat Box and The Hat Box II. We were the “boutique” that pierced ears, located next to The Brass Rail down by Sears. My grandma, Helen Gish, started the business. She was an original tenant when the mall opened. Her brother, Keith Meyers, was the developer and part owner of the mall and her brother-in-law, Tom Martin, owned the construction company that built the mall. My mom started working in the business after I was born. I worked there during junior high, high school and college. For ten years, three generations of us Gish/Hoffmann’s worked at the shop. I ate many tacos from The Brass Rail and lots of patty melts from Sears. I have such fond memories of the mall. I took sewing lessons from the Singer sewing/fabric store and candy making classes upstairs at J. C. Penney’s. Many years ago when they remodeled the mall and took out the bridge over the koi pond down by Sears, my grandma bought the bridge hand rails. My grandpa built a bridge in their backyard with the handrails. I’ve since bought my grandparents home and just this summer rebuilt the bridge. There were layers and layers of baby blue paint under the black paint my grandpa had painted it.” said Susie Hoffmann.
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.
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 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.
- 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.