|City/Town: • Topeka|
|Location Class: • Commercial|
|Built: • 1964 | Abandoned: • 2010|
|Status: • Demolished|
|Photojournalist: • Emily Cowan|
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White Lakes Mall 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 1960s on the 500,000 square foot shopping mall. Keith Meyers of Topeka developed White Lakes costing 8 million dollars and it was officially opened 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 were 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.
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, the remaining businesses 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.
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 which 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 and Demolition
At around 6:30 a.m. on December 29, 2020, the Topeka Fire Department made its 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.
We all saw it coming, I remember the morning of the fire waking up and seeing my phone blown up with messages saying “White Lakes is on fire!” “Have you seen the news yet?!” And I knew at that moment that it was only a matter of time before the place of a Great Tomorrow became a Great Yesterday. The damage was far too great posing a further risk to the community and nearby businesses for it to just sit anymore. The property was condemned shortly after the fire and a vote passed for demolition of the building in August of 2021. With a lengthy checklist of things that needed to happen before that it wasn’t until early 2022 that asbestos abatement took place. The first week of March 2022 the wrecking ball took down the first wall of the once-famed mall. Keith Lindemuth, owner of the mall, paid for the entirety of the demo. The demolition would continue to move slowly over the next couple of months.
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 a part 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.
Gallery Below of White Lakes Mall
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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A year or so ago it was found to be the home of several people who didn’t have a warm place to stay. I was hoping that the Topeka Rescue Mission would move into it and house the homeless that were living there.
Wow. Made lots of visits to White Lakes. The 1st movie I ever saw was at Fox White Lakes.
Knew it was bad but not that bad was a wonderful place to go the telephone Santa at Christmas got my ears priced there then there. Was Walgreens Cafe loved watching the people go by as we ate
[…] in those days, White Lakes was legit. Though it wasn’t all that big, it was the only mall in Topeka and several large […]
Very much enjoyed this piece. Well curated with facts, pics, and oral histories. Well done, and thank you for your work!
I have fond memories of hanging out at White Lakes back in the 70’s. It was the place to be at. Doubt that it will ever be again what it once was, malls are on the way out. West ridge looks like a ghost town lots of empty spaces can’t see how they’ll last much longer
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 »
They should have done something productive with it before it went down the tubes so bad
My mom was a Realtor and the office was in the basement. Town and Country Real Estate.
I remember it being one of the best places in town for a kid to have fun . Aladdin’s Castle and taco casa was all we needed .
What a shame I remember going here when I was in my early teens with friends and having so much fun. But yeah I think they do need to tear it down and put something else in its place
That was the place to go when I was in high school! We all went to Wichers (sp?) to get out senior pictures taken in 1968. It is sad to see it in this condition!
Eh, it should have been bulldozed 10 years ago…
Wow I remember shopping there. We use to Cruise Topeka Blvd in our hotrods. I had a 1970 charger rt/se with a 440 magnum. Those were the good old days.
I remember going there with both my parents all the time to Pennys &Sears especially with my Mom we”d go shopping also with there when my husband & i got promised to each other boughtmy promise ring at the jewelery that by Penny’s went there for xmas shopping the telethon went there when my husband & i was dating to bangles & beads also took my kids there …it’s real crying shame the condition it is today they really need to figure out what to do with it instead of building stuff we dont need…
What was the name of that jewelry store. On the corner across from Pennies???
The Hat Box
The Hat Box was the cheap costume jewelry place on the west side of the mall closer to Sears. If you wanted diamonds, gold, or a Rolex, you went to Wolf’s Jewelers, corner store across from the entrance to Penneys.
My dad opened his store there when the mall first opened in 1964. It was the year my sister Nanny was born. We would go there on Friday nights and eat with him at Woolworth’s. Then my mom would give me $5 to buy anything I wanted at Woolworth’s. I was about 8 years old then.
I loved White Lakes Mall. It was the best Mall Topeka has ever had. Have good memories of going there to shop.
I remember back in the 80s I was maybe 4. I was there with my mom and my grandparents and somehow I got separated and was lost. I looked all over and I couldn’t find nobody I got real scared then all the sudden my grandpa was there to save the day. Lol I can still remember the way it smelled in the food court area we used to get those big pretzels 💚😊
I remember back in the 80s I believe it was, we did a childhood cancer fundraiser there where you slide down a slide into green jello and there were marbles burried in it for an extra prize! I was a childhood cancer survivor and took part in it and it was so fun!! It was actually set up right there beyond that food station in the middle ❤
My father in law was head of maintenance for years. He’d be sad to see if in this condition. He took great pride in how this bldg looked.
Loved this mall so much. So wish it would come back. It was great for years!