Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Randhurst Story - Available Now!

I’m honored to be the first to let you know about a wonderful new book that tells the story of one of the most important malls ever built. Randhurst : Suburban Chicago’s Grandest Shopping Center is available now!

Ah, Randhurst – monumental in its day, it was influential in so many respects, including its triangular “three-anchor” design, cooperative ownership, and a host of charming architectural features, all executed with a stunning level of quality and attention to detail. It was arguably the greatest single achievement of famed architect Victor Gruen, the widely acclaimed “father of the shopping mall”. And for those of us who shopped there regularly in our youth, Randhurst was the triangular, domed site of a wealth of cherished “growing-up” memories. The triangle and the dome are gone now, but this book provides a great way to relive those memories, or to experience the classic Randhurst, vicariously, for the first time.

The book’s author is Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the Mount Prospect Historical Society. In contrast to the somewhat stuffy image (deserved or undeserved) often associated with local historians, Peerbolte espouses a new approach, one that recognizes the growing interest in the “recent” past, with emphasis on the architectural and consumer culture trends of the late 20th century. Trends that, for northwest suburban Chicagoans, Randhurst played a big part in shaping. At the same time, he has actively pursued the Historical Society’s traditional aims – they recently relocated an endangered 115-year old schoolhouse to a new site, for example, and next month they are sponsoring a Revolutionary War re-enactment. It’s a great balance of distant and recent history that other local historical entities would do well to emulate.

Well over a year in the making, the book is the result of countless hours of research, interviews and writing. In putting together the book, Peerbolte drew from a wide variety of sources, including mountains of vintage newspaper clippings, trade press articles (Randhurst was a bonafide media sensation in the day) and other documents. Most significant was the Historical Society’s own magnificent Randhurst Archive, a priceless collection of original photographs, slides, architectural renderings and plans donated by the Rouse Corporation, former owner of the mall, in 1995-96.

Regarding the book itself, it’s all here, in entertaining detail – starting with Randhurst’s beginnings as a gleam in the eye of Carson Pirie Scott, the legendary State Street retailer eager to plant its flag in the northwest suburbs, the alliance with a “team of rivals” (Wieboldt’s and Montgomery Ward, under its “The Fair” banner) and the engagement of the legendary Mr. Gruen to design it all. The ceremonial barn burning (a typical “groundbreaking” wouldn’t do here, no sir!), the months of construction, the ecstatic grand opening. The glory years of the 1960’s, with celebrity appearances aplenty – Robert F. (“Bob”) Kennedy, Cesar Romero in his “pre-Joker” years, among others.

Then to the challenges of the 1970’s – most significantly the opening of Woodfield Mall, the largest in the world at the time, just nine miles away. In-depth coverage is given to the early 1980’s remodeling, wherein Randhurst was extensively modernized, a huge food court (that 80’s contribution to human civilization) installed, and many of the Gruen-era features removed. With the revitalization of Randhurst came a new round of celebrity appearances – a “Conan” era Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oprah Winfrey, then host of the local morning TV show “A.M. Chicago”, at the very brink of unprecedented national fame. After that, the highs and lows of the last 20 years, including the series of events that have brought Randhurst to where it is now – ready to embark on a new phase of its history as an outdoor “lifestyle center”, a story to be continued.

Some fascinating asides supplement the main storyline, including a brief overview of the “pre-Randhurst” Mount Prospect, an intriguing profile of the idiosyncratic, visionary Victor Gruen, and a look at the long-gone Randhurst Ice Arena, where no less than Gordie Howe once played. It was later converted to a Child World toy store, replete with castle turrets. And there are two great appendices – first, “Where Are They Now – a Guide to Selected Shopping Centers of Chicagoland” – capsule histories of the 18 most important area malls, from the turn of the century Market Square to Park Forest Plaza, Evergreen Plaza, Old Orchard, Oakbrook Center, Golf Mill, Ford City, Woodfield and others, including our beloved Dixie Square Mall. The second appendix contains seven complete listings of Randhurst tenants, taken directly from seven different mall directories ranging in date from 1962 to 2000 and printed in full.

Oh, and I wrote the foreword!

Here are the details - Randhurst : Suburban Chicago’s Grandest Shopping Center, written by Gregory T. Peerbolte and published by The History Press, 192 pages, 6” by 9”, illustrated with over 80 black-and-white photos, many from the original files of Victor Gruen Associates. All author’s proceeds to benefit the Mount Prospect Historical Society. Available now for purchase directly from the Society at this link.

The photos at the top of the page, dating from 1962 to 1965, are from original slides in the MPHS collection and appear here by their kind permission. Shown are aerial and ground-level exterior views, interior views of the three anchor store entrances (and their respective fountain courts), general interior scenes, including shots from automotive and boat shows and a late 1962 "police show" (Randhurst was the area's premier exhibition hall at the time), restaurants - the Corned Beef Center, the Apple Basket and the Le Petit Cafe (!), the center galleria (with the shopping center's "upscale" restaurant, The Tree Top), and a few of the sculptures (created by leading artists and played on at least 37 times by yours truly). The last photo is certainly poignant in its own way - an exterior view of Wieboldts, later occupied by Carson Pirie Scott. It is the only portion of the original Randhurst structure still standing today.


  1. This is one incredible post Dave. Fantastic pictures. As Americana as it gets. Nice job. Thanks, Richard.

  2. No, that Niles patrol car is a 1965 the Fords in front of Carson, Pririe Scott (AND Company). That's a great can see the window sticker on the Country Squire.

  3. Sigh. Randhurst is one of those places (along with the Brickyard and Ford City) that I only ever heard of and never went to. From home, my folks were never willing to go any further than Fox Valley in Aurora or Stratford Square in Bloomingdale (and they needed a good reason to be talked into going to either of those). I think we went to Woodfield once when I was in high school, and that was a big production. By the time I could drive I was too busy with school, moved, etc.

    Didn't Randhurst have the old school Carson Pirie Scott logo outside till the end? Or am I imagining that.

  4. i still have a scar on my chin where i split it playing on one of those seal statues at Randhurst in the 1960s

  5. I sitll have vivid memories of this mall, even if I didn't make it there until 2005.....its twilight years.

    The way the Carson's looked...old and grand....and I thought it was always located there, until doing some research online.

    I entered the mall via Carson's side entry near the north mall entrance. The mallway looked typical of old malls....wide hall, low ceiling. I can't describe the feeling though once the triangular-shaped atrium came into view with its four levels and maze of stairs and escalators.

    Awe-struck? Nah, too tame.

    I'll eventually be fetching a copy of this book though. I've thankfully gotten to see Randhurst in person and in many photos and videos online (also have my own video of the exterior somewhere). Now I want to read about its inception and the 'behind the scenes' goings-on throughout the years.

    Everything's cyclical....we may or may not see something like this again, but who knows. From what I've read though online by other folks' accounts who WERE around for Randhurst's glory days of the 1960s and again in the 1980s-1990s, I would love to find that time machine to go back and experience it. Sounds like it was "the place to be" then.

  6. That is one awesome book! I wish more malls would do that. I'd have a library by now.
    Does anyone know who the artist is behind the sculptures? It looks like it could be Beniamino Bufano?

  7. Richard – Thanks, glad you enjoyed this. I agree that malls are definitely an important part of Americana. As time rolls on and the malls change (and disappear in some cases) more and people are realizing that. Thanks again!

    Paul – I was actually thinking of another photo when I wrote the bit about the police show – I should have said “held over several years” instead of just specifying 1962. Thanks for catching that!

    The Country Squire shot is great, for sure. Every year, Randhurst was host to auto shows, boat shows and mind-blowing antique shows (the latter would be unimaginable in malls today). It truly was an exhibition hall in addition to its role as a premier shopping destination.

    Doug – I’m sorry you missed out on the original Randhurst. When Carsons moved out of their original store to take over the defunct Wieboldt’s space in the mid-80’s, their updated script logo appeared on their new home. This was updated later on to the current logo. I believe the classic 50’s/60’s logo shown in the photos here may have existed on the original store for the duration of its existence as a Carsons. Thanks!

    Anonymous – I’ll bet there are more than a few who can say that, and that you probably continued to play on them after your chin was stitched up! ;) You never heard much about insurance liability in those days.

    Matt – Wow, thanks for sharing that!

    In fact, that is the very theme of my written foreword to the book, the sequence of visuals as you approached and entered Randhurst, and the feelings they sparked. In my case it was during the mall’s early years and I was very young. It stays with you!

    I think you’d enjoy the book very much.

    Scott – It is awesome! And I really hope it’s the start of a trend. Although Randhurst was historic in some unique ways, I can name 20 malls with zero effort at all that deserve to have their story told in book form, and the treasured memories of others across the country would no doubt increase that number by multiples. It’s a powerful combination of history and nostalgia.

    One of the most interesting features of the book is diagram of the mall floor plan showing the locations of the sculptures, the names of the individual pieces, and the names of the artists who created them. I didn’t see Mr. Bufano listed among them.

  8. i dont think a lawsuit was ever considered but i remember a security guard taking me to a room and putting rubbing alcahol on some gauze and putting it on my chin(ouch) then going to Holy Family to get stitches

  9. I lived in Despains for 17 years and it was my favorite place to go shopping I was sad to see it gone last year when i went back for a visit.

  10. congrats on the foreword Dave! Sounds like a truly great, research effort. Did you know I am writing a book called "Classic Diners of Massachusetts"?

  11. Looks great. This'll give me ideas of where I want to live when Virtual Reality is perfected in 20-25 years.

  12. Doug,
    The Carson's that retained its original logo (and its complete 1971 facade, for that matter) was Lakehurst in Waukegan, which was also designed by Gruen. That mall met the wreckers in 2004.

  13. I ordered that book! It's going to be delivered tomorrow. I just hope that I'm there to pick it up.

  14. It arrived a day early! (well, the "regular" schedule was a day late...) Reading it now! The forward was pretty cool...

  15. Pseudo3D - Good to hear you've gotten the Randhurst book! I though that Greg did a superb job with it.

    About the foreword, thanks! It was great to be asked to write about a place that meant so much to me growing up.

  16. I need to get this book.

    Also, I still need to figure out the insane parking lot of the new Randhurst Village. I avoid it like the plague b/c I'm convinced I'll get in an accident or get a ticket driving there. Poor design that is now a local joke.

  17. I worked at "photography by Eades" in the mid 70's as a teen developing passport pictures. I also played Santa as he jumped up from atop the mall while "RINGMASTER NED" announced, "I think i hear him now", as the real Santa was too old to get up there. I then took Pictures of kids with Santa during the Christmas season.What a great time.