Rewind to 1972 and head south of Interstate 635 on Coit Road in North Dallas, and you’ll spot the newly opened shopping mall with the rainbow sign: Olla Podrida, the shopping center that embraced its name.
Loosely translated to “a little bit of everything” in Spanish, Olla Podrida exemplified the word “eclectic” through its architectural structure and its sundry shops. Its goal was to host “small, non-commercial craftsmen in an artist’s paradise of galleries and fabrics, weaving, pottery, brass and greenery, leather, jewelry, fine restaurants, and whatever-you-will … a shoppers’ fair that brings the unusual, hard-to-find shops together in a colorful collage of strings and slips and sealing wax.”
Revisit the labyrinthine shops of Olla Podrida through the archives of The Dallas Morning News.
The bones of the pot
The space where Olla Podrida stood was previously an abandoned warehouse and a hangar from the private Highland Park Airport at Merit Drive and Coit Road before Trammell Crow and James Coker of Crow-Coker Realty Co. brought their vision of an artisanal shopping center to life.
News writer Karen Jones highlighted the upcycling that architectural firm Pratt, Box, Henderson and Partners of Dallas engaged in during the construction of the mall’s building, including recycled building materials as well as local architectural antiques like stained-glass windows from the old Dallas County Courthouse and the old Temple Emanu-El Synagogue in South Dallas.
The building’s interior adopted a five-level design with shops and walkways on all levels and a draped canvas ceiling. Pockets of live plants and open spaces blended seamlessly with the cloistered shops bordered by weathered timber from Waco. Fixtures like decorative iron and bars, railroad ties, English railroad station benches, brass door pulls and handles and cell doors from an old Abilene jail adorned the mall.
Trinkets and tenants
Ahead of its time, Olla Pod, as it was sometimes called, contained more than 60 specialty and craft shops, restaurants, artist galleries, antique and art retailers and classrooms.
The mall’s foot traffic came from tourists and locals alike. Repeat customers were common because there was too much to experience in one visit, such as playing with the miniature train set, attending art classes and watching craftspeople as they made jewelry and stained-glass windows.
Shops over the years
- Granny’s Dinner Theatre, which hosted entertainers such as Ray Charles, John Goodman and the Kingston Trio
- Upper Crust Restaurant, famous for its buttermilk pie
- The Apple Tree for snacks
- Through the Keyhole dollhouse shop
- The Studio, an art studio that offered sculpting and figure classes
- The Olla Podrida Gallery, which featured rural art and early American prints
- The Front Porch, a sand candle shop
- Karat Top fine antique jewelry
- Los Manos Inc., a business offering all things weaving, stitchery and macramé
- Things Things Things, which sold nautical art and collectibles like wooden ships, scrimshaw sculptures, and whale’s teeth and walrus tusks
- The Final Touch: picture framing, dried flower arrangements and gifts
- Fiddlesticks, a gift shop
- Treasures of Nature
- DeFalco Wine Makers
Beyond its crafts and commerce, Olla Podrida was rumored to have some paranormal sights, specifically phantoms.
In 1996, reporter Larry Powell interviewed a couple of shop owners before the mall’s closing.
Roger of The Front Porch was quoted saying: “All I ever see are out of the corner of my eye — the three ladies.”
Vickie, another shop owner, continued: “We have three ladies that walk through the mall dressed in long skirts and white blouses with their hair up. You can hear them murmuring but you can’t understand what they’re saying. … There’s a man who smokes a cigar, and a little child.”
Misplaced tools, flying merchandise and dinging alarm doors were attributed to the ghost child, and Vickie claimed to catch whiffs here and there of cigar smoke: “You smell it, and it instantly goes away. That’s how you know it’s a ghost. Real cigar smoke would linger.”
Some theorized that the ghosts came from a forgotten graveyard beneath Olla Podrida’s foundation. Others believed the spirits came along with the antique parts of the building.
Local history and folklore author Mitchel Whitington also wrote about “The Phantom Shoppers of Olla Podrida” in his 2003 book The Ghosts of Dallas.
In 1994, The News reported that the North Texas shopping landmark was set for demolition.
The building’s age was cited among one of the main reasons for its closure, particularly the $900,000 it would’ve taken to repair the building’s roof, heating and air conditioning as well as the remodeling to bring the building up to Americans With Disabilities Act standards.
News reporter Jeffrey Weiss later reported that public outcry and the lack of a buyer for the property bought the mall a reprieve. It was short-lived: The shopping center closed July 31, 1996, and was demolished in 2003.
What’s there now: Akiba Yavneh Academy, a Modern Orthodox K-12 coed school that opened in 2005.