Monday, May 23, 2016

Algonquin Manor -- Louisville's ill-fated shopping center

When it opened about 1960, Algonquin Manor Shopping Center, a sprawling midcentury modern complex, was touted with great fanfare. It would be bigger and better than its sister center to the south, Dixie Manor, which had been an enormous success as it was surrounded by the rapidly growing suburbs of Shively and Pleasure Ridge Park. Unfortunately, Algonquin Manor was located in what might be termed a 'fringe' area that was expected to improve but went the other way instead. The result was a woefully short lifespan. In the distance is a Ben Snyder Department store, a local chain.

All of the shopping centers in Louisville built in the 1950s and 1960s had impressive road signage.
Algonquin Manor featured the state's largest bowling alley and in an unusual arrangement.  The coffee shop and office were in the middle, surrounded by an astonishing seventy-two lanes.  
The Hobby House featured, as was typical at the time, a large slot car racetrack where kids could come in and race their own cars. This one was probably the largest in the city.
Algonquin Manor was notable for its semi-enclosed walkways, a first for the city. In just a few years, however, Louisville's first fully-enclosed (and very chic) The Mall opened on the opposite side of town.

Besides the aforementioned Ben Snyder's, Family Fair was the other department store anchor.  For years I could not find out any information about the chain. It wasn't until I discovered the website Pleasant Family Shopping that the mystery solved.  It was owned by Interstate Department Stores, which also owned Topps and White Front.  In Louisville, Family Fair pre-dated K-Mart and Zayre, so in Louisville, at least,  the concept of a discount department store seemed fresh and unique.  (Imagine that if you can.) 

I got this 1960 Plymouth Valiant promotional model car at Family Fair. 

Alas, the store would meet a calamitous demise that would signal the end to the entire shopping center.
One Sunday morning in 1965 (when Louisville still had Blue Laws, so the store was closed) a gas leak in the garden department caused Family Fair to explode and burn to the ground. The handwriting was on the charred wall when Family Fair was not rebuilt, nor was anything else.  For years there was simply a fenced off, gaping hole in Algonquin Manor.  That wouldn't have seemed so odd downtown, perhaps, but this was a relatively new shopping center.  It was a clear sign that Algonquin Manor was failing, and it did so with surprising speed. By the early 1970s, Algonquin Manor was the destination of few shoppers. The other Family Fairs disappeared, too, hopefully without leaving smouldering craters in their wake. Interstate's Topp's chain would survive for several years well into the 1970s before finally succumbing to the increasingly intense competition between discount department stores.

 Today there are but traces of Algonquin Manor.  The Big A still remains though it appears not to have any current significance as it does not appear to be part of the name of anything.
The buildings themselves have been converted to other uses --even including a church. Above is what I think had been Ben Snyder Department Store.  Here's more information about the history of Algonquin Manor from an article in Louisville's Courier-Journal.

The footprint of Algonquin Manor remains quite obvious to this day.  Once L-shaped, Family Fair occupied the bottom right corner.

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