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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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Ray Leiter
Ray Leiter
5 months ago

I remember White Lakes. I was there when James Cash Penny attended the grand opening of the Penny’s store in the center. I met JC Penny and shook his hand. I was stationed at Forbes at the time. I married a girl I met in American History class at Washburn U. and we now live in PA. We occasionally visit Marshall County KS (Vermillion) where my wife grew up.

Carol Bourne
Carol Bourne
6 months ago

I loved this mall when my husband was stationed at Forbes AFB. I bought my first maternity outfit for my first baby at Sears.

Henry McClure
Henry McClure
10 months ago
Keithan Ashbaugh
Keithan Ashbaugh
11 months ago

I wish I could have gone there while it was still running but sadly I couldn’t. I would love to see this place have a comeback but as of right now all I can do is hope.

Lorrie Ann Long
Lorrie Ann Long
11 months ago

I remember shopping there, it’s just so sad they let it get like this

Marc Stewart
Marc Stewart
11 months ago

What sad is that all the blame for this travesty is being put on Lindenmuth! I remember as a kid going to the mall and the FOX and then going there when I got older when they had a bunch of cool local mom and pops. It was an amazing place! I then remember going there in 2004 alot because I was a Driver for Topeka Transit and the mall was a Transfer Station for a couple routes. We also shuttled Go4th patrons to Lake Shawnee from there. The mall was deteriorating then in 2004 and Lindenmuth did not purchase… Read more »

Angela Annett
Angela Annett
11 months ago

I live just a few blocks away from white lakes mall. There have been homeless people living in there for awhile now. Its sad seeing the pictures of the inside now.

Nancy Marston
Nancy Marston
11 months ago

That place used to be hopping. I remember shoulder to shoulder crowds and being extremely proud that I got a job at a clothing store there.

Kathy Pfannenstiel McClain
Kathy Pfannenstiel McClain
11 months ago

Kathy Pfannenstiel McClain
KCSL used to be in that building, worked there for 5 years.

Ken LaMaster
Ken LaMaster
11 months ago

I wish cities would grow a set and fine property owners who allow buildings to set vacant and decay for decades so they can use them as tax write offs. Force the owners to either maintain them or tear them down. Vacant property is a lot better than a deteriorating building………..fine these folks half of the properties retail value twice or three times a year would force them to do something with the property. Many of the owners are not local and don’t care anything about the community they are allowing to go to pot.

Diane Tierney Louis
Diane Tierney Louis
11 months ago

Oh my gosh this is so sad …I wonder why they would let it get this bad

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

Debbie Loretta Wege
Debbie Loretta Wege
11 months ago

Loved to shop there! Anybody remember Shakey’s Pizza??

Debbie Baughman
Debbie Baughman
11 months ago

My friends and I walked there all the time! So sad.

Linda Hall Brown
Linda Hall Brown
11 months ago

Remember going there when I was 3rd and 4th grade. The teenagers wearing saddle oxfords that I wanted and the gold fish pond under the bridge. I wanted to stay longer but mom was done shopping fir my school clothes. I loved this mall

Jan Morgan Owen
Jan Morgan Owen
11 months ago

We bought my engagement ring and wedding bands there at Zales.

Andy Tuttle
Andy Tuttle
11 months ago

The first mall I ever went to in the early 80s. We didn’t have a mall in Lawrence and I thought it was pretty rad.

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