Century III Mall is an ailing shopping center at Lebanon Church Road and Pennsylvania Route 51 in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. Constructed in 1979, it was the third largest enclosed mall in the world at 1.6 million square feet at the time of its completion.6 It is named after the United State’s 1976 bicentennial.


Early History

The earliest recorded property owner was David Reddick in 1785, who used some acreage for farming. In the 1800’s, the land was noted for its vast swamps. Other parts of the land provided access to the Pittsburgh coal seam, which ran 65 feet underground. Coal from the seam fueled nearby coke ovens and steel plants. Adjacent pastureland provided grazing areas for mules which hauled coal to the surface.

After the turn of the 20th century, Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation, then a component of United States Steel, began to purchase properties in the area.1 Those who conveyed their land were descendants of some of Allegheny County’s pioneer families: Rath, McChain, McKee, and Rankin. The land was then used to store slag, a waste product of steel production. It was transported from regional steel mills to what became known as Brown’s Dump via the Union Railroad. Eventually, the 70 million ton slag pile, which hardened as tough as concrete, grew to a height of 200 feet and 410 acres in size.4

Construction

In 1969, USS Realty Development, a division of United States Steel, assumed control of Browns Dump and began searching for a different use for the site.1 4 Bulldozers dug into the mountainside and began removing nearly five million cubic yards of slag, much of it used in roadways, which strengthened concrete surfaces and bridges.

Twenty-five acres of land along Pennsylvania Route 51 was prepped for commercial use, and mined-out shafts and tunnels were filled. By 1974, numerous businesses were operating at the base of the mountain. At that time, USS Realty began clearing and preparing another 110 acres on the other side of the mountain at Lebanon Church Road and Regis Avenue for development. In 1976, USS Realty formed a partnership with the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation of Youngstown, Ohio to develop a mall on the site.

Shortly after, an additional 86 acres of land was prepared for the mall, which included the excavation of an additional 15 million cubic yards of slag, soil, and rock.1

The first major retailer to secure construction permits for Century III was J.C. Penny on June 18, 1978. Foundation work had already begun but a permit for steel construction was needed before any superstructure work could be completed for the $2.8 million building.5

The first steel was lifted into place for Century III Mall on October 10, 1978 at the groundbreaking ceremonies.1 6 7 The $100 million,7 1.6 million square-feet shopping center 6 was scheduled to open with five department stores, 190 inline shops and restaurants, 6,000 parking spaces, racketball court, and skateboard park.7

Century III Mall

Map of Century III Mall in October 1979

Opening

Century III opened in two phases, with Phase I opening on October 25, 1979 1 with two two-level anchors,  the 100,825 square-feet 7 Kaufmann’s and the 158,110 square-feet 7 J.C. Penny, and 75 shops and restaurants. J.C. Penny’s then proceeded to close its nearby Southland Shopping Center location.

The second phase opened on March 12, 1980 with a three-level, 168,132 square-feet Montgomery Ward,7 46 tenants, and “Pittsburgh Reflections,” a sculpture by Doug Pickering that depicted “the strength and vitality of the people of southwestern Pennsylvania.”2 8 It also included Olde Pittsburgh, a recreation of a Pittsburgh street scene from 1890 and “The Courtyard,” a three-level panoramic food court.

Gimbels, first announced on March 8, 1979, opened its 137,732 square-feet store 7 on July 25 10 but held in space that was originally designated for the Joseph Horne department store.The official opening was celebrated on August 1.9 The exterior design of the department store, with rounded entrances and corners in earth tone color, with adobe-type bricks, was designed by Robert J. Bridges of New York.9 The Horne Company elected to occupy a different location in the mall with a targeted opening of 1981 or 1982 7 but ultimately did not build at the shopping center until it replaced Montgomery Ward in 1986.

Sears opened its 231,000 square-feet 7 store on October 6, 1980,11 replacing its older facility at 2930 Lebanon Church Road. It included a 24-bay auto center, beauty salon, optical department, photography studio, and key shop.

A 12-screen movie theater was added in 1990.14

Anchors at Century III changed hands frequently in the 1980’s and 1990’s as chains went bankrupt or merged with other corporations. The first was Montgomery Ward, which was replaced by a Horne’s that held its grand opening ceremony on October 30, 1986.12 The store was renovated for $11 million.13

Horne’s was acquired by Federated Department Store’s Lazarus division in 1994, with the store becoming Lazarus until 1998. The space was then repurposed for Kauffman’s Furniture Gallery. Eventually, Federated merged all of its divisions into the Macy’s stores division on September 9, 2006, and the Kaufmann’s nameplate was retired. The store was rebranded as Macy’s Furniture Gallery, which also boasted clearance items from regular Macy’s locations, until closing in March 2009.19

In 1989 16/1993,15 a 40,000 square-feet T.J. Maxx opened in the lower level of the former Gimbels department store which had closed in 1988. It later became a T.J. Maxx ‘n More on August 23, 1998 17 before closing on January 25, 2003.16 Wickes Furniture moved into the upper level of the former Gimbels on February 13, 1997,18 remaining open until 2004.

Kaufmann’s, a local department store that originated in Pittsburgh, was acquired by the May Company in 1946 but still retained the Kaufmann’s nameplate. In 1995, Federated Department Store’s Lazarus division purchased Kauffman’s. It was then folded into Macy’s stores division on September 9, 2006, and the Kaufmann’s nameplate was retired; the Century III location became a Macy’s.

Steve & Barry’s, a casual clothing chain, opened in the former T.J. Max location in 2003, while Dick’s Sporting Goods replaced the former Wickes Furniture store in 2004. Steve & Barry’s filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2008 and intended to keep the Century III location open. Instead, the chain opted in November to liquidate all of its stores.19

Decline

In August 1996, the DeBartolo Realty Group was acquired by Simon Property Group, forming North America’s largest real estate company in a deal valued at $3 billion.22 The mall at the time boasted six anchors and 200 stores and restaurants,20 although it began a slow decline in the early 21st century after The Waterfront opened in nearby Homestead in 1999 and South Hills Village renovated its center in Bethel Park. Both lured tenants and customers away from an aging mall.

As recently as 2006, the mall was assessed at a value of $150 million, dropping to $27 million by 2012.20 Simon Property Group, unable to stem the growing vacancy issue at Century III, defaulted on its $79 million loan in 2011. Century III was acquired by an asset management firm based in Texas, which was sold to Moonbeam Capital Investments of Las Vegas in June 2013 for $10.5 million.21


Tenants

Anchors

  • Kauffman’s: October 25, 1979 – September 9, 2006; Macy’s: September 9, 2006 – present.
  • Gimbels: Fall 1980 – January 1988; Marshall’s (upper level): 1993 – 1996; and T.J Maxx (lower level): 1989/1993 – August 23, 1998; T.J. Maxx ‘n More (lower level): August 23, 1998 – January 25, 2003; Wickes Furniture (upper level): February 13, 1997 – 2004; Dick’s Sporting Goods (upper level): 2004 – Present; Steve & Barry’s (lower level): 2003 – 2009.
  • J.C. Penny & J.C. Penny Auto Center: October 25, 1979 – present.
  • Montgomery Ward & Montgomery Ward Auto Center: March 12, 1980 – 1986; Horne’s: October 30, 1986 – 1994; Lazarus: 1994 – 1998; Kauffman’s Furniture Gallery: 1998 – 2006; Macy’s Furniture Gallery: 2006 – March 2009.
  • Sears & Sears Auto Center: October 6, 1980 – December 2014.

Other

  • Air Step (phase 1);
  • American Eagle Outfitters (phase 1);
  • B. Dalton Bookseller (phase 1);
  • Bailey, Banks & Biddle (phase 1);
  • Brooks Fashions (phase 1);
  • Buster Brown Shoes (phase 1);
  • C.V.S. (phase 1);
  • Camelot Music (phase 1);
  • Card Cage (phase 1);
  • Carlyle & Co. (phase 1);
  • Century III Hair Center (phase 1);
  • Century III Travel (phase 1);
  • Chess King (phase 1);
  • DEB Shops (phase 1);
  • DeRoy Jewelers (phase 1);
  • Edmund’s Keepsake Diamond Center (phase 1);
  • Elby’s Family Restaurant (phase 1);
  • Face Factory (phase 1);
  • Family Tree (phase 1);
  • Fashion Conspiracy (phase 1);
  • Fashion Hosiery Shops (phase 1);
  • Father & Son Shoes (phase 1);
  1. Flagg Brothers (phase 1);
  2. Florsheim Shoe Shop (phase 1);
  3. Foxmoor (phase 1);
  4. Fun-N-Games (phase 1);
  5. The Gap (phase 1);
  6. Gordon’s Jewelers (phase 1);
  7. Hanover Shoes (phase 1);
  8. The Hello Shop (phase 1);
  9. Herman’s World of Sporting Goods (phase 1);
  10. House of Cards (phase 1);
  11. Hughes & Hatcher (phase 1);
  12. J. Natale’s II Sporting Goods (phase 1);
  13. J. Riggings (phase 1);
  14. Jean Nicole (phase 1);
  15. Joyce-Selby Shoes (phase 1);
  16. Kaufmann’s Budget Store (phase 1);
  17. Kenny Kardon The Young Idea (phase 1);
  18. Kinney Shoes (phase 1);
  19. Lane Bryant (phase 1);
  20. Lechter Houseware-Giftware (phase 1);
  21. The Limited (phase 1);
  22. Merry-Go-Round (phase 1);
  1. Morrow’s Nut House (phase 1);
  2. Motherhood Maternity Shops (phase 1);
  3. National Record Mart (phase 1);
  4. Nobil Shoes (phase 1);
  5. Original Oyster House (phase 1);
  6. Pearle Vision Center (phase 1);
  7. Petrie Stores (phase 1);
  8. Reizenstein’s (phase 1);
  9. Scoop (phase 1);
  10. Shaw’s Keepsake Diamond Center (phase 1);
  11. Silverman’s (phase 1);
  12. Spencer Gifts (phase 1);
  13. Standard Sportswear (phase 1);
  14. Tammey Jewels (phase 1);
  15. Texas Instruments (phase 1);
  16. Things Remembered (phase 1);
  17. Tinder Box (phase 1);
  18. Toyco (phase 1);
  19. Toys by Rizzi (phase 1);
  20. Webster Mens Wear (phase 1);
  21. Zondervan Family Book Store (phase 1);
Sources