Photo Essay: Cinderella City

A visual narrative of when a mega mall in Englewood went from diamonds to dust

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IMAGES: RON POLLARD | PHOTO COMPILATION: GREG FRIEDLER | WORDS: AMY PHARE

A 40-foot fountain. A 28-foot handmade carousel. A 600-person theater. More than a million square feet.

Once upon a time, that was the glory of Cinderella City, the largest shopping center west of the Mississippi River. Even if you never stepped inside the Englewood megastructure, you undoubtedly know someone who has.

Designed by Texan developer Gerri Von Frellick in 1968, Cinderella City’s architecture was nothing short of grandeur. It boasted five individual malls—the Gold Mall, Rose Mall, Shamrock Mall, Cinder Alley, and a 73,000-square-foot center court, the Blue Mall. Its soaring columns towered over infinitesimal shoppers, who could easily get lost in 250+ stores. Cinderella City took three years to construct and had two grand openings. While it was enchanting for many, a fairy tale it was not.

The proposal to bulldoze and build on the land home to KLZ Radio towers was met with opposition from both local residents and city officials. Five years of litigation ensued and an alternate location was approved. Ground eventually broke at Santa Fe and Hampden, devouring Englewood’s City Park and burying its stream below the concrete structure. Exacerbating the controversy, the structure itself was not built to be sustained. Perhaps a hasty oversight or simply a pricey stunt, Cinderella City was a novelty that would soon turn to dust.

Below the park where Von Frellick laid his lavish masterpiece was a landfill, causing Cinderella City to crumble in just a few years. The garbage heap below compromised the soil, leaving a rocky, shifting foundation. Pillars cracked, making the parking garage and stores above unsafe, and in the early 1980s, Von Frellick sold the mall. Under new ownership, it underwent a massive renovation, yet it could not withstand competition from newer developments like Park Meadows and Cherry Creek Mall. Empty, gated storefronts soon flanked the halls. Shops fled in droves. Cinderella City became a simulacrum.

In the late 1990s, the dead mall sat abandoned, yet unlike most urban decay, it was still very much alive in its dilapidated state. Its vivid colors and persona left a striking spirit. Bold remnants remained, albeit tattered and soiled. Such livelihood and demise, a juxtaposition not unlike its heyday. And in that raw and honest form, it was captured.

Just before its demolition, photographer Ron Pollard went in. Left alone with his camera to roam the floors of a desolate and haunting 1.35-million-square- foot failure, his lens captured the tale of Cinderella City—the story of one man’s master plan that may have been magical, but would never be happily ever after.

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About the photographer
Ron Pollard grew up in Littleton, Colorado, where he attended Columbine High School. He received a BFA in fine arts and art history from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and attended graduate school at UCLA. Pollard has worked as a professional architectural photographer for 25 years. His non-commercial work has been shown at the Aspen Art Museum, MCA Denver, and The University of Syracuse. For the past 10 years, Pollard, his brother Roger, and their friend Brad Gessner have been shepherding a collection of unauthenticated Russian avant grade art through the dark corridors of the art world. MCA Denver Director and Chief Animator Adam Lerner wrote a book about the collection and their journey, From Russia with Doubt, which was published by Princeton Architectural Press. See the collection online and see more of Pollard’s work.

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