Winchester Mall - Rochester Hills MI

Address: Avon Rd and Rochester Rd.
City: Rochester Hills
State: MI
Zip:
County: Oakland
Number of visits to this page: 157
General Information:

From RochesterMedia.com - Deborah J. Larsen

The Winchester shopping center at Avon & Rochester roads is now in the process of entering its third incarnation as a retail development. Earlier this year, the owners sought approval from the City of Rochester Hills for another makeover of the site. An Art Van furniture store will occupy space that has been vacant since the K-Mart store closed in December 2014. The plan also calls for new outbuildings to house an Aldi grocery and a restaurant, as well as a complete redesign of the parking lot.

In suburban areas, it is no surprise to see shopping centers appear on former farmland lying along major roads. But the Winchester property didn’t transition directly from tractors to shopping carts; it took a couple of interesting “almost” turns on its way to becoming the retail center that we know today.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the property on the southwest corner of Avon & Rochester roads was part of John J. Snook’s Overlook Fruit Farm, which straddled both sides of Avon Road. Snook was a Civil War veteran who survived wounds received at the Battle of Chickamauga. After the war, he built up his Overlook farm by employing modern farming methods, and was active in several agricultural associations. Locally, he was known as “Snook of Overlook” or the “poet laureate of Rochester,” because he had published several books of verse.

Snook died in 1923 and most of Overlook Farm was sold to William A. Fisher, who owned a summer residence on the property adjoining Overlook to the south. Fisher, one of the brothers of Fisher Body fame, employed a superintendent and laborers to farm his property.

In 1951, the Mount Elliott Cemetery Association bought the former Overlook land as a prospective cemetery location. The cemetery association owned the land for almost two decades, but never built a cemetery – or anything else – at the site.

By the close of the 1960s, the community’s population was growing exponentially and the property on the corner of Rochester & Avon was destined to leave behind its agricultural roots. An odd chapter in the land’s history unfolded in December 1968, when the Department of Defense announced that three area properties were under consideration to host a Sentinel anti-ballistic missile base. The Army Corps of Engineers conducted test borings on the land at the southwest corner of Rochester and Avon, as well as at Squirrel and Featherstone and at I-75 and Wattles. The tests evaluated the suitability of the three sites to accommodate underground missile silos. At the time, the Sentinel system was under development to guard against aggression from China. Sentinel missiles would carry nuclear payloads, something that the local population found unacceptable.

As analysis of the system suggested that it posed a threat to populated areas, formidable opposition to its deployment mounted. Critics of the plan included Mayor Jerome Cavanagh of Detroit, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation from both sides of the aisle, Oakland University, and Chrysler Corporation. The Nixon Administration gave up on the program in March 1969 in the face of resistance over the threat of civilian exposure to nuclear fallout and the ballooning price tag of the project.

With the missile base off the table, Winchester Associates bought the land in 1969. The company announced a 63-acre retail development that would be built in three phases. The first phase opened in the fall of 1972 with a K-Mart and a Farmer Jack supermarket. The second phase came along in 1976, when the mall area opened with retail space for approximately 40 stores. The final phase was the twin-screen Winchester Mall Cinema, opened in June 1980 (and later expanded to eight screens when it became part of the Loek’s Star Theatre chain). Snook died in 1923 and most of Overlook Farm was sold to William A. Fisher, who owned a summer residence on the property adjoining Overlook to the south. Fisher, one of the brothers of Fisher Body fame, employed a superintendent and laborers to farm his property.

In 1951, the Mount Elliott Cemetery Association bought the former Overlook land as a prospective cemetery location. The cemetery association owned the land for almost two decades, but never built a cemetery – or anything else – at the site.

By the close of the 1960s, the community’s population was growing exponentially and the property on the corner of Rochester & Avon was destined to leave behind its agricultural roots. An odd chapter in the land’s history unfolded in December 1968, when the Department of Defense announced that three area properties were under consideration to host a Sentinel anti-ballistic missile base. The Army Corps of Engineers conducted test borings on the land at the southwest corner of Rochester and Avon, as well as at Squirrel and Featherstone and at I-75 and Wattles. The tests evaluated the suitability of the three sites to accommodate underground missile silos. At the time, the Sentinel system was under development to guard against aggression from China. Sentinel missiles would carry nuclear payloads, something that the local population found unacceptable.

As analysis of the system suggested that it posed a threat to populated areas, formidable opposition to its deployment mounted. Critics of the plan included Mayor Jerome Cavanagh of Detroit, members of Michigan’s congressional delegation from both sides of the aisle, Oakland University, and Chrysler Corporation. The Nixon Administration gave up on the program in March 1969 in the face of resistance over the threat of civilian exposure to nuclear fallout and the ballooning price tag of the project.

With the missile base off the table, Winchester Associates bought the land in 1969. The company announced a 63-acre retail development that would be built in three phases. The first phase opened in the fall of 1972 with a K-Mart and a Farmer Jack supermarket. The second phase came along in 1976, when the mall area opened with retail space for approximately 40 stores. The final phase was the twin-screen Winchester Mall Cinema, opened in June 1980 (and later expanded to eight screens when it became part of the Loek’s Star Theatre chain).

The Farmer Jack store at Winchester Mall made history in 1975 when it became the supermarket chain’s first location to offer electronic price scanners at its checkout registers.

Winchester was the first of three enclosed shopping malls that were built in Avon Township (now Rochester Hills) during the decade of the 1970s. Meadowbrook Mall at Walton and Adams quickly followed Winchester’s first phase in 1975, and Great Oaks Mall opened at Walton and Livernois in 1978. The Farmer Jack store at Winchester Mall made history in 1975 when it became the supermarket chain’s first location to offer electronic price scanners at its checkout registers.

Winchester was the first of three enclosed shopping malls that were built in Avon Township (now Rochester Hills) during the decade of the 1970s. Meadowbrook Mall at Walton and Adams quickly followed Winchester’s first phase in 1975, and Great Oaks Mall opened at Walton and Livernois in 1978.

Among the Winchester tenants were a Big Boy restaurant, a Foland’s catalog showroom, and a variety of apparel shops and eateries. For two decades, the mall was both a popular hangout and source of employment for high school students.

By the mid-1990s, the enclosed mall retail concept had fallen out of favor. In 1993, Winchester’s new owners decided to “de-mall” the property and transform it into a retail strip. Big-box retailers with separate, outside store entrances replaced the indoor mall configuration. The Star Winchester movie theatre closed in January 2000.

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