This Mall Had Everything
February 25, 2012 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Dixie Square Mall, Chicagoland's rotting eyesore, urban archaeology mecca. and site of a Blues Brothers chase scene, is finally being demolished. For real this time. It sat vacant and rotting since closing in 1979, slowly becoming the grim epitome of dead malls. (Previously)
posted by Yakuman (36 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
New Oldsmobiles are in early this year.
posted by GavinR at 3:45 PM on February 25, 2012 [13 favorites]

"However, the filming of this movie left the city of Harvey with an eyesore that has become one of the oldest white elephants in the country."

Really? Blaming the movie makers is pretty pathetic. The mall was closed before they went there, and had no plans to reopen after they left. I guess it's better than saying "The local government was largely ineffective for 30 years in removing this eyesore or finding a proper owner"
posted by inthe80s at 3:54 PM on February 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

"Malls are like bananas. You buy them at one price and sell them at another. Some of those go bad. Those you throw out." -- Haywood Whichard, owner of Augusta's dead Regency Mall

Strangely enough, of the two malls in Augusta GA, it's the still active Augusta Mall that someone took a drive though, Blues Brothers' style.
posted by radwolf76 at 4:00 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeeesh...DSM is scary even from above (Google Map).
posted by lampshade at 4:03 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I blame the Blues Brothers for everything.
posted by mazola at 4:08 PM on February 25, 2012

As an urban archaeology nut and lover of all things weird, arcane, and apocryphal, I feel like I need to do one of these:

posted by theartandsound at 4:09 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

America is truly a different country. It's so strange to think of such a large space (presumably with sewers and utilities) laying unused for thirty-three years. Where I come from malls are pretty much forever. They may get renovated and transformed from time to time, but there's generally somebody who wants to use the building.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:13 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

And they'll just build another one to rot somewhere else next.

I don't think rotting amazon warehouses will be as interesting though when the time comes.
posted by notseamus at 4:20 PM on February 25, 2012

I really hate malls. Every time I go into one, it feels like my soul is being slowly killed.* So it's a little hard to be upset at the death of one. The thing that really bugs me about malls as opposed to shopping districts, however, is their fragility -- large shopping areas (most cities' downtowns, for example) seemed better able to weather the vagaries of economics -- even after the "mall age" put a spike through their hearts, downtowns have struggled back to life in various cities, but once a mall really hits the kids, it seems to be all over, eventually leaving a huge rotting carcass that cannot be rehabbed in any real way. Other huge urban buildings, like mills, for example, are difficult to rework into a new form, but it gets done (with varying degrees of success, true), and they become office or shopping spaces. This doesn't seem possible with the mall. Once they die, they are a corpse stinking up the place and leaving nothing but enormous parking lots for later use. And who really needs those huge lots?

On the other hand, I may be missing something. Does anyone know of a mall that has been successfully repurposed?

*Actually, the St. Anthony Main Mall in Minneapolis, built into an old mill, was walkable and pleasant with a nice organic feel, and the only mall I've ever seen that didn't leave me feeling ill after about 30 minutes. Naturally, it died an awful and lingering death, while other, nastier malls, thrived.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:33 PM on February 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Re: Regency Mall in Augusta

I went there a few times when I was stationed at Ft. Gordon for signal school. The drill sergeants had a line about the place:

"There're two malls you can go to in this town. A real nice one where you can spend all your money and have a nice time, and one where you'll go get stabbed." I thought it was just thinly veiled racism and ignored them because what's the point of becoming a weaponized ex philosophy major if you can't even kick the tires, but the commentary from radwolf76's link at least explains where they got the schtick from. It was pretty down in the mouth at the time (1994). A lot of the stores weren't much more than flea market stalls that sold dreamcatchers and roach clips. Not so much menacing as just broken down and circling the drain.

While I was stationed at Fort Bragg there was a gutted superstore that had become a giant flea market. Office partitions served as walls between the stalls. I'd call it grim, but at least its corpse was serving as host to something.
posted by mph at 4:34 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does anyone know of a mall that has been successfully repurposed?

The California Department of Transportation design office in Fresno is located in an old anchor store of a still-decaying mall. Not an entire re-purposing of the mall, though. Just that one store. And it's very odd inside there.
posted by hwyengr at 4:42 PM on February 25, 2012

GenjiandProust: "On the other hand, I may be missing something. Does anyone know of a mall that has been successfully repurposed?"

After many years of decline, The Fashion Center in Paramus, NJ eventually closed its central arcade, leaving its remaining "anchor" tenant as an independent store, putting two Big-Box stores into the other anchor space, and cramming a grocery store and a few other big-box-style stores into the area formerly occupied by the smaller businesses in the arcade (but this time facing outward).

It's been modestly successful, and makes me wonder if they could have saved some of the other smaller businesses simply by turning them around to face the outside instead of the arcade.

Actually, NJ has a pretty good record of doing *something* with failed indoor malls. They've turned a few declining malls around, while others have either met the wrecking ball or been converted into big-box strips. None of them lingered like Dixie Square did (at least, that I know of).

Mind you, I'm not sure that a strip of soulless big-box chains should be considered a success....but it's something. Unlike many other areas of the US, the inner NJ suburbs are coming to grips with the fact that they can't sprawl any further outward, or resort to leveling and rebuilding every failing development from scratch. Sadly, it still looks like they're still going to squander any opportunities to build walkable communities. (On the flipside, Northern VA is still sprawling outward, but the inner suburbs are quickly refactoring themselves as a contiguous urban extension of DC. Arlington and Alexandria are by far two of the most forward-thinking suburbs in the US.)
posted by schmod at 4:46 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

When all the malls are dead, and no one in America can afford to live in their homes, the malls will fulfill their final purpose -- holding camps for the displaced.
posted by briank at 4:47 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Buildings of all kinds die because people change their minds. This explains everything from Stonehenge to Detroit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:52 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does anyone know of a mall that has been successfully repurposed?

In Calgary, Alberta, Pacific Place used to be Franklin Mall. Not having grown up here, I had no idea what urban planners were thinking when malls began to flank both sides of 36th St. NE. There's Sunridge Mall (recently renovated), at least two strip malls, Vista Landing, Marlborough Mall (renovated early 2000s), another strip mall and Pacific Place.

It used to be Franklin Mall, which was truly the mall of the damned when my family moved to Calgary in 1994. I think the Canadian Tire is the only store left from before the conversion if you don't count the bowling alley. If Marlborough Mall was built in 1972, Franklin Mall had to be built around the same time. It was an eyesore on the inside and out - grey concrete walls and nothing but darkness inside. It was always eerily empty and the food court was down to one little kiosk. It used to have a Zellers at one point, which was turned into a cheapie movie theatre.

It's much more vibrant now as Pacific Place - there are some doctors offices, Asian restaurants, an Asian food court, and a T&T Supermarket. It's hard to know it's the same mall except for the outside, but it's great to see that it could be re-purposed so successfully.

Similarly, Beddington Towne Centre, also in Calgary, has become more of a medical mall. It's one stop, uh, doctoring, with a lab, walk-in clinic, orthodontist, eye doctor, x-ray clinic and more. It's something that is definitely needed to serve an aging population in the area.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:29 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buildings of all kinds die because people change their minds. This explains everything from Stonehenge to Detroit.

Stonehenge isn't dead; it's waiting....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:57 PM on February 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Disco pants and haircuts!"
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:10 PM on February 25, 2012

Does anyone know of a mall that has been successfully repurposed?

Southroads Mall (YouTube link with lots of old and new pictures) south of Omaha, Nebraska is now home to TD Ameritrade and PayPal. It's hanging in there -- barely.
posted by Ostara at 6:30 PM on February 25, 2012

"And they'll just build another one to rot somewhere else next."

No. There hasn't been a new indoor mall built in the US in over five years.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:55 PM on February 25, 2012

> Does anyone know of a mall that has been successfully repurposed?

The one that comes to mind is Belmar in suburban Denver formerly the Villa Italia Shopping Mall. I have not been there since the redevelopment but I hear it is the prototype.

posted by bukvich at 7:04 PM on February 25, 2012

Does anyone know of a mall that has been successfully repurposed?

Lexington Mall in Lexington, KY is being partially demolished and recycled into a satellite branch of a local megachurch.

I was pulling for giant indoor bumper cars. At least that would've contributed to the local tax base.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:06 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm glad the place is finally coming down. I was fascinated when I first read about the place, then less enchanted to learn that someone was murdered there in 1993.

There is nothing quite like a dead mall, especially one that you saw during its heyday. I can remember Christmas shopping at the Worcester Center Galleria with my family as a little kid in the late 70's and early 80's, and the place was bustling with people and quite extensively decorated with lights, trees, fake snow, etc... The last time I was there as a teenager in 1990 it was mostly empty, dim and dingy. It was not an exaggeration to say that you really did not want to stray too far from certain parts of the place for fear of being mugged or worse. I had a friend who'd had a knife pulled on them in one of those weird curving, isolated hallways.

When I first saw the Sherman Oaks Galleria in 1996 it didn't feel dangerous, just... sad. It was very strange for such a large retail space in a densely populated area to be so empty, and the few stores who were there were just waiting for the end. I hope Harry Sahelian (former proprietor of the Buccaneer Smoke Shop, one of the last hold-outs mentioned in the above link) is doing OK if he's still with us. He was a real gentleman the few times I talked to him, and I always kind of admired him for holding his own. They demolished some parts of the Galleria around 2000 and rebuilt/repurposed things... by the time I left in 2002 it was mostly office space, with a few large stores (including a Tower Records, RIP) and restaurants in a big half indoor/half outdoor kind of space (open at the ends with a big glass ceiling. Not really a mall anymore at all, but being right at Sepulveda and Ventura the office space has probably done pretty well.
posted by usonian at 7:24 PM on February 25, 2012

Theory: Kids don't need malls because they have facebook and cell phones. Everyone else doesn't need malls because you can get better selection and prices also from the internet.
posted by gjc at 8:26 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Does anyone know of a mall that has been successfully repurposed?"

Northtown Mall, one of the three sisters of my childhood, had a long decline and even got an entry on Then it was bought by new owners and renovated into a Power Center. I loathe the idea of power centers, but the conversion was undeniably good for Northtown. Now it's full of interesting stores and I go there quite a bit.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:42 PM on February 25, 2012

Theory: Kids can't afford to shop at malls (or anywhere else for that matter)
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 9:44 PM on February 25, 2012

My hometown mall is going to auction on the courthouse steps Wednesday.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:29 PM on February 25, 2012

I will blame the Blues Brothers for NOTHING. Have you people no shame???
posted by Go Banana at 11:53 PM on February 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Malls can be re-purposed. The Windsor Park Mall is the now headquarters for a corporation. It's slowly taking shape.

It takes a massive effort in labor, time, and money to put such structures to use again. Some dead suburbs will be reborn.. leaner and more wary. I think that the large, enclosed mall of yore will be mostly a niche structure... relegated to cooler climes and wealthier communities.

I'm not certain where that will leave the rest of us...

It probably is for the best.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 1:29 AM on February 26, 2012

I've been to two repurposed malls. One, like the above Windsor Park mall, is (was?) a corporate headquarters. It seemed like the most wonderful place to work. The cube village was in the large "atrium" area of the former mall, and they maintained the skylights, ponds and indoor plants from the mall's former life.

The other wasn't quite so nice, but worked well. It was repurposed into a state government "hub" facility, with all of the area's unemployment, public aid, children's services, etc., in a one-stop-shop. It is cheaper to run, since a lot of the infrastructure services can be centralized, and the clients seem to appreciate it because they don't have to be told "you are in the wrong office, you need to go 20 miles to WEST Bumfuck to stand in the line there," they can just wander down the promenade to the right place. The mall concept is something governments should really do more of. (Also, in the large "anchor tenant" portion of the building, there is a corporate headquarters for something.)

Actually, another one I've been to isn't a mall, but it's the former school where Breakfast Club was filmed, which was repurposed into a similar "mall of government services". Walking through there is actually kind of creepy and dream-like, because I have moments of dejavu when a hallway or staircase looks eerily familiar to me.

Also, regarding Dixie Square Mall: I will believe it when I see it. Harvey, IL, is notoriously corrupt, in that insidious, multi-generational way that only a small suburb can be. I swear I've seen the governor-and-mayor-standing-in-front-of-bulldozers-destroying-part-of-the-structure news conferences before, and as of a few days ago, the damn place was still mostly there. I'll have to drive past there later in the week and see what's real...

(Fun fact: in the movie clip, when the Blues Mobile enters the parking lot and splashes through a puddle in the driveway, I believe that driveway is still there, and always filled with water.)
posted by gjc at 6:27 AM on February 26, 2012

Allegheny Center Mall, which is only three blocks from where I'm sitting, was re-purposed into office space and a big rack-space co-location center after it failed as an urban mall. The irony is that most of the neighborhood would have preferred that it stayed empty since that would cause more pressure to tear the hideous monster down and restore the street grid that was demolished to build the thing (as urban renewal) in the sixties. They tore down the whole business district of the neighborhood with the idea that the mall would substitute for the old shops but now that the mall is gone as a mall but still taking up four blocks of space, there's nowhere to build shops.
posted by octothorpe at 6:54 AM on February 26, 2012

The mall in my hometown has been dying by inches since I was a kid. First, the indoor fountains went. Then, the anchor stores (besides Belk, which hangs on with grim dignity). Then the arcade. Then the bookstore. Around '99, they built a new movie theater--which still has pretty good sound quality, seating, projectors, and so on--that slowed the bleeding a bit, but soon the asinine policies of the mall managers even overcame that. (Five Guys wasn't allowed to stay open outside of mall hours, so they were closing at 6 on the weekend... with the movie theater right there.)
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:21 AM on February 26, 2012

"There're two malls you can go to in this town. A real nice one where you can spend all your money and have a nice time, and one where you'll go get stabbed."

If I had to point to one incident that lead to the downfall of the Regency Mall, it'd be when a 16-year-old woman was abducted from the parking lot, raped, and then shot to death back in '86. (There was also a high profile parking lot shooting in '89 that paralyzed an 18-year-old woman.) Consumer confidence in the safety of the mall just tanked, and the shopping dollars went elsewhere.

And as run-down as it was at the end, I'll still have at least one fond memory of it. It's not every day a guy gets to take his underwear off in front of a crowd of mall-goers cheering him on, especially three times in a row.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:03 AM on February 26, 2012

The amazing thing to me is how many malls seem to be on the edge of death for years and years but hang on. The Parkway Center Mall looked like was dying in '89 when I moved here but it's still soldiers on half-closed to this day.
posted by octothorpe at 9:44 AM on February 26, 2012

Some great stories in this thread. Dead malls are so fascinating because a mall is something that needs continual refreshing and the use of space tends to make me wonder about design decisions. There's nothing quite like walking into the food court that time forgot (Northland Village Shoppes) and being instantly transported back to the 1990s. Or doing the mall crawl and noticing where the older part of a mall is (West Edmonton Mall) in comparison to the rest.

Calgary's first mall, North Hill Mall, had become a rather sad place until someone realized that putting condos on top of it was a great idea - the mall is built right on the C-train line and in a great neighbourhood close to downtown. What a great way to add in some housing density.

It's interesting that no new malls have been built in the past five years in the US. CrossIron Mills opened two years ago just outside of Calgary and seems to be doing well. With an area about the size of Red Deer being planned and built in Calgary's NW and expansion in the NE, the mall has plenty of shoppers. There were all sorts of doom and gloom predictions for it, but it's absolutely bustling on weekends. Weeknights are definitely quieter though. Once the racetrack and casino are finished, the planned bus trips for seniors will definitely ramp things up.
posted by Calzephyr at 10:06 AM on February 26, 2012

What I'm wondering is why some malls die so spectacularly and some do really well. Our local mall is always busy, with a full parking lot and very few empty stores. They just added some stores to it a year or two ago. Is it because it's so centrally located? There's lots of other shopping here--3 Wal-Marts, 2 Targets, etc., etc.--though the mall has most of the high-end retailers. Part of it has to be that the economy here in eastern Washington is relatively strong due to the big government bucks that come here (the never-ending Hanford cleanup, Pacific Northwest National Lab, etc.)
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:39 AM on February 26, 2012

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