Ed Noble assuredly was ahead of his time when he purchased a huge tract of land out in the country to build Lenox Square mall in Buckhead.
In an August story on the 60th anniversary of the mall in these pages, his daughter Vivian DuBose, president and CEO of Noble Properties Inc., said a banker “all but laughed at him” when he applied for a loan to purchase the Peachtree Road parcel.
It had been John K. Ottley’s estate, where the Atlanta banker rode horses and entertained. There wasn’t much commercial value, or so everyone thought.
But Noble saw something others did not.
In a photo display in Lenox marking its six-decade history, there is a hint about what the Missouri developer envisioned out there in the first placard. It is an image of a plat map showing the Lenox Square Shopping Center — a series of unremarkable square shapes on a large creased sheet of paper.
A road dominates the top of the placard, like a winding river cutting through the land. It is marked “Proposed Peachtree Connector.” This was before the construction of the mall started in July 1957. Noble purchased the property in ’56.
It took nearly another three decades before the state built the road. It is Georgia 400, the planning of which dates back to 1954. (Though the portion of 400 north of Interstate 285 opened starting in 1971, the southern part near Lenox Square didn’t open until 1993.) The “Peachtree Road Connector” bordered the former Ottley property, and Noble knew it.
Why else would it hold such a dramatic position on that early plan?
Noble may have been ambitious, but he was smart, too. He knew a major highway was coming through the area, and it would bring thousands of cars from downtown and midtown Atlanta and Buckhead, Roswell, Alpharetta and beyond.
Lenox Square would be right in the thick of it.
Another placard in the display references one of my favorite stores, Lenox Toy and Hobby, formerly Buckhead Toy and Hobby. It was originally located in the Buckhead Village, and when it moved to Lenox in the 1970s, fellow village business owners said it was a mistake. People would not drive from the village to Lenox, they told the owners.
Considering the largest regional mall at the time was surrounded by acres of parking lots, Noble was counting on the automobile to make his vision a reality.
Drive they would, and drive they did.
Lenox opened in 1959 to great fanfare. Not only had Noble lured a grocery store, a bowling alley and restaurants, but he landed the big fish, too: Rich’s and Davison’s department stores.
That was a little ahead of my time. Noble couldn’t have known how important Lenox Square would be to legions of teenagers in the 1980s, the era when the mall was king.
My earliest memory of Lenox is my mother, Mary Bird, dropping my brothers and me off with $20 each to buy Christmas presents. We went straight to Time Out, the video game arcade at the end of the food court.
I broke my crisp $20 into fives and put a $5 bill in the coin machine, which promptly spit out an unwieldy amount of quarters. With my pockets pulling at my belt, I played game after game until it was time to go.
Everyone got handmade cards that Christmas.
Later, Mick’s became a frequent stop on my weekly, sometimes daily, visits to the mall. The sit-down restaurant floating in the center of the mall looked out over the food court and movie theater.
My friends and I would get a table, sit down, order a Coca-Cola, and then one of us would go to the bathroom. A pull-knob cigarette machine was in the hallway near the restroom. With $2 in quarters and a loud “ka-chunk,” we had coffin nails despite our youth.
We spent countless afternoons lollygagging on the outdoor stairs behind Rich’s. I ran into my aunt back there one day. All of 13 years old, I had a cigarette between my fingers. She had more shopping bags than she could handle.
We acknowledged one another but never mentioned it.
That movie theater was critical in my adolescence as well. I once watched “Die Hard” five times in one day on a single ticket with one of my buddies. Sneaking from movie to movie was a frequent afternoon-eating activity.
The number of hours we spent at Noble’s mall is incalculable — he was an early mover in a trend that gave teens a destination, for better or worse.