Dead Malls: 9 Abandoned Arcades, Markets and Shopping Centres

Images by -Sam-, Milowent and Tim Pickford-Jones

While the recent economic downturn has had a devastating effect on the high street, abandoned shopping centres – known as Dead Malls – can be attributed to various factors, from financial failure to urban redevelopment and even criminal intervention.  In this article we take a look at all of them, as we explore beautiful Victorian arcades and spooky modern malls that metaphorically collapsed almost as soon as they had opened.

Dayton Arcade, Ohio

Images by vistavision and (top right) the Friends of the Dayton Arcade, via Wetpaint

(vistavision images licensed under Creative Commons by-NC-ND 2.0; Wetpaint images by NC-SA 3.0)

Dayton Arcade is a perfect example of what might be hidden away behind grand but otherwise unassuming downtown facades.  From the outside, you’d be forgiven for failing the even conceive of the five deserted interconnecting buildings, conceived by Eugene J. Barney in 1902, that converge on a grand central arcade, circled by balconied floors and topped by a glass-domed rotunda.  Dayton Arcade closed to shoppers in 1990 after a major refurbishment somehow failed to generate profits.  Plans are now afoot to revitalise the building, while local group Friends of the Dayton Arcade operate tours of this historic “temple of trade”.  Surely such an impressive retail environment in a prime downtown location would soon become the icing on Dayton’s cake…

Royal Arcade, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Images by Tim Pickford-Jones

(Images ©Tim Pickford-Jones, reproduced with permission)

Speaking of grand, the Royal Arcade in Newcastle was one of the city’s decorative indoor shopping streets before it was demolished to make way for a concrete leviathan called Swan House.  Tim Pickford-Jones’ article and historic photographs tell the story of the Royal Arcade, an 1830s masterpiece complete with offices, banks, steam vapour bath and Post Office.  A financial failure due mainly to its position, the arcade was swept aside in 1963 in the name of “progress” – that local authority buzzword that has long become synonymous with brutalist architecture.

Images by Tim Pickford-Jones

(Images ©Tim Pickford-Jones, reproduced with permission)

In a final twist of fate, Tim explains that the Royal Arcade’s stones had been numbered and stored at a nearby location to await reassembly.  But the numbers had been written in chalk and were lost forever when it rained, rendering reconstruction impossible.  The arcade may have been lost forever, but Swan House (above) is with us to stay, which will delight those with an appreciation of function over form.  Check out more great pics from Tim’s website here.

North Street Arcade, Belfast

Images via Icanseeformiles (top) and Christopher

(Top: public domain; lower: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic)

North Street Arcade is another defunct  indoor shopping street, this time an Art Deco example in Belfast.  Constructed in 1936 between North Street and Donegal Street in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Conservation Area, the arcade was almost completely destroyed during an arson attack in 2004.  The picture above shows the remains of the terrazzo pavement between little units that once held Belfast’s small cultural businesses.

North Street Arcade had been at the centre of controversial plans which would have had it demolished to make way for a new shopping mall.  In 2005, the Twentieth Century Society submitted original architectural drawings to the developer demanding that the arcade be rebuilt to its former specifications.  The documentary Up in Smoke takes the viewer on a photo-tour through North Street Arcade both before and after the fire.

Smithfield Market, London

Images by --Sam--, JamesK1987 and DarTar

(Images 1, 2 licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic, left and right in public domain)

Smithfield in the Tower Hamlets area of London is undeniably one of the most famous meat markets on the planet.  But even the most highly regarded and the most historic are not free from abandonment in our modern world.  Meat has been traded at Smithfield for more than 800 years, but that didn’t prevent a move to demolish several of the historic structures in the name of – you guessed it – progress.  But thankfully, an eleventh-hour public inquiry deemed that Smithfield added to the unique character of the area, and the condemned buildings, including the former Fish Market and a cold store known as Red House, were granted a reprieve.

Images by Edward (left) and Nevilley

(Images: left in public domain; right licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 Unported)

The former Port of London Authority and the Central Cold Store show how other Smithfield buildings have been adapted for reuse, the latter as a power station.  With luck – and some vision – Red House and the former Fish Market will soon find themselves on the end of a creative masterplan to reintegrate them into the scene.

Inside “Dead Malls”

Image by Milowent (top) and David290

(Top and bottom images in public domain)

Not all abandoned shopping centres are grand arcades and many of them aren’t even old.  The New South China Mall in Dongguan, China (above), opened in 2005 and has been 99% empty ever since.  Considered the largest mall in the world based on gross leasable area, the ghostly emptiness of New South China Mall is seen as a classic symptom of the Chinese property bubble.

Image by Eddie~S

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Despite the ongoing economic troubles plaguing America and other countries, dead malls are not necessarily the result of recession, and can come about for various reasons.  Also known as “greyfields”, dead malls also don’t have to be completely abandoned to fit into this category.  In the U.S., malls are considered dead if they have no surviving anchor store (such as a large department store) or other attractions designed to entice shoppers and build pedestrian traffic to drive the sales of smaller stores.  But some of them, like Randall Park Mall in Ohio (above) are just plain abandoned.

Images by WiNG, Loozrboy (left) and Acc78 (right)

(Images 1, 2, 3 licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Unported, SA 2.0 Generic, SA 3.0 Unported)

Other dead malls include this ultra modern wing of Shanghai Summit Shopping City in the 58-storey Cloud Nine skyscraper (above top).  Westmount Mall in London, Ontario (left) seems to have fallen silent due to a high level of local competition from larger shopping centres, while the abandoned wing of the El Con mall in Tucson, Arizona has a utilitarian blandness to it that certainly isn’t helped by its outdated pink paintwork.

Related Articles
6 Creepy Underground Tunnels, Subways & Sewers
Abandoned Places Brought to Life Through HDR Photography
Five Star Abandonment: Perth’s Old Treasury Building
Belfast’s Historic (and Troubled) “Holy Land”
Manchester’s Spectacular(ly Deserted) Victoria Baths


Around the web

  • E.P. Sato

    Washington DC has an infamous abandoned mall known as “Underground Dupont”

    It was an underground mall made out of the old streetcar  lines that the city attempted to do in the 1990s.  The project didn’t work, and the space is now abandoned.  A few groups have taken photos,  but it’s difficult to access which is why there aren’t more articles written about this fascinating underground mall.

  • Tom

    Thanks for your comment!  I didn’t realise there was an abandoned mall under Dupont circle, that’s fascinating to learn.  I knew there was a streetcar tunnel (I believe it’s not been adapted as the road underpass?) and there are some blanked off entrances at street level that look like abandoned metro entrances, but I guess could have been for the streetcar or mall?

Become an Urban Ghosts Contributor!

Most Recent


Top Lists