TL;DR: Empty, unfinished retail conversion. Would be unremarkable if not for its past connections…
History: Like Sears and Montgomery Ward, once upon a time JCPenney had an auto repair business as an extension of its department stores. Some auto centers were built in-store, but most were on outparcel lots near their mall locations. The shops featured full-service repair bays, with a small retail space in front, and often had gas pumps outside. Penney got out of the business with their elimination of hardline departments in 1983; closing the in-store auto centers and selling the rest of the division to Firestone. The store, however, continues to honor their “lifetime battery” warranty to this day.
This particular location opened in 1966 as part of the JCPenney anchor at the infamous Dixie Square Mall, and presumably first closed with the actual store in 1978. It’s seen boarded-up in The Blues Brothers, as the Bluesmobile approaches the mall on Dixie Highway. At some point – judging by the early fourth-generation Camaro that was on the sign by Dixie Highway: probably in the early-90s – it was re-opened as the Dixie Automotive Center, with what appears may have been a Daewoo dealership in the part of the building closest to Dixie Highway. By 2001 or so, it was vacant again.
Dixie Square was finally demolished in 2012, leaving this structure as the last remnant of the legendary, original dead mall.
Explore: This was the only part of Dixie Square that remained un-explored, and actually getting into the Auto Center was not originally planned on this trip. I stopped, here – en-route to shoot the doomed Lincoln Mall, further south – since it was recently undergoing renovations into a small retail strip, and wanted to get a few exteriors. I wasn’t even planning to leave the car – until I went to turn-around on the south side of the building and found a door ajar.
The building was in pretty rough shape despite the new windows and doors that replaced the garage doors (one of which could be found mangled, inside). A trench had recently been dug for utilities, leading from the crappers to a large room that was inaccessible from-inside due to a later-built brick wall. In the middle of this brick wall was a hole in the ceiling, where an HVAC unit had fallen through not-long after the rest of the mall was demolished. Given the condition of the roof, and signs of fatigue along the brick wall, I wonder if this project will ever be completed. Someone on Facebook had looked into this place from the outside a few months prior, and it appears no work has progressed, since.
I looked everywhere but found absolutely no trace of its original identity, only the smashed remnants of its Dixie Automotive Center signage. I set the camera up on my only tripod: a worn Gorillapod, and using a found barstool for added-height shot what I could of what was otherwise a gutted shell…
Guess I was wrong… a nightclub called The Entrance opened here in 2016.