highland mall

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT

This week, it finally ends for the handful of shops still operating in what’s left of Highland Mall. The mall closes to the public for good Thursday after years of decline. Austin Community College will soon take over the rest of the site.

Walking around the giant, mostly empty space, with Captain and Tennille playing in the background, you might think this is a relic of conspicuous consumption’s past.

But this isn’t about what Highland Mall is now. This story is about what it used to be.


Half a million Purple Martins have been migrating through Austin as they make their way to Brazil for the winter.

Austin – and specifically Highland Mall ­– is a way station for the birds and their young, letting them fatten up before the long trek south. And the swirl of purple and blue has become a popular spectacle – one that some audiences say rivals Austin’s popular bat departure from the Congress Avenue bridge.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update: The House of Torment has reached an agreement to stay at its Highland Mall location for a ninth year. "We couldn't be more excited to share what we've created this year with Austin fear fans," says House of Torment president and founder Daniel McCullough in a press release. "We really went above and beyond in terms of both production and design, and we hope you'll come scream with us."

Original story (Oct. 24, 2012): To encourage trick-or-treating in his neighborhood, every year Halloween-lover Dan McCullough would build a haunted house in his backyard in South Austin.

His plan worked – and soon the house’s popularity grew until one year it got out of hand. Over a hundred people showed up to the house and police were called to direct traffic. McCullough’s operation had to end – in that form at least.

McCullough decided to turn professional. The haunted house that originated in McCullough’s backyard is now the House of Torment.

Jon Love visited the House of Torment in its inaugural space 10 years ago. Now he’s the vice president of Harbinger Events, the organization that puts on the haunted house.

Elizabeth Day (courtesy BGK Architects)

Austin Community College is breaking ground today at a vacant JCPenney store in Highland Mall. The store will be converted into a learning environment for ACC.

"This is a really big day for ACC as well as the surrounding neighborhood and in fact all of the communities that we serve," ACC spokesperson Alexis Patterson said. "It’s great for the area. It brings new life, new people coming to the mall. And the mall’s still in operation, so we’re excited about the boost this is going to give to the mall as a whole.”

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Austin Community College now has complete ownership of Highland Mall. The college announced today that it has acquired the ground lease for the sections of the building it didn’t already own.

ACC now plans to quickly move forward to make new use of the site. ACC President and CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes said in a statement today that the first step will be renovating the former J.C. Penney property into classrooms and labs.

“In particular, the Penney space will house the college’s math emporium, an open-lab model that allows students to move through developmental math curriculum at an individualized pace,” reads a statement from ACC.