Oct 29, 2021 - News
Merle Hay Mall's underground secret
Dolls in Merle Hay Mall's lower level
Dolls found in Merle Hay Mall's former garden court area. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

Merle Hay Mall has a rich history as one of the state's oldest regional shopping centers.

  • But after 62 years of of business, there's more than meets the eye around the mall, along with some unique hidden spaces.

I recently explored Merle Hay's basement, which contains 30,000 square feet of unused mall space.

  • The moment I stepped foot inside, the area didn't look anything like I expected. It's almost an abandoned mall itself, complete with storefronts, mannequins — even remnants of a Cost Cutters.

State of play: Before the area was closed off in 2000, the mall's lower level was split into two — a bowling alley, which still exists, and a garden court, explained Liz Holland, the mall's owner.

  • The garden court — essentially open mall space — had escalators to other levels, stores and restaurants like McDonald's, Disc Jockey and an armed forces recruiting center.

Flashback: Originally, the lower level was a civil defense and bomb shelter area, filled with bunk beds and canned food before it turned into retail space in the 1970s.

  • The whole area was closed off when a children's play area was built above in 2000.

Since then, Holland has explored leasing out the space for paintball or glow-in-the-dark golf.

  • But for now, it sits in its own era of time.

The intrigue: It's all a bit eerie. But the creepiest part are the dolls in the former center court area that keep changing location.

  • Holland said she doesn't know who's moving them or where the dolls came from. She suspects its contractors working on the mall.
  • 👀 Or ... maybe they're moving on their own?
Merle Hay Mall's former garden court
Merle Hay's former garden court. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios
The site of former McDonald's at Merle Hay Mall
Former McDonald's at Merle Hay Mall. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios
Storefront for Mars Research
The storefront for research firm Mar Research. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios
Mannequins in Merle Hay Mall's basement
Mannequins in Merle Hay Mall's basement. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios
Dolls hanging around Garden Court
Dolls found in the garden court area in Merle Hay Mall. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios
avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Des Moines stories

No stories could be found

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more