MacArthur Shopping Center Once Thrived, Now Coming Down

Parking for 1,500 cars wasn’t enough. Cars parked along both sides of MacArthur back in 1960 when Orange’s first shopping center opened.

The $2.5 million project ($21.1 million in 2017) drew everyone’s attention to a variety of stores. People could buy a lawn mower or a living room rug at Sears. They could get a cocktail dress at Worth’s and then get a matching color dye on a pair of high heels at Butler’s Shoes.

S.S. Kresge had a sit-down counter for sandwiches and snacks. They also sold Tangee lipstick and baby green slider turtles with red on the sides of their heads. Nearby, each clear plastic turtle condo for sale had a private island with a colored plastic palm tree in the middle.

At the record shop, teens could take a 45 rpm single to a sound booth for a test spin of “The Twist” or “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” to see if they wanted to buy the record.

A family could drop off their laundry at One Hour Martinizing and pick up a prescription at the Rexall Drug Store. A men and boys could head to the barber shop for a cut and the women could sit under a domed dryer at the beauty salon.

But the days of glory were dying 25 years later for the shopping center. Gradually the stores closed. Now, Harry Vine, the code enforcement officer for Pinehurst, said the shopping center is empty. Demolition will start soon for the landmark. An HEB Signature store is set to be built on the site.

Back in April 1959, an announcement about the new shopping center was made at Orange National Bank by Miss Lilly Rose Stark, the Orange Leader reported. She had sold most of a 34 acre tract of land for $367,424 ($3.1 million today) so the United Shopping Centers Inc. company of New York City.

“Today we have reached the end of a three year battle to establish what men will call a marvelous achievement in the march of progress,” Miss Stark said.  She planned to “continue to maintain her homeplace built in 1836 immediately behind the shopping center.”

Toombs, Amisano and Wells of Atlanta was the architectural firm designing the shopping center to be weighted on the west end by Weingarten’s grocery and on the east by Sears and Roebuck. The shopping center was announced to be 175,000 square feet.

MacArthur Drive Shopping Center (through the years the name was shortened to MacArthur Shopping Center) was supposed to be “the hub of retailing in the area.”

The shopping center opened in the spring of 1960 to crowds of people. The newspaper reported that year the census was showing Orange County had reached a population of 60,357 people with 25,605 people living in the city limits of Orange, which did not at the time include the Brownwood and Cove neighborhoods. Brownwood had a population of 1,286 and Cove had 1,746 people.

 MacArthur Drive was, and still is, in Orange. However, the shopping center is in Pinehurst, which had a population of 1,703 that year. Other population amounts were 4,848 for West Orange, 4,677 in Bridge City, 4,938 in Vidor, and 2,056 for the Little Cypress area.

The 1960 Orange city directory lists the stores at the shopping center: Sears, Worth’s, Grayson’s, Butler’s Shoes, S&L Rexall Pharmacy, S.S. Kresge, Gordon’s Quality Jewelry, Martin Lee Men’s Wear, The Record Shop, One Hour Martinizing, Econ-O-Wash, Shopping Center Barber Shop, American National Insurance, Margolis Shoes, American Department Stores and Weingarten’s.

In November that year, the shopping center had Santa Claus landing on the parking lot in a helicopter. Traffic was so clogged during the holiday shopping center that the Orange City Council voted to temporarily lower the MacArthur Drive speed limit from 45 mph to 30 mph. City officials said the state highway department was spending $400,000 to create turning lanes for the four-road thoroughfare.

For shoppers, a 10-inch tricycle at Sears cost $6.95 and a toy “famous Western model pistol with cartridge was $1.33. Older kids might like a transistor radio that fit in a pocket for $19.95. A portable record player was $17.88 and 12-inch, long-playing records were 88 cents.

At Worth’s women could get a wool jersey stoll (we’d call it ‘pashmina’ today) on sale two for $5. A ladies coctail dress for the holiday parties cost $20 at half price. The fancy dresses came in sheer, velvet, brocade or sateen. Men’s sweaters were two for $5 and the beauty salon at the back of the department store was offering a $12.50 permanent wave for $6.

Those prices have been gone for a long time. Soon, the shopping center itself will be gone, too.  An HEB Store will be put where the old Sears building is located.  And the rest of the shopping will be torn down.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-


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