Century III Mall: A Brutalist Badass

November 14, 2020, West Mifflin, PA20201114_183528

“Bow down to me brittle human; I lay underneath ye olde ruins of steel, and no I have nothing to do with The Office!”-Century III Mall

Backstory:

In November I headed up to Akron to visit my girlfriend but instead of spending most of our time in the ol’ rubber city, we took a nice day trip to the ol’ steel city. It had been a few years since I’ve been to Pittsburgh, and since I’ve been on such a mall kick the past year, I knew I had to check out the infamous Century III. I’ve heard so much about this place from Ace’s Adventures and Sal on YouTube, and it seemed like a quintessential dead mall that I needed to visit. I’m disappointed that I did not make the trip out here while it was still open in just 2019, but nonetheless on we go with my second dead mall review in Pennsylvania.

Mall Information and History:

As mentioned before, Century III was built on the foot of a mountain created by slag waste and was locally known as Brown’s Dump. Pictured below is the mountain when it was still in use as a steel waste dump. Credits to brooklineconnection.comunnamed (1)

The land was previously owned by the United States Steel Corporation, but was sold to the Edward J Bartolo Corporation and USS Reality Corporation in a joint deal. With the deal having gone through in 1976 and the mall’s construction having begun, they decided to name the 100 million dollar and 1.6 million square foot shopping center as Century III in honor of the third century of The United States of America beginning. The mall’s grand opening was on October 24th, 1979 and its original anchors were Kaufmann’s and JC Penney, with a Montgomery Ward, Sears, and Gimbel’s opening the following year in 1980.

In 2006, Kaufmann’s became a Macy’s, and eventually closed in March of 2016. JC Penney, having been at the mall since its grand opening held on as long as it possibly could and closed down after the interior of the mall already had in October of 2020. The Montgomery Ward anchor space on the other hand does not have as simple as a life as JC Penney. M-W closed just 6 years into the mall’s life, and then a Horne’s took its place. Though Horne’s did not last long, in 1994 it became Lazarus but after five short years it closed in 1999 and became a Kaufmann’s Furniture Gallery. Unfortunately Kaufmann’s Furniture Gallery did also not last long and the whole company was bought by Macy’s in 2006 which led the store to become a Macy’s Furniture Gallery. That wasn’t enough though to keep this cursed spot open as the story on that space ends in 2009, a whole ten years before the mall even closed. Sears on the other hand lasted quite some time and ran its course throughout most of the mall’s life, closing down in 2014. In 1988 Gimbels closed its doors due to bankruptcy and the space was vacant for about six years until the two floors were occupied by TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. Marshall’s on the upper level was only open for two years and later became a Wickes Furniture. TJ Maxx was replaced in 2003 by a Steve & Barry’s which ended up closing in 2009 due to bankruptcy. In 2004 Wickes left and the space was turned into a Dick’s sporting goods which stayed until March of 2019 around the mall’s closure.

Century III was once the largest and most thriving mall in the Pittsburgh area having over 200 stores and 6 anchors in the 1980s. In 1997 the mall underwent a slight renovation that added skylights into open areas of the mall. Despite the fact that the mall had been “renovated”, it began to decline in the late 1990s. Slowly but surely the mall’s vacancy rate kept rising with much of it due to occupying stores filing for bankruptcy. On top of that, there were other nearby places for retail that were fresh and new like The Waterfront in Homestead; and South Hills Village which was just renovated and only a few miles away. The mall’s slow death went on so long that it was even open for a whole month after its last store in the entire one and a half million square feet left. In February of 2019, the mall was deemed an unsafe & uninhabitable structure by the West Mifflin Fire Department, and closed its doors for good on February 16th of that year. 

Tour:

As you know by now, unless I were to have brought a crowbar with me to Pittsburgh, I was not going to get pictures inside of Century III. Despite that, I can share with you the eery photos I took from the parking lot, and perhaps a few free photos of the interior from the internet.

When it comes to its style and atmosphere, Century III is not what I would call an inviting place. It has a strange history of being built below a mountain of steel waste, and its brutalist architecture does not make you feel at home. Pictured below is Brown’s dump from the parking lot of the mall. Credits to brooklineconnection.com

unnamed (2)

I’m sure that at the time of its peak when it was bustling it didn’t come off as imposing, but now (especially if you’re there at night), this large and dark concrete structure at the base of a baron hill in a dimly lit parking lot does not make you feel warm and fuzzy.

Now let’s take a look at the exterior, starting off with the sign.20201114_184614Seems like they at least kept it up to date until its closure, with JC on there and Old Mexico which was there almost until the end. Old Mexico featured below.20201114_183507F1rVNHF3_400x400

I also really love the logo of this place, it’s very simple and modern which matches the architecture of the structure. I’m glad that they never gave the place a cheesy renovation in the ’90s or aught’s like East Gate Mall. There’s one other sign in the parking lot which I thought was very neat, a directional sign by the sidewalk that looks very space age.20201114_183738We’re gonna zoom out now and take a look at what I believe was the main entrance that this sign is right in front of.20201114_183444Boarded up, shut down. Surprised there’s no sign on the place, maybe there was at some point but I’m not really sure. Let’s take a look at JC and its parking lot bigger than your dad’s stomach.20201114_183153

20201114_183359JCPe’ed in the parking lot. Another great looking building from Penney’s, shoutout to their architects from the ’60s to the ’80s.20201114_183245Hard to tell from afar but there’s an interestingly cool brick pattern on the siding. With JC being the last place open here, you can see that on the inside they have yet to take everything out, and there’s still even lights on!20201114_183308Tried my best but it was locked, again I should’ve brought a crowbar.20201114_183335Some classic ’80s track lighting in there. This anchor store now was originally Kaufmann’s and later Macy’s. I adore the black glass panels. 20201114_183837

I got a picture of one more anchor store, but I’m not quite sure which one this was

Now that’s all I’ve got for the outside, so let me share a couple of decadent interior photos I found from google.

I would have had an absolute blast strolling around this place with all of its different levels, and nooks and crannies it’s like an english muffin. On top of that it’s just so sleek and contemporary I love it. You can tell in the picture below that those skylights are the ones added in 1997. Aside from that, nothing much seemed to change throughout the years, and man oh man I want those large palms for my house.

Since there’s not much more I can show you of the inside, I founf a picture of the directory from what would appear to be the last few years.

Conclusion:

It’s harder for me to wrap up my thoughts on Century III as I had never been there when it was even open nor had I heard much about it until I watched a few mall blogs, but I do know that it is one I will regret not visiting when I had the chance. Like the majority of malls that I review, Century III saw its hey-day in the 1980’s and began declining in the late ’90s, which is a common life theme for these places. However, that does not mean Century III was any ordinary mall. We’ve learned about the interesting history of its land, and of its unique (for a mall) brutalist architecture. We also know that it was the biggest and most popular shopping destination in greater Pittsburgh, but then in ten short years its occupancy was already dwindling. I really loved checking this place out, and learning about it from different channels and sources as I found its history very fascinating. If you live in Pittsburgh I’m sure you have some fond memories of going here as a kid, or even buying your own kids some presents around the holiday season; if you don’t and you so happen to be headed to the steel city, don’t miss your chance to see it while it’s still around.

Rating:

Shopping: 1/10 depends on what you’re shopping for

Cuisine: 0/10 Reopen Old Mexico

Mall Maniac Rating: 8/10

One thought on “Century III Mall: A Brutalist Badass

  1. Interesting quick tour. . I totally sympathize with not being able to get in. If I were 40 years younger, I probably would not hesitate to “find a way” in. But at my age, I would not risk it. . jail is not a fun place after all!. But a few videos of other malls reveal that other less known doors in are often jimmied open and available. Just make sure the power is off! Most of the places are not even worthy of any sort of an alarm, anymore. Kind of sad.

    But then you also get into the situation of not knowing WHAT is inside the abandoned mall? Homeless and mentally ill persons? Good chance. Always better to let some one younger and more foolish to venture in.

    Sometimes you can get permission to make a quick walk through and video. . ask around!

    Thanks for the effort though!

    Like

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