Thursday, August 16, 2012

Randhurst is 50!

Today marks another in a series of retail golden anniversaries in a year already full of them. While less renowned than the others we’ve talked about here in recent months, it’s the one closest to my heart. Fifty years ago today, Randhurst Center, the “pinwheel on the prairie” to cite one nickname from its early days, opened in Mount Prospect, Illinois, about 20 miles northwest of Chicago.

I’ve written about Randhurst several times on this site in the last few years, and there’s not much I can add to that. We started with a historical overview of Randhurst on the eve of its massive redevelopment, looked at the wondrous Randhurst Christmas seasons from the 1960’s, and introduced the Randhurst book - a comprehensive, entertaining and copiously illustrated history of the mall from then to now.  As mentioned, I contributed some research and had the honor of writing the foreword to the book. It was a great experience and I learned many things, not the least of which was how to spell “foreword”.
But just look at these photos. Taken right at the time of Randhurst’s opening, they are among the relatively few formal publicity photos (many snapshots and slides exist) of the shopping center ever made.

Of course they show the place in its pristine state, but setting that aside, many of us would still find it hard not to compare the classic Randhurst (and the other great malls of the past) with what we frequently see today. Take the anchor stores’ inside entrances, for example – contrast today’s “one style fits all” signage on whitish or rustish or grayish marble tile backgrounds with the exquisite variety of old. The prominent columns and filigreed second-level openings of Wieboldt’s. The handsome brick and globe lights of The Fair, which remained through much of the Montgomery Ward era.  Carson Pirie Scott’s (not pictured here, unfortunately, but viewable on earlier posts) stunning blue tile with antique gold signage.

Then there are the kiosks – no tacky stands, no pushy salespeople hawking vitamin supplements or cell phone covers (granted, there wasn’t a 60’s equivalent for those), or toy airplanes flying into your face.  Instead they were quaint, low key and beautifully designed, reflecting architect Victor Gruen’s European sensibilities. 
Even the amusements for children are vastly different. Where today outdoor playground or Little Tikes equipment and rubberized floors are the norm, once upon a time we played on cement-sculpted animals. On polished granite bases. On top of a cement floor. Yes, friends, the insurance industry would love that today. 

And now, at Randhurst and a number of other malls across the country, the mall “core” itself is disappearing. Outdoor walkways and parking spaces have replaced the seating coves and fountains of the past. One thing that really strikes me about “lifestyle centers” is the acoustical difference. The echoes, the dull rumble of even a small crowd at the good ol’ mall, is disappearing. Now they sound like…parking lots. (For those of you who tend to stay a step ahead of me, I’ll spare you the expected Joni Mitchell paraphrases.)

But forget all of that for now, this is a milestone worth celebrating! And in light of that I’m going to do something completely new here. Yes, friends, we’re having a contest! In observance of the 50th anniversary of Randhurst and the somewhat less important 5th anniversary of Pleasant Family Shopping, I will be giving away, by random drawing, 5 copies of Randhurst: Suburban Chicago’s Grandest Shopping Center, written by Greg Peerbolte of the Mount Prospect Historical Society and published by The History Press. The book contains a free foreword by me, and was voted one of the Ten Best Books Ever*. 
What do you have to do? Well, it’s simple! Just leave a (hopefully tasteful as always) comment on this post, with a way for me to identify you on the winners’ list. “A way to identify” means something other than Anonymous (one of my most loyal commenters), and can be your real name, an assumed name, you Army serial number, checking account number and pin, whatever you’re comfortable with!

On Saturday, August 25th, each name will be written on an appropriate piece of paper, placed into an enclosure of some sort, and five names will be drawn at random. I will publish the winners’ names (or whatever you use) on the site that evening, and winners will need to contact me with their address info. It’s that easy! Don’t delay - enter today!  
NOTE: No purchase necessary, but of course we always appreciate such things. This offer is void where prohibited, taxed or generally frowned upon. One entry per person, please. Odds of winning are somewhere between 100,000,000 and 10 to 1. Many will enter (I hope), only five will win. This contest is not open to employees of the Mount Prospect Historical Society or their families (like I’m gonna know) or employee (singular) of Pleasant Family Shopping and my family (except my Uncle Louie, who wouldn’t read the #@&$ thing if I paid him, so I’m okay there). E Pluribus Unum, Annuit cœptis, Quid - Me Vexari? and all other conditions apply.  Thankyouverymuch, you’re a beautiful audience.

* on the subject of Mount Prospect area shopping malls.   


  1. Nothing like the 60's in Chicago at their finest.

    I wonder if malls of today would welcome the likes of Dollar General and Family Dollar in the way their predecessors welcomed Woolworth, Kresge, Newberry and the like? Would we actually be able to fill all the empty space in those malls? I know the reason why the first two stay away; rent is too high except for the extreme third tier malls. The old line dime stores had higher margins, and thus could afford rents. And it was a much different time.

  2. Always enjoy your posts no matter what the topic and grateful that someone takes the time to post what I vividly remember. I have such a fondness for the malls and stores of the old days. (my personal favorite was and always will be Two Guys in NJ).
    Happy Birthday Randhurst and a big Thank You again for all your great tidbits of wonderful history!

  3. Good post, enjoyed the pictures. I know I don't post on here much, but I'm certainly interested in the contest!

  4. I've enjoyed this site off and on for probably most of the five years you've published it. I've never made a comment before here. This seems like as good of a time as any. I'm sure I'd enjoy the book if its recommended by you even if I've never had the chance to visit the center. Thanks for the many memories.

  5. I have your book on my Amazon Wish List, and I should just go ahead and buy it...but since there's a contest what the heck! Love your Blog, VERY interesting always.

  6. Happy annivesary to Randhurst and to PFS! Thank you and congratulations!

  7. We have a mall here in Raleigh, NC that is having it's 35th anniversary this year! Crabtree Mall successfully competes head on with several newer, fancier malls in the area because the property owners have reinvented the mall several times and keep the mall current. The occupancy rate remains high because of their efforts.

    Although I am not a Chicagoan, I have followed your blog for 3+ years reminiscing bygone eras in retail.

  8. Having only been to Chicago a few times, and spending most of that out in the 'burbs, I have little concept of the malls there. I did spend some time in the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, it had a rather exclusive ambience about it. I was in an outdoor mall, name forgotten, a few years back not too far from Lombard, I was shocked to see an outdoor mall back there. Here, in San Diego, there are only a few indoor malls, the earliest ones were outdoor such as the late College Grove Center and the surviving Mission Valley Center.

    One thing for sure, if I find myself out of my home city, I'll refer to Pleasant Family Shopping and check out the local mall(s)!

  9. Hi! This is Amber Lee :)

    I always wait with eager anticipation for your latest article and this one didn't disappoint! Glad to see that a Mall is **50 years old** and still alive & kicking! Quite a feat in today's scheme of things!

    Anyway, keep up the AMAZING work with your site, and please enter me :)

    Thank you & Amitiés,
    Amber Lee

    P.S. Sorry if this posted twice- I'm not sure if it submitted the first time or not!

  10. Whoo! FIFTY years!

    I've posted here a few times, a dozen maybe, but I can't believe it's been five already. Wow. I can't thank you enough, Dave, for all the memories you've helped me recollect over these last 5 years here. I still remember my first comment being about a post you did on K-mart's glory years. Man, I still do miss having one nearby me.

    Specifically with Randhurst, I admit, I still have that memory ingrained into my head when I got to visit. It was in its last years of course....May 2005, but still, what a mesmerizing experience it was. While it was only 1/2 full, and the one wing was gone (due to Costco's existence), I still got that feeling. Especially when it came to exiting the Weiboldt's / Carson's store into the low side-hall of the mall, walking that length, and then, 'BOOM'...that huge triangular atrium hit you like nothing else.

    While I didn't (and couldn't at the time) get interior shots or videos, I did get the outside as I did a drive-around. I now look upon those clips with memories. All the interior pictures, like those in this post, make up for it. These reveal a more prosperous era, 'the' era of the 'enclosed mall', never-mind the nation in general.

    You can take my full name down for this little contest, just because it's the 5th year, and I'll take a shot at a big contest like this. It's Matt Abhold.

    Keep up the great work and historical research into our retail history. I enjoy every moment of it.

  11. It’s a shame that such a unique mall had to be turned into a bland new shopping center. Most of these new lifestyle centers don’t have any character to them – they’re just another shade of beige. Here in Florida, all of the new shopping centers that are being built are nothing like the ones from the 50’s and 60’s in terms of architectural appeal (like the Southgate Shopping Center in Lakeland, built 1957, with its iconic arch). I don’t understand the appeal of lifestyle centers, because I would much rather be shopping at an enclosed, temperature controlled mall than an exterior shopping center in the middle of January in Northern Illinois when it’s below freezing and snowing!

    At least here at PFS, Randhurst’s glory days will forever live on. I wish I got to experience the glory days of the American mall in the 60’s and 70’s. Thanks for all the hard work you put into every post, and keep it up! You’re truly passionate about what you do!

  12. I've never been to Randhurst, but I care about it. I care about it due to your writing about it.

    Its also in that sense of nostalgia and true appreciation of what was; that I come to appreciate this once great place.

    I'm not sure that the sense of community within a community will ever be duplicated outside the mall. Although it was commerce it was also hope. A place to find what we looking for. Sometimes we were looking for a thing, sometimes a social interaction, sometimes a place of wonder and style. The mall was a very special place, and I bemoan its potential passing.

  13. It's too bad Randhurst died, but I feel that Randhurst was truly a period piece and probably could not have survived in the long run.

    Keep up the good work, though! Hopefully we'll see some more Kroger, JCPenney, or Safeway stuff!

  14. i love the rules of your contest, wish they were all as funny. i do remember randhurst--my mom always parked in pear 10 (remember the parking lot signs?) and back in the days when i smoked a pipe, my favorite tobacco--actually the only one i ever used came from the pipe shop in randhurst. can still remember the smell of it--kind of a cross between cherry and chocolate. lots of fond memories not only of randhurst, but a lot of other stores. keep up the terrific work.

    and if i cannot figure out how to post this with my name , it's john kielhofer

  15. Thanks for celebrating with us and sharing more photos of Randhurst!

    The offset interior "terraces" we see in the photos above (a good example of the kinds of design elements inhibited today by accessibility concerns) remind me of the Westminster Mall in Orange County, California, which though unsympathetically remodeled, was pretty awesome back in the day. Unfortunately a cursory search did not turn up any historical photos, but maybe you have resources.
    James Black

  16. I love this blog, but especially the posts about Randhurst. I grew up close enough to go (or rather, be brought there) occasionally in the 1960s, and have driven past it twice a day for the last dozen years - taking in the downfall of the covered mall and the redevelopment into the lifestyle center. There's parts I miss - the food court was a cheap getaway from the office for the last few years that it existed - but the new Randhurst Village is showing some promise of its own.

  17. Great pictures and commentary. The Randhurst Mall looks like an architecturally interesting place, and your comparison between such varied spaces as the Randhurst was and today's is spot on. It seems that at one time it was VERY important to be unique in a sea of retailers. Today, there is not such a strong sense of this (less retailers relatively?). Wish I could visit this mall in the state you have shown it here!

  18. Long-time reader, but I think this is my first comment. I missed most of what might be termed the "golden age" of retail (I was born in 1986) but my family regularly shopped at our local Montgomery Ward, Hudsons, and A&P - all of which have vanished from my suburban Detroit hometown. Reading these posts it's been fascinating to learn about the history of these places and it makes me think about stores we have today that might not be around much longer (i.e. Best Buy) and what people who remember them in, say, 2050 will have to say about them.

    Also, I'm getting married on August 25th. I think the Randhurst book would be a FANTASTIC wedding present.

  19. Just yesterday I was talking with a friend's son, then repeated the gist of it when chatting with my mother. She told he that my sister (currently residing in Africa) considered Chicago her favorite city, after our home of Boston. So did the son. Perhaps this means it's fate that I could win one of these books...especially since you did the forward, Dave.

    As for the rise of the "lifestyle center", I wounder if that's so its patrons can be seen leaving the status symbol store laden with bags, walking to their envy of the cul-de-sac vehicle, basking in their "American exceptionalism".

  20. Great blog! These pictures are great. I'm from Long Island, so I really enjoyed your posts about Roosevelt Field and Hills/Korvette. My Dad worked at Hill's back in the day and it was great to find out more information. Keep posting!

  21. Another great post on your very enjoyable blog!


  22. Love your blog and always enjoy the "blast from the past" with the old photos. I remember going to similar malls in the Springfield, Missouri area with my Dad when I was a kid... now I live in California where, sadly, most malls are outdoors and lack all this charm :-)


  23. I've never been to Randhurst, but those animals...As a kid in the '80s I was brought to the Lebanon (PA) Mall, and loved it-because it had giant cement animals to climb on! I'm pretty sure there was a camel, for one. The mall appears to be the Lebanon Valley Mall today; I think the critters are long-gone.

  24. I loved going to randhurst while growing up (in rolling meadows). Those animals were FUN to climb on.

  25. The new Randhurst Village is just so, so awful. WORLD'S WORST PARKING LOT! It's seriously terrifying trying to negotiates it. I have to go there because our veterinarian is in the Petsmart that moved from Arlington Heights. Other than that (ok, and perhaps the AMC theater that sells alcohol) I avoid it. Bummer, because I liked it some 13 years ago when I first moved to this area.

  26. I would have loved to see the animals at Randhurst!

  27. I live in the Chicago area and am interested in all local history. Randhurst has recently undergone a dramatic transformation and I would love to own this book to see what is was like in its heyday!

  28. I've never been to the Chicago area, so it's kind of odd that I'm so captivated by the "long lost" malls of that area - maybe I lived there in another life. :) Thanks for uncovering these amazing images of Randhurst, looking back at them is fascinating, yet also depressing because I never had the opportunity to experience a place like this. Malls, and dare I say, life in the 21st century, often seems so drab by comparison.

    Happy 50th Randhurst - and happy 5th Pleasant Family Shopping!

  29. 50 cheers for 50 years, Randhurst! We're seeing yet another reno of the venerable Southdale in Edina, MN, I expect it will strip away even more what little original glory is left. Thanks for such an informative, and often bittersweet, blog.

  30. Dave, do you know that I actually called Randhurst and asked them if they have ever come across any of those "seals" that you featured in one of your other Randhurst posts? I don't think the younger-than-I salesperson with whom I spoke had ANY idea what I was talking about. :D Anyhoo, I'm glad I found your giveaway! How great! :D

  31. Tim from Signs of the Times blogAugust 23, 2012 at 10:48 PM

    Another winning post as usual. Good job.

  32. As far as I'm concerned, there's never enough books about old shopping malls.

    Just sayin'
    Don Fields

  33. I really would have loved to have grown up with a Randhurst in my city. It is such a shame now that the average mall is so cookie cutter predictable. I long for the good old days...and this site never fails to take me back to them!

  34. I miss it! They tear down all the good stuff and think they have made an improvement~NOT!

  35. I was glad to see another post from you. I love retail history and I'd love a copy of the book. Ask for Slytheringrrl in the drawing.

  36. Just discovered your blog; nice work and a special thanks for the photos! I had no idea that indoor malls went back 50 years. My hometown of Saginaw, MI got it's first almost 10 years later. I love the indoor malls and can't figure out why anyone would rather walk and drive from store to store, instead of having 100 stores all in one building.

  37. So I've been coming to your blog for awhile, and when my mother wanted to see pictures of old Randhurst this was my go-to site.
    What she was flabbergasted to see, however, was herself!
    In the third picture down, the woman in the middle is my grandmother! The two girls on the penguins (mom says there were penguins) are my mom (far right) and my aunt (far left). We don't know who the man is.
    I'm so excited to have seen my family on one of my favorite blogs! And I never noticed it was them! Crazy!

    1. That is absolutely great, Heather! I'm happy for you that you discovered your family in the pic, and happy for the rest of us that we now know more about this iconic photo! If you'd like to contact me (email is in the "profile" section of the page), I can get you a larger version of the photo.

      And thanks for your very kind words about my site!

  38. I have a bad connection tonight, so I apologize if this posts twice.

    I was walking in Skokie one day and saw this very familiar walrus sculpture:
    I couldn't place where I had seen "him" before, but after looking at the first photo in the set above, I can place it as part of the group of seal sculptures that were in Randhurst! I remember my grandparents used to allow me to sit on them...