Friday, January 9, 2009

The Opening of Dixie Square Mall, 1966

The photos above were taken in the fall of 1968, two years after the grand opening of the Dixie Square Mall, located in Harvey, Illinois, a far south suburb of Chicago, on the Dixie Highway (Illinois Route 1) between 151st and 154th streets. Dixie Square, often referred to in its early years as “Dixie Square Shopping Center”, and later on occasionally as “Dixie Mall”, is undoubtedly the most famous “dead mall” of all time. The subject of a new book, a film project, countless websites and more devotees than blackstrap molasses, Dixie Square has become a most unlikely icon of American pop culture.

Why all of this notoriety, one would reasonably ask? There are a number of reasons – first, there’s the simple fact that it was a new, enclosed mall with major anchors (Penneys and Wards), built during an era when many localities were seeing …well, their first new, enclosed malls with major anchors. Secondly, for a medium-sized mall, Dixie Square had some very appealing, high-concept design features. Third, the mall was only open for twelve short years, an extremely brief lifespan. Fourth, amazingly, substantial portions of Dixie Square still stand, more than 30 years after the mall’s closure – a fascinating, albeit dangerous, modern-day ruin.

But the most significant reason, far and away, was the 3 minutes and 30 seconds of celluloid immortality the mall gained in its most celebrated role, a year after it had ceased its primary function. Dixie Square was the site of the famous indoor car chase scene (plus some preliminary hijinks in the mall’s parking lot) in the 1980 film classic The Blues Brothers.

As mentioned, there are some great websites, filled with the fine work of (very brave) modern-day photographic explorers that are dedicated to preserving the history of Dixie Square Mall, so I won’t attempt to go into comprehensive detail here. Instead, I’ll try to touch on some of the major points of Dixie Square’s storied history.

On March 26, 1964 the Blue Island Sun-Standard announced the pending approval by the city of Harvey of a petition to annex the 58 acre site of the rundown Dixie Hi Golf Course for development as a shopping center. On October 12th of that year the annexation was formally approved, and the development group, led by Meyer C. Weiner, broke ground soon afterward.

Architects Hornbach and Steenwyk of Grand Rapids, Michigan were engaged to design the “L-shaped” center, which would feature some 60 stores, including two anchors - Montgomery Ward and Penneys (each with an unattached Auto Center), with a Jewel Food Store, a Walgreens drug store and Illinois’ largest Woolworth’s rounding out the major tenants. The latter two stores would each feature a restaurant, Walgreen’s “Grill Room” and Woolworth’s Harvest House.

The first portion of Dixie Square to operate was the Montgomery Ward store, which opened to the public on October 21, 1965, preceding the rest of the mall by nearly a year. The single-story Wards unit would be Dixie Square’s largest store at 182,000 square feet, including the 20-bay auto center.

On August 31, 1966, with 24 of the planned 60 stores already open and another 12 ready to launch, a dedication ceremony was held, featuring singer Mel Torme and a number of local celebrities. Among these celebrities was WCFL’s “Trooper 36-24-36”, the Top 40 station’s on-air traffic reporter Jane Roberts, a beautiful blonde who frequently made public appearances on the station’s behalf in white short-shorts and the station’s call letters “prominently displayed” on her outfit. (That’d go over well today, eh?) During this time, Jane Roberts was also a regular on WCFL’s legendary “Chickenman” radio segments, a send-up of the wildly popular Batman TV show.

On November 10-12, 1966, Dixie Square’s “official” grand opening was held, hailing the completion of the mall and especially that of its eagerly awaited second anchor, the impressive 2-story, 144,000 square foot Penneys store. Like the dedication ceremony, this too was a grand affair, featuring country music comedians Homer and Jethro, accordionist Art Van Damme (visions of a “Dixie Square Polka” are dancing in my head), and WGN-TV’s "Ringmaster Ned" Locke of the Bozo’s Circus show, a beloved ( and today, fondly remembered) figure of Chicago television, among others.

The real star, though, was the mall itself. Featuring a 60-foot tall tower sign which “(could) be seen from the Illinois Tollway and the Calumet Expressway” outside, sculpture-laden fountains and “ultra-real” tropical foliage (read: artificial) indoors. A truly stunning feature was the “Wonderfalls” display in the mall’s atrium. Engineered and built by Navan, Inc., a division of military aircraft and aerospace manufacturer North American Aviation, the Wonderfalls were tantalizingly described in a Dixie Square grand opening ad in the South End Reporter: “'Flowing' columns emerging magically from the ceiling and dropping 25 feet to disappear mysteriously in a planting of rocks, flowers and trees”…"From a distance, the columns appear to be marble; closer inspection reveals that the columns are composed of liquid falling as droplets in precise paths. Dixie Square’s flowing columns are produced with a special spaceage liquid descending stretched strands of Nylon. The liquid is much heavier than water so that it clings to the strands in droplet shapes as it descends. More than a quarter million droplets are in motion in the five columns at any given moment”.

Through the balance of the sixties, Dixie Square Mall was very successful, drawing large crowds and hosting a wide variety of community events including contests of all sorts, celebrity appearances, Christmas choir programs, Santa appearances (arriving by helicopter, no less!) and all of the wonderful ballyhoo associated with malls of that era.

In 1970, another major anchor was added to Dixie Square. Jewel Companies, Inc., decided to double their investment, so to speak, in Dixie Square with the addition of a Turn-Style discount department store at the rear of the mall. As mentioned, a Jewel Food Store was already in place.
For the city of Harvey, however, things were changing. In 1970, the city was at the approximate midpoint of a huge demographic shift which led to racial tension, described in detail in this Encyclopedia of Chicago article. As the article mentions, Harvey’s “rates of crime, unemployment and poverty were among the suburbs' highest”, and compounding its problems, the city had “lost its industrial and commercial base”. These were hardly ideal conditions for a thriving mall (or much of anything else, for that matter), and Dixie Square’s fortunes would fall precipitously over the next few years.

To make matters worse, the Dixie Square property was the site of a number of sad incidents, including assaults, murder, and the accidental death of a well-known stuntman as he neared completion of a pole-sitting event in the mall’s parking lot. The cumulative effect of these tragic events did much to tarnish Dixie Square’s image.

Despite these setbacks, efforts were made to keep Dixie Square viable. As late as the fall of 1974, such high-profile celebrities as the Harlem Globetrotters (arguably at the peak of their popularity at the time) were booked to entertain mall customers for Dixie Square’s 8th anniversary. Some decorative upgrades were also implemented around this time, including the installation of a huge, funky architectural tent canopy at the mall’s entrance, which is clearly visible in the Blues Brothers sequence. The canopy was designed by a Wisconsin firm called Chrysalis East (a great 70’s name if there ever was one), who provided the massive fabric structures for both permanent installations and special events, including Chicagofest, a series of concerts that were held at Navy Pier in the late 70’s and early 80’s and featured scores of major musical acts ranging from Muddy Waters to Pablo Cruise to Alice Cooper. Coincidentally, the Blues Brothers played there a couple of times (’79 and ’80, I think. Sure wish I’d seen them.), and Sinatra played there in 1982 (Really wish I’d seen him. I did see Cheap Trick, though. How’s that for varied musical taste?).

These efforts did little to slow Dixie Square’s downward slide, and by the mid-70’s vacancies starred to appear, with increasing frequency as time passed. The beginning of the end came on August 30, 1976 when Montgomery Ward announced the closing of its Dixie Square store, effective October 4th. The Southtown Economist quoted the Wards district manager as follows: “Over the past several years we have invested heavily in the nearby Evergreen Park, Munster and Matteson stores, all within a five-mile radius of the Harvey store”. It would become a familiar mantra as other chains began to pull out of Dixie Square in droves. In early 1977, the Karoll’s Men’s Store, pictured above, closed and moved to nearby Homewood. Polk Bros. had already closed – steering their customers to (a good bit further away) Burbank.

One of the strangest aspects of Dixie Square’s demise had to do with the Turn-Style store. With its discount pricing approach, one could have easily expected the Dixie Square Turn-Style to do strong business in light of the area’s declining median income. Problem was, the store was located in the back of the mall with no sight line from Dixie Highway. Out of sight, apparently it was out of customers’ minds as well, as the intriguing advertisement below (from 1972, when the store was a mere two years old) tried to address. When Jewel decided to shutter the Turn-Style operation in 1978, most of the stores went to the May Company for conversion to Venture stores. Sadly but understandably, May passed on the Dixie Square location.

In January 1978, the other shoe dropped when the Penneys store (known of course as JCPenney by this time) closed, its customers referred to the year and a half old Orland Square Mall Penneys. A full year later, closeout merchandise from area JCPenney stores was hauled into the Dixie Square location for one final blowout sale, nicknamed all-too-appropriately “Dixie’s Last Gasp”. The final holdouts were Jewel and Walgreens, both of whom pulled out in mid-1979. Dixie Square Mall passed into history, likely to soon to be forgotten.

Until Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and director John Landis came along. Aykroyd and Belushi, two members of the original Saturday Night Live cast (and ardent Blues fans), had developed the concept for “The Blues Brothers” through a series of skits on the show starting in 1976. What appeared at the start to be mostly a comedy effort quickly gained a measure of musical credibility as the pair assembled a crack group of legendary session players, including guitarist Steve Cropper, saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and other top-flight musicians. And Belushi and Aykroyd turned out to be decent singers as well, or were at least a good fit for the songs they picked. Of course, humor was still a huge part of the equation, with the funky sunglasses, the “fercocter” suits (That description is from the movie, and I have no idea if it’s vulgar or not. Or even if it’s spelled correctly.), and the crazy stage moves. By the time their record album Briefcase Full of Blues came out in 1978, they were a national sensation. The movie project was announced soon afterward.

The script (written by Aykroyd and Landis) called for an indoor chase scene, and since the story was set in Chicago, and much of the actual shooting took place there, Dixie Square’s availability came at the perfect time. Of course, the planters, benches and much of the rest of the d├ęcor were gone, replaced with trellises, carts and other items that would easily break away when hit by the cars. The Jewel Food Store was restocked, at least in front of the camera’s eye, and the mall’s store signs were all relit. A number of retailers showed up in the “fictional Dixie Square” that weren’t part of the actual mall, including an Oldsmobile dealership. It’s my understanding that the Dixie Square Penneys store sported the 1960’s logo (a true classic and one of my all time favorites) throughout its entire existence, and that the signs were pulled down after the store closed. For the purposes of the filming, the company supplied the new (and still current) “JCPenney” logo signage, presumably to maximize promotional value. Most notably, since Walgreens didn’t want to be associated with the film (Guess it didn’t fit their concept of a “drive-thru” pharmacy! Ok, I’ll go back to my room.), the space was taken by a willing Toys “R” Us.
Living in the Chicago area and being in high school at the time, the excitement I saw surrounding the film was palpable. On several occasions, the local news covered the filming as it progressed around town, with such news flashes as “Film crew damages homeowner’s sidewalk!” and other vitally important stories. It all served to build interest, and we awaited the movie’s Summer 1980 release with bated breath.

We weren’t disappointed. It had a great story, musical legends including Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, John Lee Hooker and Cab Calloway, a hilarious role from Carrie Fisher (after the very serious Princess Leia) and great comedic actors including John Candy, but topped of course by Belushi and Aykroyd. For those of us from Chicago, it held a special charm with so many local icons forming the backdrop of the movie – Wrigley Field, the CTA, Lower Wacker Drive, the Civic (Daley)Center, and on and on. Oh, and a great chase scene filmed inside some mall I’d never heard least not yet.

“The Blues Brothers” stands as a true modern classic, shown frequently on cable TV and available on DVD. In 1998, it spawned a (not exactly classic) sequel. Many dreams and schemes for the redevelopment of Dixie Square Mall have been floated over the years, some as recently as 2007. But it still sits there, awaiting its own sequel - that elusive combination of civic vision and corporate investment to return to Harvey what it once had – a safe, up-to-date shopping center.

In the meantime, of course, the legend of Dixie Square Mall continues to grow.

A very special thanks goes to Dan Steenwyk, Paul McVay and Michael Brown for making these photos available. All of the photos are © 1966 by Steenwyk Architects, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Top to bottom, the photos can be described as follows: An angled view of the Penneys and Walgreens stores at the main entrance to the mall, a square-on view of the Penneys entrance, an interior view looking towards Penneys’ inside entrance, the wonderful Wonderfalls, a close-up of the mall entrance between the Penneys and Walgreens, a close-up of another mall entrance, (the Wards store is to the right, and the Baskin-Robbins sign can be seen peeking out of the left edge), the Wards inside entrance with some impressive metalwork (on the impressive fountains), and the Wards Auto Center against the chilly fall evening sky.

Below are some early newspaper ads, including one that puzzled me at first. The December 1965 “Sidewalk Superintendents Wanted” ad is probably not a solicitation for supervisory help as I thought at first glance, but instead a nudge to the curious to come out and watch the mall’s construction progress, hopefully spreading the exciting word afterward. In today’s environment of litigation and OSHA standards this would be a definite no-no today. The second ad is for the October 1965 Montgomery Ward grand opening, the third from November 1966’s official Dixie Square Mall grand opening, and the last, the somewhat desperate Turn-Style ad referenced above.

Some additional notes: A couple folks have informed me that the interior scene where the cars crash into the Jewel Food Store was actually filmed inside the Penneys store, mocked up to look like an interior entrance for Jewel. Apparently this particular Jewel did not have a major inside entrance from the mall. I would guess the film crew pulled down the outside "JEWEL" signage and reinstalled it inside for filming. Also, for an up-to-the-minute (or at least up to this past January 11) look at Dixie Square, Jon Revelle has kindly sent along links to some excellent new photos and a great video (complete with soundtrack - and snow!).


  1. Nice article, but one minor quibble-- it's "AYKROYD", not "Ackroyd."

  2. An absolutely fantastically stunning article and pictures. This one should get an award.

  3. Dave, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Your info is usually top notch but I think you outdid yourself.

  4. This is a great post. I don't know how many times I laughed throughout. It feels so good to get serveral chuckles.

    I love the wonderfalls stuff (Anyone know what the actual top notch "liquid" really was?). I have seen sculptures like that in various vintage mall postcards but it never ceases to amaze me how simple and beautiful it is. Why do malls of today prefer the boring look to one of class and substance? I don't get it. I can't even find a mall today that still has a fountain much less a wonderfall.

    While the plight of the Dixie Square Mall was indeed very sad, I have rea and heard so much about this place over the years that it was refreshing to here stuff I hadn't heard before: the early years and extravagant gatherings.

    I saw The Blues Brothers once many, many years ago and vaguely remember the car chase scene. I have been wanting to see it again the last few years reading about Dixie and all. Should have scooped it up at Target the other day when I saw it.

  5. Oh my GOD!!! This was the best article you've written yet! I love anything and everything to do with Dixie Square, and your article gave me TONS of info I never knew before! Keep up the great work, and I hope to see more of Dixie Square in the future! :)

  6. The best entry in a long time! Having read the mall's history, I could not help but be affected by the series of crimes that went on around the mall. But what really gets me is the sadness whenever I drive by a mall or grocery store that used to figure prominently in my youth. I'm not from the Chicago area, but reading this made me reflect on my own memories.

  7. Hi, Dave! I agree with everyone else here--this is your best yet. It is also so cool to see pics of Dixie Square when it was new. I have never seen pics like this before, just the mall being torn to shreds by The Blues Brothers. (Classic.)

    I, too, remember when they were filming. The shot the opening scenes at Joliet Correctional Center. I was 13 years old at the time.

    And you mentioned Ringmaster Ned. That conjured up some really great memories. Thanks again!

  8. It's been quite a while since I've seen "The Blues Brothers", but the car crash in the mall is one of the more memorable scenes. Along with Aretha singing Respect, after a few years hiatus from the biz.

    One mall with the 1960s simplified names of the mall masters of the era, Sears, Penneys, and Wards. I can't think of another mall that housed all three and using their newly shortened 1960s names at that. I always seems like if there was a script Sears, the Penneys was a J.C.Penney Co. and if Penneys was the store, the Sears was in the traditional font.

  9. I've been obsessed with Dixie Square in the past, and had forgotten about my fascination with this abandoned retail time capsule until now. Those pictures are tremendous, Dave. Thanks for keeping this great blog up and running. What a trip!


  10. Wow - my head is spinning from all of that information! Though we lived not too far from Dixie Square, my father was familiar with the surrounding area and did not want us shopping there for safety reasons. Instead, we went to Ford City Mall or Evergreen Plaza, later to Chicago Ridge Mall or Orland Square Mall. It always amazes me how Dixie Square has continued to survive in people's minds even though it hasn't been in business for decades. As always, great job.

  11. The "Wonderfalls" was probably glycerine. Richmond Mall (also opened in '66) outside of Cleveland had something similar.

  12. What was interesting to me was going to the Flickr tribute site. The guys snapped pictures inside the old Jewel market and it appeared that Jewel had left some of the refrigeration equipment in place, which is odd, given that it was only 12 years old by the time it was ready to get pulled out. You would think Jewel would have another place for it? Or maybe just leftover props from the movie?

    Also, the Wonderfalls were in Columbus at Eastland Mall. I always presumed the liquid was oil?

    Finally, Ken, your rule of thumb on mall signage falls apart at the 3 traditional malls here:

    -Eastland - Sears (Roman Serif Font); Penney's; Lazarus

    -Westland - Sears (Script); Penney's; Lazarus

    -Northland - Sears (Script); JCPenney (store added in the 1970's); Lazarus

  13. Well it's been a while since I last left any comments here.

    I've seen images of how the mall looks at present day and read so much about it already. Even so, no retailing blog can be without a nod to the most famous of dead malls. And of course, anyone who knows about this mall either has to have lived in the area during its heyday, or like me, has seen and / or owns the Blues Brothers movie. Thanks to that film, the mall's forever immortalized, along with all the stories and writeups about it online, and the pics.

    What was the kicker here for me, was the vintage images you were able to get and share here. I didn't grow up in the area of course, but I still like seeing old imagery like this. It really shows the time and dedication that was taken into designing and building shopping centers back then, unlike in the waning days of enclosed mall development in the late 1980s/1990s ie: Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, another Chicago suburb comes to mind for me, as an example of 1990s' outright 'blandness' in design....and that one's virtually a dead mall.

    Even if the demographics didn't shift so drastically like they did for the town, it's doubtful the mall would have lasted up through present day. It would have thrived for a bit longer into the 1980s, but Turnstyle would have left by the late 1970s, and Wards would have pulled out by 2001 anyhow. Penneys would have actually seen the "JCPenney" logo in use as well by the early 1980s.

    Alas, we'll never know if that all would have happened.

    The whole 'what signage was used at what mall' gig is a bit odd. I think it all depended on overall mall architecture as well as the store's own setup and appearance. Let's not forget interior signage either. Sears was known for switching up colors on their famous 'Roman serif' logotype over the years between the 1960s through late 1984 (by early 1985, new stores carried the, what I'd like to call, '100th Anniversary' logo..still in use on some stores today).

    Penneys were more streamlined....stores opened between the mid 1960s through late 1971 bore the 'new look' Penneys, as seen in the pics. Most if not all of these have been pulled down, the majority coming down in the early/mid 1980s when Penney dropped hard lines and auto service centers and thus, stores were remodeled inside and out, new "JCPenney" signs included.

    I also have a sampling list of malls in my memory and what they had.

    Southridge (Greendale) - Sears (Script exterior, white), Roman interior, blue) / Penneys / Boston Store / Gimbel's (Milwaukee division)

    Northridge (Milwaukee) - Sears (Roman exterior, orange), Roman interior, blue) / JCPenney (Yes, new logo here) / Boston Store / Gimbel's (Milwaukee division)

    All Boston Store locations in the suburbs (and the lone store in Green Bay WI - opened 1981) used the same font style Carson Piere Scott & Co used...something akin to a fancy 'French script' style. This was used until Boston Store switched ownership from Federated to PA Bergner, which was then swallowed up by Carsons. All gained the same universal logotype, along with the 6-hex symbol, though Boston Stores took their time....the last one (Regency Mall - Racine) not getting the make over until as recently as 5 years ago.

    Memorial Mall (Sheboygan) - Sears (Script exterior, red), Roman interior, blue) / Penneys / GC Murphy Co. / Del-Farm Supermarkets.

    That's just three sets out of a few. East Towne and West Towne in Madison also had a Sears and Penneys as anchors....I know the two Penney stores at those malls were both under the same banner, but Sears I'm unsure of. E. Towne may have been script outside / Roman inside, but W. Towne looks to have been all Roman outside and in, like Brookfield Square's (Brookfield) location.

    That's one of those things I miss about shopping centers these days. Some districts of chains took forever to update their stores, and you'd wind up with some real relics out there.

    Of course, nowadays you can't have that turns people away ie: the stores look dumpy / dated / old / etc.

  14. The previous comment mentioned the refrigeration equipment inside the Jewel store; that is indeed the original equipment from the store. The fully-stocked shelves visible in the movie were inside and in front of the Penney's store; none of the movie was filmed inside the Jewel and it had no doorway into the rest of the mall.

  15. I remember going to Richmond Mall as a kid and I do remember the decorative fountain though not the Wonderfalls. But this was twenty years after it was built that we would visit.

    Glycerine makes sense. It seems like the kind of substance that would give it the perfect effect.

    1. I don't remember the wonderfalls either, but I do remember the fountain/pond in the center. I also remember that they covered it up (or part of it) for events like concerts or Santa. I wish I could find pictures from Richmond Mall before it was renovated. After reading about a lot of malls that failed, I'm glad my childhood mall was renovated instead of dying. It's very sad.

  16. Anonymous – Thanks for the correct spelling on Dan Aykroyd’s name. Hard to believe that I’ve gone the past 30 years with the wrong spelling in my head!

    Richard – Thanks a million! It’s a fun subject to write about, especially given the interest in Dixie Square. And I agree the pictures are incredible.

    Larry – Thanks very much! I tried to dig out some facts from old newspaper articles that weren’t part of the oft told storyline.

    Didi – Glad you liked it, and that parts of it made you laugh. You gotta try to have some fun with the thing, otherwise it’s just a “dead mall”, right? And I’m with you on the wonderfalls – it would have been great to see them operating. Looks like some folks have made some good guesses on the liquid – I would have guessed mineral oil, or something that would flow in a more controlled fashion than water. Not exactly “spaceage”, though! I don’t own the movie, but it’s always been one of those I can’t turn off when I channel surf into it. I can usually spout out the dialogue before the actors say it, I‘ve seen it so many times.

    Panda – Well, thanks! As I continued to look through the old newspaper articles (from the Chicago Tribune and local papers electronic archives), I kept discovering fascinating stuff I hadn’t seen in the accounts I’d read. I loved it, and glad Dixie Square fans like you do too!

    Dexter – I agree – there’s always a human story behind the demise of a shopping center, store or mall, and Dixie Square’s just happens to be better known than most because of the BB movie and the fact that the ruin still stands. Thanks.

    Kim – Thanks! As I said, the news coverage for us locals was a big part of the fun. And we were so lucky to have the great WGN kids shows, one of the things I really get nostalgic about. I understand that Whizzo (Marshall Brodien) is the only veteran of the 60’s-70’s version of Bozo’s Circus still alive.

    Ken – Definitely memorable, and Aretha was incredible in it (singing “Think” instead of “Respect”, I think). I had forgotten that she had disappeared for some years beforehand. The movie must have done a lot to revive her career. With the store names, Wards usually used a combination of “Montgomery Ward” and “Wards” on the same store, possibly for the same reason The Coca-Cola Company used to have a policy insisting that the full name “Coca-Cola” had to be mentioned at least once in any commercial for Coke in the 60’s and early 70’s. One minor correction - Dixie Square didn’t have a Sears.

    Jack – Glad to bring back memories of a past obsession! I agree the photos are great, it’s amazing to see the place in a pristine state. Thanks for the props!

    Adrienne – Thanks, and I would have felt exactly as your father did. At least you had some good (and closer) alternatives in Oak Lawn, so it probably wasn’t a big deal – Evergreen Plaza’s (with a great history of its own) Wards and Carsons, and Ford City’s Penneys. I have great memories of Ford City myself, although we lived further north. Our high school band played in their indoor Christmas parade for four years straight. I’ve never been to Orland Square but I have to Chicago Ridge Mall, once.

    Anonymous – I thought glycerine was only used for movie tears! :) I thought there was another “Wonderfalls” besides at Dixie Square, thanks.

    Next Anonymous – I’m blown away by how much of the Jewel interior is still there in those photos – signage, freezer cases, etc. – amazing! One minor note – the Northland Sears had both serif and script logos, a very common practice for Sears at the time –

    Matt – Thanks for that fantastic detail on the Penneys and Sears (and others) signage history! The interest in that probably does seem a bit odd, but things like this tend to make an indelible impression, especially when we’re young. Speaking for myself, it’s always been a bit of a jolt seeing an old 1962-70 “Penneys” logo, the first one of theirs remember, and one I consider an absolute classic. I travel widely, and I’ve only seen it a handful of times in the last twenty or so years. It never fails to conjure up great memories.

    Anonymous – Thanks for that detail on the filming. They did a very convincing job!

  17. Awesome pictures! Well-written article. The mall chase scene in Blue's Brothers has always been one of my all-time favorites.

  18. Great to see a Dixie Square article, I've been waiting for ages to see larger copies of the advertisments, especially the TurnStyle ad.

    A few friends and I were just inside Dixie Square last Sunday, seeing pics of it and then seeing the mall itself feel completely different...

    It's such a shame that Harvey has let the mall built to make the city great completely go to Hell.

  19. Scott- Thanks very much! Obviously I'm a big fan of the BB for the reasons I listed (the mall chase scene in particular, of course).

    Seems like car chase movies are a lost art :) - Years ago, I always looked forward to network broadcasts of "The Seven-Ups", another flick with a great chase scene.

    Jon - Thanks, and your video and pics of Dixie Square are fantastic! The background music is perfect, and it's so fitting that it's snowing outside (And inside in this case!). A well made, up-to-date documentation!

  20. good stuff. nice write up as well.
    if you want to see what the inside looks like now, check this site out.

  21. My grandfather and some of his relatives owned the pallet company that was directly across Dixie Hwy from the mall.

    I was born in 82' and visited him at that shop since I could remember.

    As a kid, everything is mystified and made wonderfully fascinating; so that big, old, eerie, curious structure sitting across the street from us was always an object of wonder for me. I would sit out in front of my granddad's shop on a milk-crate or a pallet and just stare at that thing.

    I wondered what it was once, what it was then, why did it look like it did, and what happened to it. I was completely consumed by curiosity. All my grandfather ever said was it was an old mall that had 'run down'. And yes, I always asked if he ever shopped there, did he remember it, and would he take me over to see it up close...and I'd ask over and over again each visit. lol

    I came across these postings because I was searching for Evergreen Plaza...which I had been told was torn down. After finding out it hadn't been...I read about some of the old demolished parts of it, and I wanted to see pictures. Before I got to that, I googled Ford City to see if maybe my source had mixed the 2 malls up. I saw it was still standing and memories streamed through my mind.

    At Evergreen, I remember that statue of some guy on a was in front or by a beauty salon. Of course, the last time I saw that had to be back in maybe very early 90's...I moved from Chicago in 95', so...

    ANYWAY!!! I got stuck on Dixie Square's name...I thought 'could this be that strip mall across from the shop?!?!?' YES!! And after finding out there was so much to the place than that little strip that I could see, I have spent approximately 4 1/2 hours reading and looking at pics. I am entranced. (is that how u spell that?)

    And now after seeing so many pics and the google satellite shot of it, I think what I could see from the old shop might be one of the police department buildings, no??? The shop I'm speaking of was named Blackhawk Pallets...and I don't know if it is still there or not (I'll call my grandfather this weekend, you best be sure!)

    Could someone clarify for me? If you know the shop's proximity to the mall across Dixie Hwy, WHAT PART OF THE MALL WAS I LOOKING AT?! All those thoughts as a child while staring at that I do remember arches... Does that help?

    Finally, I'd like to admit my fascination with abandoned places...ESPECIALLY ones that I remember from my youth in some way or another. And the bigger and busier the place was at one time, the more intriguing.

    Awesome history, folks! Thank you so much for taking me down memory lane.

  22. Anonymous - Thanks, I'm glad this helped with your "walk down memory lane"! Hopefully someone out there will remember the Blackhawk Pallets building and it's proximity to the mall. The only thing I can think of with regard to arches were the massive tent-like structures they put up near the entrances in the late 70's - these can be seen in the Blues Brothers movie. I'm not sure when they were taken down. Maybe someone will chime in on this, too!

    And I think "entranced" is the right word!

  23. Thank you for this! Our parents used to take my sisters and I to Dixie Square (we lived in Kankakee at the time) and it was always a great adventure for us. We called it the "Bubble Fountain Mall" and I particularly appreciated your informative section about the Wonderfalls fountain. Brings back such great memories. Thanks!

  24. Linda - I'm going to think of it as the "Bubble Fountain Mall" from now on - very cool! I'd sure like to have seen Dixie Square in its prime (or even after its prime, when it was still open), but like the majority of folks, I became acquainted with it only through the Blues Brothers movie. Thanks again!

  25. I can easily see how the 'new look' JCPenny's signage installed for the movie would have fuelled the rumor going around at the time about how the mall was going to re-open after the filming. Of course, there were NEVER any plans to reopen that mall!!

  26. Great article, Dave. I too have long been fascinated with this relic of a mall. It'd be awesome if someone could uncover a photo of that massive sign.

  27. Jack - Thanks! (And sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment!)

    I'd love to see a real photo of that sign as well. All I've seen are the brown and gold line drawing from the mall directory handout and some grainy newspaper photos of it. You never know what will turn up, though!

  28. This URL appeared in a Chicago Tribune comment today... Thank you very much! I'm originally from Dolton, born in '62, and I clearly remember many trips to that mall with my mom and sisters. The picture (and description) that got me were the Wonderfalls. I had forgotten about them, but it all came back as soon as I saw the picture. The hanging drops of (I thought it was oil) slowly sliding down the lines were magical to a young boy. Thanks for the trip back to my past!

  29. Starting this month, the dixie square mall site is being redeveloped, that means demolished. this news saddens me, but they might make another shopping mall in its wake!

  30. Just found you blog because I am closing on a modern 60's house that was the sole residence of the architect of the Dixie Mall and was built during the completion of the mall in 66' So fascinating to read about this place and see the glamor that malls once had. Cheers.

  31. Rebeckah - I'm glad you enjoyed these bits of Dixie Square history. It was quite the place! Don't know if you meant you're closing on the house as a resident or a realtor, but congratulations either way!

  32. the bad judgement in building the mall was it was built across dixie hwy from a housing project i worked at the mall in 1969 at Hickory Farms and it was bad then just coming and going to and from work the neighborhood was going down

  33. When I was 13, I made the Mistake of going to themall after school with the chocolate bars that I was selling for My grade school,Ascension Catholic. I was strongarmed robbed in the parking lot. I probably should have faought, but i did not. I knew then that they should have never closed the golf course

  34. When the mall was dedicated,City, and civic leaders wrote a letter to those in the future, and put their comments in the cornerstone of the Mall. I think that should still be opened, and the comments displayed maybe at city hall, since the Mall is closed.

  35. I grew up in Harvey, graduated from Thornton High School (1974), joined the military and cameback to find my town in complete transition. Literally the beginning of he end for the town whose fortunes seemed to die with the mall. Anybody remember the "wine candy" at he Harvest store? I loved the Bourbon ones :).

    Donny Parham

  36. This is a truly fantastic job. I found your blog thanks to the demo of this mall.

    Let me say, this is a must read for anyone looking to learn about the history and cyclical nature of businesses.

    Thanks a lot for all of your effort.

  37. Demolition of what remains of the Dixie Square Mall is now underway:

  38. RIP dixie square. Mall is now 100% removed from map.

  39. Very goood article. I think they called the suits fercocter in the Blues Brothers movie.

  40. My bro.-in-law was a copper in Harvey at the time "The Blues Brothers" was being filmed at the mall. We were granted access by production security and were told to stay behind the scenes, which we did. We watched one scene being filmed in which a state squad had flipped over and was skidding on it top. Very interesting.

  41. During the early 2000's I lived in not too far away Tinley Park, IL. I drove past the dilapidated mall once and it did (of course) catch my eye. A scary sight. It is difficult to describe the feeling it brought. Looked for hords of zombies to come out. Expected to see hmeless people setting up camp in the wide open mall. I drove into the parking lot and up to the building as closley as I dared. I do not like to use this overused word but, Awesome. Quite ominous. This history of the Mall makes the memory seem more special. Thank you for this piece.

  42. Fercockt. A Yiddish word. Means dross or rubbish.

  43. Advance to today in 2021 almost ten years after the demolition and the site is still vacant. Because the site tends to pick up alot of water when it rains, the site is starting to grow alot of Greenland and mushy fields. The only traces today that a mall ever existed on this site is some of the streetlights from the mall stand, like the big stadium style one on the far corner by an apartment project. The JCPenney auto center is still standing and was renovated into a bar called the entrance. Some small parts of the parking lot still exist as well. Rip Dixie.