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A look back at The Gardens Mall opening 30 years ago

Posted at 10:46 AM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-27 16:42:57-05


Vintage The Gardens Mall TV commercial featuring a panther named Taboo.

"Oh it was a big deal," says Ann Johnson.

Over thirty years ago, in 1988, Ann Johnson was a secretary to the Principal at Jupiter High School; and that's when The Gardens Mall opened.

"On Opening Day, we were there live," remembers WPTV Anchor Kelley Dunn.

Kelley Dunn takes a tour of The Gardens Mall in 1988.

The day before the mall opened, 112 of the 140 stores were ready to open. But the others were still under construction.

Laurel Sauer reports on The Gardens Mall rushing to finish construction in order to open for the first time the next day.

"It's a hustle and bustle of activity here inside The Gardens Mall as workers and store owners try and put the finishing touches on their stores in time for opening day," said WPTV Anchor Laurel Sauer.

"It's a rush, there's a lot of the people on top of each other," said a construction worker.

"Think everyone is going to make deadline or is it going to be tough?" asks Sauer.

"No, not everybody will make it; there's a few stores that will have to close," admits another construction worker.

"It's been a big push down at the last month and especially this last week," said Nate Forbes, son of Sid Forbes, co-owner of the company that built the mall.

Ready or not, the next day The Gardens Mall opened and 100,000 people showed up. Most of the excitement was over Macy's opening for the first time in our area.

"Macy's was a big deal because it was a store everybody knew about but it really didn't have a presents out of the northeast," says historian and author Graham Brunk.

"Macy's with all their New York marketing, it was a big deal, they just had a lot going on. People came to see what was it was and they liked it," says Sid Forbes partner of the Mall.


A look at the development near the Gardens Mall in 1988 vs. 2019.

The store held a parade with "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Host" Robin Leach, who rode on in a convertible with Betty Boop in the parade.

Jupiter High School football players got to hold the lines to the 70-foot inflatable Spider-Man.

"It was an opportunity for them to be exposed to you know the Macy's [Thanksgiving] Day balloons that they only got to see on TV growing up as children," remembers Johnson.

As the Jupiter High School Marching band played, children played with confetti, Palm Beach Gardens High students performed, helium balloons were released (something that would never happen today), and the ribbon was cut.

"We went to Macy's to apply for a credit card, because we were so excited, and the line was a mile long, they had tables set up outside for us to apply for our cards, and there were police all over the place trying to direct traffic," says Johnson.

"Nobody else can get in here, we're all filled up," ordered a Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer.

Greg Schwem reports on the traffic woes when The Gardens Mall opened thirty years ago.

"Palm Beach Gardens Police have established an extra traffic zone around the two-square mile mall. Although traffic was backed up for two miles this morning shoppers didn't seem to mind," Greg Schwem, a former WPTV reporter.

Inside the mall, it was a spectacle with fashion shows, a black panther named Taboo, even George Benson performing. People remember Gov. Bob Martinez misstating the name of the town twice in his remarks, calling it Palm Gardens.

That wasn't the only naming problem. The developers officially called the venue Gardens of the Palm Beaches. But it didn't catch on with customers and media. The name stuck and it was renamed later The Gardens Mall.

"It feels like New York, right now, with the people here, have a lot of fun spending money," said one shopper.

"And it was important for us to makes sure that we got the best in class in retailers," says Forbes.

There the first ever Disney Store outlet in Florida and The San Francisco Music Box Company.

"We welcome our customers to turn everything on and have a real good time with us," said one store worker.

Good Samaritan Hospital threw a health fair.

The mall, the biggest in Florida, had a unique collection of anchor stores.

Laurel Sauer reports on The Gardens Mall opening in 1988.

"It was a matter of bringing in New York department stores at the time," says Sid Forbes partner at Forbes, owners of the mall.

Macy's, Burdines, and Sears as anchor stores with commitments from Sak's Fifth Avenue that would built a few years later.

Bloomingdale's was not in the mall yet because they were in the middle of a hostile takeover.

"And that sort of held things up with Bloomingdale's for an extra year. But they eventually committed and we got it open," says Forbes.

There were other construction worries outside the mall. I-95, at the time, ended at PGA Blvd. from Miami.

"That was a must. They had to get the extension of [I-95] connected so we could pull all the people from the north coming south," says Forbes.

"In the 1980's that's when they finally agreed on a link between PGA Blvd and Okeechobee Road in Fort Pierce; which was the last link of I-95 to be built. So the mall, plus that is the perfect storm for development [in northern Palm Beach County]," says Brunk.

Construction on the I-95 extension was completed about 30 days before The Gardens Mall opened and development came.

The mall has changed over the last 30 years. Neons and aqua have been replaced by a modern color pallet and the water fountains were updated.

But one philosophy stays the same.

"We made a commitment not to fill it with kiosks, which in my way of thinking winds up cluttering the mall and they take on the feeling of a flea market," says Forbes.

Burdines closed when Macy's parent company took it over. That gave the mall an opportunity to expand and build Nordstrom.

"We always felt like Nordstrom was a missing link here," says Forbes.

Nearby shopping centers weren't worried about the mall opening.

"After the initial visit, I believe that you will still have your own customer come back to your individual store," said a strip-mall worker.

And Worth Avenue really wasn't worried.

"Worth Avenue probably is known throughout the world for quality. And we have as many shops as The Gardens Mall does, perhaps even more," said a Worth Avenue worker.

In the last thirty years the types of stores have changed.

Shot for shot comparison of the changes at The Gardens Mall.

"Back then, you'd see we had things like cards, books and stationary stores... Walden Books," says Brunk.

"It's constantly evolving," says Forbes. Now filled with more restaurants, pop-up shops, and activities. Forbes says the fresh new stores keep the mall relevant and says they keep online shopping in mind when making decisions.

"My thoughts are to be looking ahead to the next thirty years, and where are we going to be in the next thirty years, and its something we talk about all the time in terms of what is the next generation, where we at today, what do we have to add to make it better," says Forbes.