Earl D. McCarthy left Washington State College in 1938 and started working for Sears and Roebuck and, later, the John W. Graham Co.
McCarthy served in the Navy in World War II. After the war, he worked for a development company, then struck out on his own in 1949. He later told a reporter that he went into commercial real estate “because there was nothing else to sell.” He specialized in build-to-suit commercial property, retaining ownership and managing the properties afterward.
McCarthy made his reputation building NorthTown Mall, which opened in 1955. From then on, he and his partners always had several projects going simultaneously – some in Seattle, the Tri-Cities and Moscow.
University City Mall started with a new Rosauers in 1959 at Sprague Avenue and University Road. McCarthy and majority partner Harry Magnuson, of Wallace, envisioned an expansive indoor mall with major anchor stores. It was built in phases, culminating with a grand opening in August 1965, and was anchored by Newberry’s, J.C. Penney and the Crescent department store.
McCarthy’s plans for the South Hill never came to fruition, however. McCarthy wanted to develop a mall on the south side of 29th Avenue between Pittsburg and Perry streets. The city planning commission and angry neighbors thwarted him each time he applied. In 1969, the Manito Shopping Center was built down the street, taking away some of the potential market for McCarthy’s project. The developer took the South Hill snub personally.
“Earl McCarthy could be strident and forceful in his presentations,” wrote Madeline Edgren, his daughter, in a letter to the newspaper in 1994. “He was also brilliant.”
Spokesman-Review business writer Frank Bartel commented, “Mr. Mall Builder, so to speak, was snubbed by the South Hill upper crust and reviled by the downtown establishment. He, in turn, despised City Hall and this newspaper. He stepped on many toes. And he paid dearly for it.”
U-City Mall drew shoppers and flourished for more than two decades. As major tenants left, smaller stores left, too. The last straw was the opening of the Spokane Valley Mall, which included former U-City tenants Lamont’s and J.C. Penney, in 1997. All that’s left of U-City is the former Crescent and Newberry’s buildings. The city of Spokane Valley is building a new city hall on a corner of the property.
McCarthy died in 1979. The hard-charging developer was active in politics, charities and trade groups.
“It was his belief that Spokane could best be served by free market growth and development in relationship to need,” Edgren wrote.
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