As demolition wares on, famed photographer gives one last look inside Metcalf South Mall

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- The metro's loss is history's gain.

The demolition of Metcalf South Mall continues, and Thursday marks the shopping center's 50th anniversary. A popular online source gets the last look inside the old mall, which stood for five decades at 95th and Metcalf Ave.

Metcalf South Mall has been a fixture in Johnson County since LBJ was in the White House. Famed photographer Seph Lawless, notable for his series on abandoned American shopping malls, was the final photographer inside the old mall, snapping video and a series of photos in April, just before the deconstruction began. As of Thursday, the Sears store at the mall's south end is all that remains intact. The rest is surrounded by fences, having been gutted by demolition equipment.

The photos Lawless shoots excite some, yet cause others to reminisce. Lawless provided video clips and still photos, showing how he walked his cameras all over the mall. Lawless says he was the only person inside, as he, in essence, said farewell to the popular old retail center that meant so much to people around Kansas City.

"It was almost like a time capsule with the memories of the old 70's architecture and the stone and rock walls," Lawless told FOX 4 News on Thursday.

"Just today from that mall, people say, 'I remember sitting on a bench and having a defining conversation with a relative.' I just saw that on Facebook. I get these all night long."

Most of the mall has already been razed, making way for Lane 4 Property Group's new mixed use project, which will include green spaces, as well as a Lowe's home improvement store. Huffington Post ran Lawless' photos on Thursday, showing the shopping site in a silent, decaying state.

Drive five blocks north on Metcalf Ave., and you'll find the Johnson County Museum. Anne Jones is a curator at the museum, where local history is cataloged for future generations to study. Jones recalls the mall's opening in 1967, when the reigning Miss America helped cut the ribbon, and people parking on the streets because the mall's huge parking lots were too full.

"It's hard to imagine that, at one time, this was the place where people went to shop," Jones said while viewing Lawless' video for the first time.

Economists say this is a national trend. Many American shopping malls that were busy with customers 15 years ago are gone, as customers steer their business toward online merchants. Indoor shopping centers are becoming a thing of the past, as outdoor retail centers take center stage.

"The population that used to come here and shop? That population has changed. The neighborhood has changed. Families with kids have either moved out, or the kids have grown," Jones said.

Lawless says Metcalf South was much cleaner, and free of vandalism and graffiti, when compared to Metro North Mall. Lawless shot video at that Northland center of commerce before its demolition began earlier this year. Lane 4's leaders say the Lowe's store at their new 95th and Metcalf project is slated to open next summer.