Sunset Center was old Amarillo, bucking and snorting through the city’s postwar boom years.
It was moms dissolving inside of Sears or Penney’s while dads smoked Kents and listened to baseball on KGNC in the car.
Sunset Center was everything fun and hip, then it wasn’t. And now, after many attempts to find relevance in a changing cityscape, Sunset Center is weaving its way back into our story again.
Amarillo’s first shopping mall got its name from M.T. “Hap” Johnson’s Sunset Golf Course that opened in 1941 on Plains Boulevard near Western. Then Gerri Von Frellick, a Denver developer whose bonafides included Denver’s Lakeside Center and the Big Town Mall east of Dallas, saw a higher purpose for this patch of land as Amarillo boomed in the 1950s, and he laid plans for a mall.
Sunset opened in 1960 with seven acres of retail space and 21 acres of parking—like another downtown without the icy wind or chewing gum stuck on your shoe. It was a hit for more than two decades until Westgate Mall came along in 1982. Then, when the big names moved west, Sunset Center was 28 acres of not much.
We can thank Ann Crouch for eventually giving Sunset new life as an arts mall. Those First Friday Art Walks could draw a crowd almost as big as a Penney’s polyester pant suit sale. But Ann’s death in 2017 and the rising cost of upkeep emptied Sunset Center once again.
But this place is just too much a part of who we are to be forgotten.
The Ann Crouch Foundation recently announced a $6.5 million project to resurrect a section of the mall as a home for the Amarillo Arts Institute. Add in the $5 million Amarillo College plans to invest in the Penney’s building for its First Responders Academy and Amarillo Independent School District’s $54.4 million AmTech Career Academy in the old Sears building, and you’ve got a $66 million sequel to Sunset’s never-ending storyline.
Or maybe it’s a whole new story altogether, but it’ll always be Sunset Center to me.