About the Mall
Monroeville Mall is a two-level, enclosed shopping mall in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, east of Pittsburgh. It is located near the junction of Interstate 376 and I-76. It sits on 170 acres (0.7 km2) and has 1,418,700 square feet (131,802 m2) of leasable space on two levels, making it the second largest shopping complex in Western Pennsylvania.
Developed by Oxford Development Company, the property was acquired in 2004 for $232 million by CBL & Associates Properties, Inc., a REIT based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Recently, the mall finished a remodeling project to compete with several newer, more luxurious malls in the Pittsburgh area. It is one of two CBL malls owned in the Pittsburgh area, the second being Westmoreland Mall in Greensburg. The mall is most famous for its appearance in the George A. Romero horror film Dawn of the Dead (1978).
Before the 1950s postwar migration movement, Monroeville was predominantly a rural farming area. The opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the early 1950s followed by completion of Interstate 376 (Parkway East) in the early 1960s would expedite the growth of Monroeville and the eastern suburbs. In November 1954, the Miracle Mile Shopping Center opened for business with numerous shops and eateries. As the novelty of shopping malls were becoming increasingly popular in the 1960s, residents of Monroeville and the eastern suburbs shopped at the defunct Eastland Mall in nearby North Versailles, or at Greengate Mall (now Greengate Centre) in Greensburg, Westmoreland County. As highway systems continued to be constructed, the migration of city dwellers moving to the arms of suburbia, coupled with American consumerism at an all-time high, malls such as the Monroeville Mall began to spring up in droves across the entire United States. The concept of such malls were based on the idea of Anchor Stores. These anchor stores typically were located at each end of the mall leveraging both the lower and upper floors of the mall. While anchor stores are still important today, there is a decline in many malls around the country where the mighty anchor stores such as Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy’s and others are no longer doing the in store business that they once did.
In May 1969, the 1,130,000-square-foot (105,000 m2) Monroeville Mall opened its doors with Gimbels and Joseph Horne Co. at opposite ends as the primary anchor stores. Penney’s, known now as J.C. Penney was the primary anchor store located directly in the middle of the mall. The five and dime G.C. Murphy store provided a lower-price alternative for shoppers on the lower level. The mall contained 125 stores on two levels and featured the Ice Palace. This was the first world-class ice skating rink in an enclosed mall on the East Coast. This mall became an attraction for the city of Pittsburgh. It marked an era of consumerism, high class life-styles and opulence that the American Middle class wished to become.
The mall by 1978 was operating at near full capacity for the various merchant tenants that occupied the various store spaces. The concept of using this as a primary set location was the genius of George Romero. Such a location backdrop has been attempted over the years, however nothing comes close to this classic.
Renovations and Expansions
With Monroeville Mall fully operational, the areas surrounding the mall began to develop as well. Outparcels such as a movie theater, a Marriott hotel, a freestanding Montgomery Ward store, and a number of retailers, auto service centers and restaurants were subsequently built during the 1970s. The mall annex would also be developed directly behind the mall and feature an A&P supermarket, among other businesses. The Greater Pittsburgh Merchandise Mart, the predecessor to the much larger Pittsburgh ExpoMart of Monroeville, was developed as a facility for the display of goods by representatives of various manufacturers. It would be replaced by the larger facility in 1981 and redeveloped for a Borders bookstore. In February 1984, much to the dismay of local residents, the Ice Palace was replaced by a food court. In later years, most of the mall’s decorative ponds and bridges would be replaced by numerous kiosks.
In the early 1990s, the distinctive clock tower was dismantled in lieu of a stage, which has since been replaced with a bungee jumping attraction, while the fountain at the opposite end was removed in the early 2000s for a children’s play area, themed to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The largest renovation and expansion project ever at Monroeville Mall was completed in 2003-2004. The main entrance area fronting the mall was redeveloped into an 80,000-square-foot (7,400 m2) lifestyle center called The District. Inside the mall, cosmetic upgrades to the lighting fixtures, flooring, railings and seating were done. Escalators were also installed in the court areas at both ends of the center. In addition the glass Westinghouse elevator located in the food court was refurbished, the neon lightning was removed, and the outer structure was painted a silver color as it used to be red. The fountain behind the elevator has also been removed to maximize seating area for the food court. In 2009, the ExpoMart was converted into office space and a smaller convention center opened along Mall Boulevard in a renovated building.
In July of 2011 it was announced that the Penney’s store, which has been an anchor at Monroeville Mall since 1969, will move to the upper level of a 110,000-square-foot location that was formerly Boscov’s department store. In Oct 2012 upon the near completion of the new JC Penney’s store, it was announced that construction for a new Cinemark Movie Complex will be built in the location of the current JC Penney store location. The 48,000-square-foot theater will have stadium seating, digital sound and the capability to show 3-D movies.
None of the original anchor stores still exist at the Monroeville Mall. JC Penney was the last original anchor store that was essentially replaced by what is now the 12 Screen Cinemark Theaters. H&M has moved into the general area on the lower level of the mall where Penny’s used to be located. Dick’s Sporting Goods has relocated from outside of the mall proper to the lower level within the former Boscov’s department store.
Host Location for Dawn of the Dead
Monroeville Mall is most famous as the filming location for the movie Dawn of the Dead, the 1978 cult horror classic, directed by George A. Romero. In 1977, George A. Romero began filming Dawn of the Dead on location at the Monroeville Mall. All filming inside the mall took place at night after the mall had closed, with filming often continuing until dawn.
Filming in the mall began in October 1977, but had to be suspended when the mall’s Christmas decorations were hung shortly after Thanksgiving. Filming resumed in January after the decorations were removed. It was during that break that much of the mall’s exterior shots were filmed, as well as filming at other locations. The mall was used as a fortress to protect four human survivors from a world taken over by the walking dead. Romero used the location to its fullest, beautifully displaying the mall and its vastness, almost giving the mall a cavernous feel.
The movie went on to become a huge hit worldwide, leaving legions of dedicated fans in its wake. Fans travel far and wide, sometimes from other countries, just to have a chance to visit the location. Several pictures taken during the filming are on display in a room on the upper level near Macy’s. In addition, Time and Space Toys on the mall’s lower level features an in-store museum called Monroeville Zombies that is based on Dawn of the Dead and contains artifacts, memorabilia, scale models of the mall as depicted in the movie and life-size replicas of various zombies. This exhibit has now been reopened.