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.
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.
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.