The 19-year odyssey of the Franklin Park Mall

While it was not the first mall in Toledo (that was the Woodville Mall), the Franklin Park Mall has outlived all comers (Southwyck, North Towne Square) in the enclosed shopping experience competition in Toledo. It is pushing fifty years old now, and it certainly holds a place in my heart: it’s where I had my first job (Forum Cafeteria), where I got my first leisure suit (Jacobson’s), where I had a cool birthday party (Farrell’s), where I spent roll upon roll of quarters (Red Baron), where I had my bike stolen (right outside Red Baron).

Farrell’s and Red Baron are long gone, along with (judging from my last visit) the fountains and the Alexander Calder-designed stabile outside Hudson’s (which of course is also gone). It has also reverted to its original name, “Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park” being utterly unacceptable.

It’s been around so long now that it’s probably been forgotten that plans for the site had been floating around for nearly twenty years before the mall officially opened on July 22, 1971.

Plans for the mall actually date from 1952 when, on August 27, Irving C. Reynolds, president of the Franklin Ice Cream Co. and owner of the site, announced plans for a $5 million regional shopping center, described as “something of a super-shopping center.”

The original plan was for a 300,000-square foot building with space for 35-45 businesses, surrounded by parking spaces for 6,000 cars. That was more parking spaces than the total of private and public spaces in the central business district.

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One hundred persons living in the Monroe-Sylvania-Talmadge Rd. area attended a meeting called by Irving C. Reynolds last night to hear a detailed explanation of his plans for a $5,000,000 super shopping center on the site now known as Franklin Airport. And, Mr. Reynolds said, not a serious objection was voiced. On top of that, representatives of seven business firms, who had read an account of the project in The Blade yesterday, let Mr. Reynolds know that they did not want to be left out. That beings to 20 the number of firms interested in locating in the center. The artist’s conception above is an attempt to show how the complete center would look from the air.

Reynolds called a meeting of area residents (the site was in Washington Township but Talmadge Road was the border between Washington and Sylvania townships), and the results were approvingly written up the next day (on the right).

The announcement was made on the heels of another announcement: that the Franklin Airport, which had been there since 1939, was closing up and its operations moving out to National Airport on Telegraph Road.

But Reynolds’ plan never materialized. In 1963, eastern Ohio developer Edward J. DeBartolo announced plans to use the site for a $46 million complex of a shopping center, high-rise apartments, office building and motel.

Didn’t happen. In fact, DeBartolo went on to develop the Woodville Mall.

(As an aside, two acres of the property was sold to Tiedtke’s at one point but sold back to the Reynolds folks in 1960, which makes you wonder what might have been.)

It took the J.C. Penney Co. to get the plan moving in 1966, when it took over plans to develop the property as an enclosed mall. It announced Lamson’s was also on board, and a third anchor was to be announced shortly.

By 1968, joined by Hudson’s, the three anchors detailed the project, an investment of $30 million. The owner and operator would be the Rouse Co., of Baltimore, which at the time operated eleven enclosed shopping malls. The new mall included nearly a million square feet of space, over three times the space proposed in the 1952 plan.

The Blade was excited, too (no doubt by the prospect of more advertising) in their Aug. 1, 1968 editorial, Franklin Park Takes Off!

Not too many years ago, Franklin Park was a private airport out in the country. As an airport, it never fulfilled original expectations. But what is to “take off” there by 1971 exceeds the wildest imaginations of those who originally staked out that area with an eye to the future.

A 1975 view of the covered sidewalks and storefronts outside of one wing of the Franklin Park Mall, courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org
A 1975 view of customers resting in a courtyard near a stairway in one wing of the Franklin Park Mall, courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/

And, as a band played and ribbons were cut, the mall officially opened July 22, 1971. Mayor Harry Kessler said “It is my hope in the future that a complex much like this will someday be located right in downtown Toledo,” probably not having any idea that the opening of the mall was the beginning of the end for downtown Toledo as a shopping destination.

He was standing in the reason why.

Addendum: The guy who got all my quarters at Red Baron, William “Bill” Beckham, died in 2017. Here is his obit. It says video games eventually overtook the arcades and he closed the Franklin Park and Southwyck Red Barons in 2003.

12 Comments

  1. Robert

    I remember it was a great treat to get taken to the Franklin Ice Cream store when I was a real little kid and that they used to fly radio-controlled model airplanes in the field by the mobile home park. I was glad to see the mall go in. It provided a destination that a child could reach by foot or bicycle. Prior to that there was only Orchard Drugs where kids weren’t particularly welcome. I also got my bike stolen there; a beautiful Schwinn 10-speed. After that I locked my bike with a padlock and chain that looked like it should have been attached to a ship’s anchor.

  2. Having been born in the late 70’s, my memories of Franklin Park are more cemented in the 80’s myself. It’s a shame what Westfield did to them. They don’t care for the 40th birthday of a local landmark, and why should they care anymore than we do? All I know is that I miss not seeing that glass cubed structure in the middle of the mall that’s replaced with an ugly pyramidal roof instead.

  3. Bill

    Took my first airplane ride in a Taylorcraft in about 1945 at Franklin Airport. Just as private aviation started up again. Two intersecting grass strips. Saw a Ford Tri-motor land/takeoff there. Read in The Blade about a Navy plane that landed there in error believing it was Toledo Express.

  4. Ruth Neko

    My mother took a carload of us to the mall in the early ’70s and let us loose. We had a ball just looking around the place and hanging out. I remember the look of the place and buying trinkets for souvenirs. We did the same thing at Southwyck the first time we went there. I remember birthdays at Farrell’s as well.

  5. Pokey McCord

    Wow, I am SO hungry for an Olga sandwich, curly fries and an Orange Creamm Cooler now! My orthodontist’s office was right outside the Olga’s mall entrance, so every five weeks, I’d go get my braces tightened, and Mom would offer to take me to Olga’s after. Lol, SADIST! My mouth was in agony and I’d SHRIEK if I hit the wrong tooth the wrong way…. but Olga’s is the food of the gods. You just do not turn it down! So many awesome FP memories growing up in T-town: getting my first “cool” job at RecordTown…. daydreaming about my future bachelorette pad furnished ENTIRELY by Arhaus….dousing myself til I reeked like an old whorehouse in Crabtree & Evelyn….basking in the luxury of CHOICES when Picnic In the Park brought “the food court” to town….all the back to playing and climbing around Jacobson’s AWESOME kiddie shoe department (and pining for all the Madame Alexander dolls) while my mom shopped. Man, I miss home now. 🙂

  6. Keith Zeisloft

    Just curious — while we’re thinking of the history of the Franklin Park area, does anyone remember “KiddyLand”, a small basic kid’s amusement park located on the south side of Monroe, west of Talmadge, probably about where Rumors restaurant is now located? I recall that Monroe Street west of a frozen custard stand at the Monroe-Sylvania intersection was dark undeveloped territory west to the city of Sylvania, and this little amusement park was a beacon of light on a dark summer night.

  7. Toledo History Box

    I am too young for Kiddieland (and that’s saying something). I have seen ads for it in The Blade, and some time ago I came across this – somebody’s home movies?

  8. Jay

    I remember in the early to mid 1970s my Mom used to take me to Franklin Park Mall. I remember the water fountains, A total of four if I’m correct. The big one that shoot high up in the area in the center of the mall, and the other three in front of each department store. I remember a toy store which was a since place to walk around in. I remember the wooden square flat benches which was seen in some old pictures on this site in the center of the mall. I remember I would cry because of the loud noises within a restaurant because it was someone’s birthday. I think the name of the restaurant was Ferral’s. I remember enjoying the visit to walk and look at the fountains and then enter the three department stores. Penney’s was my favorite! I remember Penney’s had a restaurant on the first floor. Also I remember one of the other department stores had a restaurant on the second floor. I really enjoyed and remember those days walking around the mall and hiding within the clothes racks while with my mom.
    When I was about 5 years old we moved and I wouldn’t return to the area again until I was age 21 in 1991. Since I was an adult I was able to walk around by myself since the last time I was only 5 years old. Most of the water fountains were gone, but there was a nice food court in the center of the mall. I really enjoyed this short visit while walking around and checking out all three department stores (both levels).
    My next visit was two years late in 1993. I was very impress with the new addition of the new department store Lion’s. I was caught off guard when I entered the busy store that I ended up going up an escalator right when you first walk in.
    My next visit to the area and of course I had to visit Franklin Park Mall was in 1999. The mall still remained special to me and I enjoyed the various stores like I did before. It was interesting that the newest department store’s name change to Dillard’s. which remained as a nice store along with the rest of the mall.
    My last visit to the area wasn’t until 2012! I had heard that the mall had been added on to while traveling on a plane to Las Vegas. When I visited in 2012 I took a drive around the entire mall and then I parked. I found it interesting that the center of the mall’s roof was replace with a triangle glass! When I entered the mall I met a man working at a stand and he shared with me some of the history of what recently took place with the remodeling and additions. I walked around the old areas of the mall and was impress with the mall and how it’s been updated to look almost new! I visited the old Penney’s store along with what is Macy’s now and of course Dillard’s plus other little stores within the mall. I really enjoyed exploring the new food court and was very impress with the large space and layout of the food court with the fire place. I ate lunch in the enjoyable food court and had a nice meal from Chick-Fil-A. I explored the nice two level Dick’s Sporting Goods and checked out some of the nice golfing putters. I even walked upstairs to the lobby of the movie theaters. I also saw some great sit down restaurants and even from the distance some parking garages too! I was really impress with the upgrades of the Franklin Park Mall!
    It will be 6 years since I was in the state of Ohio, but if I ever return to Northern Ohio, I do plan to visit the Franklin Park Mall! Remembering that I was in single digits as a toddler I am will be approaching 50 in a few years I still remember the great times of a toddler with my mother at Franklin Park Mall.

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