011021 Atlanta: The Macy’s store is seen at Greenbriar Mall on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Atlanta. Macy’s has announced plans to shutter their Greenbriar storefront leaving the mall anchor-less.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Greenbriar Mall is no stranger to innovation; when it opened in 1965 it was one of Atlanta’s first enclosed air-conditioned malls and pioneered the modern food court. But now, with the Macy’s anchor store slated to close, the aging southwest Atlanta fixture seeks a 21st century reboot.

Big things were expected from Greenbriar when plans were announced for the $9.5 million project in February 1964. Unlike its northside predecessor, Lenox Square, which was originally an open-air shopping center, Greenbriar would be fully enclosed. Built over the former Black Rock Country Club and Continental golf course, Greenbriar was sited at the intersection of Lakewood Freeway (now Langford Parkway) and I-285. The area’s heyday was short-lived, but in the late 1960s, the mall’s proximity to the Headland Heights area of East Point added to its prestige.

Atlanta’s hometown department store made certain to be a major part of the development.

“Richard Rich, chairman of the board of Rich’s, has announced that his firm will occupy a 180,000-square-foot department store in Greenbriar,” Journal real estate editor John Crown wrote in a Feb. 16, 1964, article. “It will be approximately three-fourths the size of the Rich’s store at Lenox Square.”

Feb. 1964 -- Sunday Journal and Constitution readers learned about plans for Greenbriar Mall, set to open in 1965.

Credit: AJC Print Archives

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Credit: AJC Print Archives

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Facility Manager Victor Schroeder told the Journal the new mall’s location was considered “the best regional site in the southwest section” of Atlanta and that its developers believed “the population increase and the continuing economic growth of the area justifies a shopping center of Greenbriar’s scope.”

Today, Atlantic Station serves as one of the city’s most notable examples of the live-work-play concept but developers initially saw Greenbriar in that role.

“Plans call for Greenbriar to eventually be the hub of a 130-acre urban complex, including the shopping area, office buildings, bank, theater and some 800 apartment units,” Crown wrote. Designers Edwards & Portman, represented by noted Atlanta architect John Portman, stated “Greenbriar will be the most attractive shopping center in the nation.”

At its formal opening in Sept. 1965, Fulton County Commissioner James Aldridge “predicted that Greenbriar would serve as a central point” for the area’s growth, a sentiment backed by Rich’s president Harold Brockey.

“There is no limit to the future of this area,” Brockey said.

Throughout its long history, notable businessmen and celebrities have banked on Greenbriar’s potential — with mixed results. Truett Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant at Greenbriar Mall in 1967. Still operating there today, it’s the first of Chick-fil-A’s current 2,605 locations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.

NBA legend Magic Johnson also put his hopes in the southwest Atlanta shopping center, opening a 12-screen movie complex near the mall to great fanfare in 1996, vowing to revitalize the surrounding area. Johnson considered purchasing Greenbriar Mall in 2002, but nothing materialized and 10 years later, the theater closed.

Now, with Macy’s closing, Atlanta City Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet is asking southwest residents for their thoughts on how Greenbriar can serve the community as more than a retail center.

“The opportunity for Greenbriar is huge,” Overstreet told the audience at a Feb. 15 online meeting. “It’s up to us to make sure that we have all of the things over here that we want to see.”


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