Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Christmastiiiiime in Ford City!


It was the one indoor marching band event of my high school career. Early one Saturday morning each December, we’d pile into the buses for the 20 minute drive south, passing through towns such as Argo (Always brought to mind a box of corn starch. Still does.) and Summit to Ford City Mall for their annual indoor Christmas parade. There we’d join with other school bands, animal acts, clowns and assorted dignitaries marching the halls of the shopping center, while sound bounced off the terrazzo floor and storefronts.

We used these cheesy (on this site, that word always carries the best connotation) little songbooks called “Christmas Favorites” or something like that, which the school had probably owned since the 1950’s. I can still picture the red, green and white cover and yellowed pages. Our go-to song was that deeply meaningful Yuletide carol “Up on the Housetop.” The crowds, mostly families with young kids or older folks, always seemed to have a good time. So did we, although those memories tend to grow fonder with passing time (and with forgetting the “getting up early” part).    

These incredibly great photos come to us courtesy of Rick Drew. Rick’s Dad worked in mall management at Ford City during the mall’s early years. I would date these photos, based on the styles and store names to approximately 1968-70, some ten years before I assaulted the corridors there with my trumpet playing.

I’d love to tell the story of Ford City, one of Chicago’s most historically important malls, in full here someday, but only have time for a few brief notes at the moment. Ford City Shopping Center, opened on August 12, 1965, was “Chicago’s first all-weather, enclosed shopping center.”

The structure itself was originally built during World War II as a bomber engine plant. In the late forties, portions were used for the Tucker Car Corporation – an American dream that should have come true, and a story movingly told in one of my all-time favorite films, Tucker: The Man and his Dream. Later on it became an aircraft motor plant again, operated by Ford Motor Company, hence the name. For a few years in the early 60’s, before the mall development project, it sat vacant.

Initially, there were 82 stores, several locally-owned, with national chains F.W. Woolworth, Lerner Shops, Bond Clothes, ThomMcAn shoes, Wurlitzer pianos and organs and SupeRx Drugs (the yellow “s” at the left edge of the first photo) along with a National Tea Company food store. A General Cinema twin theatre opened soon afterward. The two anchors, at opposite ends of the center in classic “barbell” fashion, were Penneys and Chicago-based Wieboldt’s.

At 178,000 square feet, the Penneys store was the company’s largest single-floor unit at the time. Interestingly, as late as 1975, this Penneys store continued to outsell those at newer, much larger area malls, including the behemoth Yorktown Center (1968) and Woodfield Mall (1971). A year after Ford City opened, another Penneys opened 15 miles to the south at Harvey’s fabled Dixie Square Mall.  
  
The Wieboldt’s store initially had a restaurant and a supermarket, an interesting feature of many of their locations in the early 60’s, including Randhurst. What really strikes me about this store was that the signage, interior and exterior, was red instead of Wieboldt’s signature green, used virtually everywhere else. When I saw these pictures it was a shock, like seeing a blue Coca-Cola can or purple arches above a McDonald’s sign. So wrong, yet looking at these photos…so right. (These posts always have a way of turning melodramatic at some point, don’t they?).

In any event, they sure knew how to decorate the place for Christmas. Hope you’re having a great one!

13 comments:

  1. I don't know this mall, but I am sure the scenes depicted are reminiscent of local malls for millions who were around in the 70s and early 80s. These pictures certainly remind me of being a kid at the mall in the late 70s, especially the picture of Penney's. Our local Penney's entrance looked so much like this, and the area in front of it was the center of attention at Christmas time, for Santa was always there!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shopping carts on the mall concourse?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably from the National Food Store, which was just down from Penneys. :)

      Delete
  3. Uh Mike this opened in 1965 and I assume these were from Christmas of that year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike - I don't think these were from the first Christmas, but rather a few years after Ford City opened.

      Delete
  4. I can say or a fact they were not from the first year. My dad started there in the late 1960's, and he had these photos taken,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks again for sharing these with us, Rick!

      Delete
    2. He wouldn't happen to have any more pictures of the mall's past

      Delete
  5. I'm always bragging about Ford city mall Christmas decorations, I always had to stop. The whole center/ middle part was decorated from the from to back. I rember Woolworth's restaurant in the middle of the mall, and Dream One jazzy store music was loud with that big shoe in there.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Whoever took these photos did a fabulous job! The color balance and contrast are excellent. I've never seen old photos so close to modern quality.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I spent my teenage into early 20's at Ford City Mall, both shopping and working at F.W. Woolworth where I managed the Pets & Plants Department for 5+ years. My sister worked at Wigs De Paris, and my mother worked at Ford City Bank. All during the 1970's. The photos bring back a ton of great fun memories!

    ReplyDelete