Bueller!! Many will recall John Hughes’ 1986 hit movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and hardcore fans even know the locations, mostly around the Chicago area, where different scenes of the movie were filmed. One of these locations was in north suburban Northbrook, where Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South high schools were used to represent the ficticious high school featured in the classic film. Others might also know the high schools from the closing of The Breakfast Club, another Hughes classic.
Located 25 miles north of downtown Chicago, Northbrook is an upper middle-class suburb of about 35,000 people. Ask anyone else in the Chicago area about Northbrook, and they’ll tell you it’s a pretty nice suburb. Some would even say it’s pretty wealthy overall, because it is. The mean home price in Northbrook is nearly $500,000, and the mean household income is well over $100,000. While this is unusual for the Chicago area in general, it is not that unusual for the suburbs comprising Chicago’s North Shore. In fact, compared to many of the North Shore suburbs, Northbrook seems more middle class than anything.
The North Shore stretches roughly from Evanston, which borders Chicago, up the Lake Michigan shoreline to Lake Bluff and terminates at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility in North Chicago. On the west it’s roughly bordered by I-94, and the suburbs to the west of there are more decidedly middle class. From Great Lakes on up to the Wisconsin border it’s even a bit gruff in places like Waukegan and Zion, but not terrible by any means. However, many North Shore communities like Glencoe, Winnetka, Highland Park, Lake Forest, and Kenilworth have some of the richest zip codes in America, and along the Lake Michigan shoreline $10 million homes are the norm rather than the exception.
So where are these people shopping? That’s what you came for, obviously. The wealthy North Shore has, as expected, a rather large number of exclusive upscale shopping areas. Some of them are large regional centers, like the large Old Orchard outdoor mall in Skokie or the enclosed Northbrook Court in Northbrook, and some others are smaller and quaint like the downtowns of Lake Forest and Highland Park, the former of which features a large freestanding Macy’s and the latter, a Saks Fifth Avenue, among other things catering to the wealthy demographic. These residents also definitely shop away from the North Shore too, at the mega-regional Woodfield Mall which is about 20 miles away, in downtown Chicago at the many offerings there, and even closer to home in Lake County’s own Gurnee Mills (self-explanatory) and Hawthorn Center (Lake County’s only mid-range regional enclosed mall), just to name a few.
In this particular post, however, we feature a long lost forgotten relic of Chicago’s North Shore which is amazingly still standing, and functioning successfully despite a drastic refocus over the past few decades. It’s a bit worse for wear, and certainly abridged from its heyday as a major regional retail destination, but it’s there nonetheless. It is Northbrook’s Deerbrook Mall, located at the intersection of Waukegan Road (Route 43) and Lake Cook Road. Throughout history, we will see that Deerbrook went from regional mall to an ancillary mall full of category killer big box stores.
Deerbrook opened in the 1960s, and quickly became a very popular regional mall for the North Shore and surrounding suburbs, because of its central and easily accessible location along I-94, I-294, and the Metra station behind it. Take a look at a satellite photo of the mall. Northbrook featured Montgomery Ward and Turn Style, among other stores, and from what we understand the design was to connect these two anchors with enclosed mall space. This enclosed space was designed like a mid-century downtown streetscape, complete with faux-antique street lamps, a dark brick lined floor, brick facaded walls, and other quaint fixtures like a large fountain in the center court in front of the center anchor, which is now TJ Maxx. There were also some popular theaters at the back of the mall near the south entrance.
Fast forward to 1976. Less than a mile down Lake Cook Road, developers were feverishly working on building an even larger retail destination in order to capitalize on the massive amount of wealth in the North Shore. They constructed Northbrook Court, a large, regional, exclusively upscale two-level enclosed mall featuring anchor stores Neiman Marcus, I. Magnin, Lord and Taylor, and Sears which eventually became Marshall Fields and now Macy’s, as well as a slew of upscale local and chain boutique stores. It is still there today in the same capacity, if not a bit more upscale today.
Northbrook Court quickly killed Deerbrook’s chances for remaining a regional center, but instead of dying away it quickly repositioned itself to become an ancillary to Northbrook Court. The Turn Style went away and was replaced by Venture, which also closed at some point. Montgomery Ward was also a ghost by the mid-1990s and a Best Buy appeared in its place. Around 2000, about half of the remaining enclosed portion of the mall on the north end closed and was demolished to make room for new category killer big box stores like Office Max and Bed Bath and Beyond. The theaters closed for good in 2001 as they were small and outdated, and the entire front was fitted with a modern facade.
Today, much of the original enclosed south portion of the mall remains and is entirely accessible. It almost looks entirely like a regular strip mall, except an enclosed portion is hiding within. The reason for this is ostensibly to provide access to the TJ Maxx, as it is located behind the enclosed portion of the mall and has no other access. Few other stores are open in the mall which do not also have exterior access. So you can still walk around the brick floors and gawk at the fountain, which at last check was no longer running, and you can also look at the ancient mall directories and streetscape decor. Just don’t gasp too loudly at the elephant earring lights (or are they flying saucers?) hanging down from the ceiling. It isn’t polite.
Take a look at the pictures. I believe they were taken in 2006. If anyone has any more history on this mall, it would be much appreciated. I’m particularly interested in finding out what the TJ Maxx was. But also, I’d be interested to know what other stores were in the mall and when they opened and closed, or any other information anyone has, including more pictures.
Upon reading this post John G. has sent some vintage photos for us to enjoy! The first tier are from the 70s or early 80s, but the latter appear to be from the mid to late 90s because they include Best Buy.