Flint's Most Famous Pack Rat Owns the Dort Mall
Column for January 19, 2007
<%FloatImg "images/flinn/dortmall11.jpg", "Dort Mall's main entrance", "right", "flinn.asp"%> Flint's first fully enclosed shopping center which has seen better days is still a great place to visit thanks to its owner's vast collection of collectable items in the mall. The Dort Mall was built in two stages in 1964 and 1965. In the first phase, the Yankee Stadium store, now the south part of the mall, was built. The rest of the mall, anchored at the time by an A&P supermarket was completed in 1965. A movie theater addition was added in 1968. The Dort Mall was built by William Oleksyn on the site of his Dort Drive-In Theatre . That mall would be overtaken in the 1970s by the Eastland Mall (now Courtland Center) and Genesee Valley Center.

<%FloatImg "images/flinn/dortmall20.jpg", "Inside the mall", "left", "flinn.asp"%> By the mid-1970s, the bulk of its original tenants had moved out. The Yankee store, renamed Zodys, closed in 1975. A&P had also closed by that time. In 1976, the mall was renovated and renamed the Small Mall. The former Yankee Stadium Store was subdivided. A nightclub/disco called The Light operated in the mall's basement. The mall continued to struggle and went through three different owners in the 1980s and 1990s. The cinema (split into a two-screen theater in 1975) closed in 1983. The owner of the Court Theatre in Saginaw showed interest in leasing the twin theater, but decided not to because he realized it could not compete with the dominant Showcase Cinemas. General Cinemas, which leased the theater, stripped it of equipment and fixtures before the lease expired. The Small Mall was renamed the Mid-America Plaza in 1984. The mall management installed speed bumps on the parking lot because it had become a magnet for cruisers.

In 1995, businessman James Patton sold the mall to businessman and local hockey legend Bob Perani, a former minor league goalie who was a member of the original Flint Generals. After acquiring the mall, Perani's Hockey Shop moved into the mall to become of the anchor stores. The other anchor stores in the mall are Bargain Hunterz and Big Lots. Probably the longest operating tenant in the mall is Star Brothers Coney Island which opened in the former Walgreen's restaurant in the 1970s. About a third of the mall's space at its north end was converted from retail space to office space. The former cinema became a maintenance office and storage area. Perani restored the original Dort Mall name. <%FloatImg "images/flinn/dortmall1.jpg", "The former Walli's rotosphere", "right", "flinn.asp"%>

<%FloatImg "images/flinn/dortmall2.jpg", "The statue of
Alfred E. Neuman in front of
Bargain Hunterz", "left", "flinn.asp"%> But what makes the Dort Mall interesting nowadays is Perani's vast collection of antiques, old neon signs, gasoline pumps, gas station signs, movie props, promotional castoffs, deep sea diving suits, old ship figureheads, boats, public scales, vintage traffic signs, three red British phone booths and other collectibles which include two single engine airplanes , a merry-go-round and a recently acquired helicopter. Outside, you can see old ship anchors, airplane propellers, the old Walli's West Restaurant neon "rotosphere", a Sinclair Oil sign and a huge statue of Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman.

Perani admits being a ‘junk collector' and nautical buff all his life. He acquired most of his collection through auctions around the country. He auctioned off a third of his own collection in the mall five years ago to make room for more items to add to his collection in the mall. The movie props include two model ships: a Roman galley used in the 1959 movie "Ben Hur" and the ship The Flounder which Dr. Doolittle, played by Rex Harrison, sailed in for the 1967 film "Doctor Doolittle." In front of these prop ships are two ancient cannons from the early 1700s. One was a Patterero cannon which Perani found in Florida and the other was a Spanish cannon from a sunken ship in the Atlantic. The collection is so vast, you could visit the mall many times and note something in the collection which you missed during previous visits. How did the two airplanes get inside the mall? The wings could easily be removed and reassembled. One of the two planes was actually made in Flint. It was an Ace Aircraft made by the Ace Aircraft Company which was in business from 1929 to 1932. <%FloatImg "images/flinn/dortmall4.jpg", "Part of Perani's movie prop collection", "right", "flinn.asp"%>

<%FloatImg "images/flinn/dortmall14.jpg", "Note the carousel and airplanes", "left", "flinn.asp"%> One historical item of note is the Otisville "drunk tank," a jail cell which was in the basement of the Otisville village hall from 1910 to the 1940s which housed Saturday night drunks. Of all the gas station signs in the mall, Perani is proud of the two-sided neon Mobil Oil Pegasus sign which is one of only a half dozen two-sided neon Mobil Pegasus signs known to be in existence. Most of the electric signs in the mall are in working order because Perani contracts with a neon sign repairman to restore the signs in his collection. In front of Perani's Hockey Shop is a restored 1960s vintage Zamboni used to resurface ice at hockey arenas and a late 1800s vintage church bell from a Catholic church in Albany, New York which was made by the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, New York.

Flint's Buick heritage is represented by old car show mementoes including Buick signs and a displayed 1996 vintage 3800 Series II 3.8 liter V-6 engine standard in LeSabre, Park Avenue and Rivera models and option on the Regal. That engine was made at what is now the GM Powertrain Flint North plant which is slated to be closed by 2008. Standing tall in the mall are an old four-sided post clock from a small Georgia town and a Phillips 66 sign. Statues inside the mall include two Ronald McDonalds sitting on a bench and in a standing pose, Little Lulu and two wooden soldiers from a J.L. Hudson Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit. Many more items are stored in vacant mall spaces. The collection continues to evolve and change so I suggest visiting the Dort Mall at the corner of S. Dort Highway and Atherton Road in Flint and admire the collection while you're there.