There was a time when you could when you could walk around the Dixie Square Mall without placing yourself in the path of bulldozers or wrecking balls. And there was a time when you could explore the place and even take pictures without fear of the floor falling out from under or on top of you, or being attacked by wild dogs or persons with bad intent. And yes, there was actually a time when you could shop there without having to dodge film crews, Illinois State Police cars, or two guys in dark suits and sunglasses behind the dashboard of a retired Mount Prospect police cruiser.
That time was long ago, of course. These photos are from that time.
So it’s finally coming down, according to news reports from every corner. (I received seven Google News Alerts about it in one day last week.) Demolition officially started last week and is expected to last into the summer. What’s interesting to me have been the reminiscences lacing these news reports, especially those of the various civic officials involved, several of which acknowledged Dixie Square’s unique role in pop culture history. The Governor of Illinois, for example, reappeared at the site and told of his experiences shopping there in his younger years. “Although we will always remember the Dixie Mall as the location for one of the most iconic scenes in ‘The Blues Brothers’ movie, it is time for this now vacant building to be torn down to make way for more economic development for the Harvey community”, he said. Then, from a local state representative, came a strong dose of reality – "For me, I will never talk about the movie again," he said. “It left nothing here”. What do you say in response to that?
I’ll say this. I truly hope the Dixie Square property is put to good use – for a new shopping center, or maybe a park or some light industry – just something of value, at least, to the 30,000 people for whom Harvey, Illinois is home. Because even a crumbling monument to a movie would be preferable to a soul-crushing vacant lot.
The wonderful photos above were taken in 1968, at the same time as those featured on our Dixie Square history post. They showcase the mall two years after its opening, in the exciting early years, before a myriad of problems set in. The notion that the mall would close down just ten years later would have seemed the height of absurdity then.
And once again, they are shown here by the courtesy of Dan Steenwyk, president of Steenwyk Architects, successor to his father’s architectural practice (the designers of Dixie Square Mall) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dan last week when I called him to relay a permission request from the CBS-owned TV station in Chicago, whose executive producer saw the Dixie Square photos here and asked to use them in a news report on the start of demolition of the mall. (That’s WBBM or “Channel 2”, as most locals know it. They even have the “dream team”, Bill and Walter, back on the air there, just like they were when I was ten!) Dan was kind enough to send me these additional photos, taken at the same time, to present here. All photos in this post are ©1968 Steenwyk Architects, All Rights Reserved.
The photos themselves need very little explanation. I’m so pleased to be able to show a full-facade view of the Montgomery Ward store this time around. The following two photos show daytime views of the Penneys facade from opposing angles (On the first Penneys photo, note the reflection in the window of a portion of the orange “JEWEL” store lettering, and its antique-blue mansard roof. Yes indeed.), followed by a great close-up of the interior Penneys entrance. Those shoppers seem a bit worn out from all the excitement, eh? Last is a nighttime view of the main mall entrance on the Wards end. It’s a bit blurry, but the Wards interior entrance is visible inside.
Below, two original pencil renderings, photographed as they were - pinned to the walls of the Hornbach, Steenwyk and Thrall offices. There’s an elevation view of the Montgomery Ward store followed a perspective view of the Penneys unit. Simply superb.
And lastly, a detail from a Northern Illinois Gas advertisement (“Even huge shopping centers like Dixie Square heat and cool with gas”), featuring a pen-and-ink drawing of the mall.
Looks like someone needed to borrow a push pin!