The idea of a shopping mall, with numerous stores all enclosed within a single air-conditioned building, was so new in 1963 that the City of Corpus Christi did not have building codes for such a structure. New codes had to be written when developers Guy Warren and Jack Modesett, Jr. sought approval to construct their “Cullen Mall” on Airline at Alameda. Compared with later malls, Cullen Mall was tiny at only 20,000 square feet. But, when completed in 1964, it became one of the first true malls in America. (Cullen Mall would eventually close and be demolished in 1999).
Within months of Cullen Mall’s opening, developer Roy Smith and partner Ennis Joslin were discussing plans for their own mall on a 44 acre plot of land on Lexington Blvd. at Staples. The new mall was originally scheduled to be called “Lexington Plaza Mall”, but when Lexington Boulevard became South Padre Island Drive in 1966, the name was changed to “Padre-Staples Mall”.
In October, 1968, the city issued a $7 million construction permit….the largest in the city’s history. At 623,000 square feet of retail space, Padre-Staples would become one of the largest malls in the nation.
The formal dedication ceremony took place on July 30, 1970. But, just 4 days after the Grand Opening, Hurricane Celia blew into town, closing most of the mall for several weeks while repairs were made to its damaged roof.
The impact of the new Mall on other Corpus Christi retail businesses....especially those downtown....was huge. Not only did downtown shopping begin to suffer, but places like Parkdale Plaza and other popular shopping centers also felt the impact.
Padre-Staples Mall became the most popular shopping place in town!
In the early 1980’s, Sunrise Mall opened several blocks up the street from Padre-Staples. Suddenly, Padre-Staples was looking drab and out of date.....and maybe even on its way out! But, That was not to be.
In 1987, Padre-Staples invested millions to renovate and expand. A second-story wing was added and connected to a new, multi-story parking garage. New, upscale stores arrived and the entire mall was expanded and given a modern makeover.
Like the mythical Phoenix, Padre-Staples arose from near death to once again claim its spot as the city's premiere shopping center. And, it has retained that status to this day.
In the years since the first major renovation in 1987, the Mall has continued to expand and upgrade. Even with the name change to La Palmera in 2008, "The Mall" is still going strong. Ironically, it was Sunrise Mall that lost its relevance and self-destructed.
It closed its door for good in August of 2019. Meanwhile, La Palmera has become almost unrecognizable from the Mall that first opened in 1970, but judging by the packed parking lots, the Mall still has a few more years left in her. Despite the fact that the experts say the era of malls is over, La Palmera continues to thrive.
Robert Parks is a special contributor to KRIS 6 News. Parks was a history teacher at Carroll High School for 19 years and is now retired. His knowledge of Corpus Christi history makes him a unique expert in the subject.