Located in a middle class northwest suburb of Chicago called Mt. Prospect, Illinois, Randhurst Mall opened in 1962 to great fanfare. It had a major significance in the Chicagoland area in that it was the very first major enclosed suburban shopping mall in the region whereas today there are well over 30 suburban enclosed malls in the Chicago area. Its original anchors were Chicago-area department stores Carson Pirie Scott, Wieboldts, and The Fair. Also notable, the mall was designed by legendary retail architect Victor Gruen, who was the father of the suburban mall in America.
As an aside, I feel that Gruen’s work went largely unnoticed during his lifetime. A native Austrian Jew, he was born in Vienna around the turn of the century and emigrated to the United States as a commercial architect during World War II to avoid persecution from the Nazis. He arrived in the United States as an architect with no money and spoke no english, but before long his misfortune ended. He started designing pedestrian shopping areas and other small retail venues, but he was most famous for designing (one of) the first large enclosed suburban malls in America. It was in Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota. Gruen then went on to design several more large enclosed centers, all with very unique and interesting footprints. Another one is featured on this site and is also magnificent: Midtown Plaza in Rochester, NY. It’s actually possible to get lost in some of his malls because of the unique layouts, which make today’s enclosed mall designs pale in comparison. In Gruen’s designs, different levels don’t line up, there are unique angles and shapes, grand courts with 80 foot ceilings, hallways which weave around and loop back upon each other, and more design features of malls considered nonstandard today.
Randhurst is surely one of Gruen’s more unique designs, and quite possibly one of the most unique mall designs in the country. Gruen’s design for Randhurst is “…shaped like an equilateral triangle, with an anchoring department store at each angle. Additional stores lined the sides of the triangle on two levels: a conventional level and a level located half a floor below the first level (down a flight of stairs), facing the first level. A floor of offices occupied the level above this “subfloor” of stores. A ring of clerestory windows was mounted in a domed area over the center of the mall; mounted just inside these windows were numerous stained glass windows in various oval and round shapes, oriented in such a way as to cast beams of colored light into the mall itself. As the mall was built at the height of the Cold War, it included a fallout shelter big enough to hold every citizen of Mount Prospect” (Wikipedia).
Now that you know about Randhurst Mall’s original design, let’s talk about its history and modifications throughout its four decades as a shopping mecca. Throughout the 60s, 70s, and into the 80s, the mall remained largely the same. It was extremely successful despite encroaching competition in suburban malls throughout Chicagoland, and the only major change during that time period was the replacement of The Fair department store in 1965 with Montgomery Ward, another Chicago-area brand.
However, in 1985, many structural changes took place at Randhurst which modified the center into a much larger retail venue. The owners, Rouse Company, decided to convert the second level offices above the subfloor into retail space, including a large food court – one of the first in the Chicago area. The nature of the food court’s design meant that it was atop the subfloor, in the center of the mall, and the rest of the mall’s retail space was on the main level across, about half a floor in between the subfloor and the food court. Got it?
As if this wasn’t a cool enough design already, by 1990 Rouse decided to expand the mall even more and finish a second level on top of the mall’s main level on the outside of the triangle. Each department store already had a second level, so it was in their best interest to have both levels opening up into the mall, and the mall also added a lot of extra retail space in turn. In addition, the second main level was connected into the food court level in the middle of the mall (which is half a level down because it is on top of the subfloor) via a series of ramps and catwalks.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw continued success for Randhurst Mall and the net addition of more retail space. In 1987, the entire Wieboldts chain folded and Peoria, Illinois based Bergner’s took over their space. However, in 1990 Bergner’s closed at Randhurst because Bergner’s bought Carson Pirie Scott which already operated a store at Randhurst. As a result of this empty anchor space, Carson’s moved into the much grander former Wieboldts/Bergners space and JCPenney entered the mix – opening in the former Carson’s space. Also in the late 1980s, Elgin, Illinois-based Joseph Speiss & Company built a 61,000 square foot mini-anchor near Wieboldt’s/Bergners, and around the same time the Chicago-based Main Street Department Store chain built another mini-anchor near Montgomery Ward. Unfortunately, the Joseph Speiss store closed in 1992 amid financial woes (The entire chain closed in 1994). The Main Street store became a Kohls Department store in 1989 following the purchase of Main Street by Kohls, a Wisconsin retailer who would later go on to become one of the larger chains in the country, in one of Kohls’ first expansions. In 1995, the empty Joseph Speiss store became Circuit City and Old Navy, and a Filene’s Basement occupied a large portion of the subfloor. The mid 1990s were the pinnacle of Randhurst’s success: it had three major anchors: Wards, JCPenney, Carson Pirie Scott and four minor anchors: Filene’s Basement, Old Navy, Circuit City, and Kohls. This was unfortunately the last hurrah for Randhurst as the next decaded proved an uncertain future for an ailing mall.
In 1996, just as Randhurst reached its biggest capacity things started to go sour. Chicago’s largest shopping center, Woodfield Mall, embarked on a massive expansion project which extended a wing of the mall, added a Nordstrom, and gave it the status of largest mall in the nation in terms of retail space for some time. This spelled major trouble for Randhurst, being only 15 minutes away from Woodfield, and devastated its customer base. In-line mall stores began disappearing, and the Filene’s Basement was the first of the more major anchors to close in 1999.
The early 2000s continued the downward spiral for Randhurst as two major anchor stores left at the same time in 2001: Montgomery Ward and JCPenney. Wards left as the entire chain went out of business, and JCPenney was amid financial woes and identified the Randhurst location as an underperforming store. Also, Chicago’s first lifestyle center, Deer Park Town Center, opened farther out into the northwest suburbs in 2000, further decimating Randhurst’s customer base. Then, in 2003 Kohls announced they were jumping ship for a better location at a former Venture store on the south end of town. All three of these departures were devastating to the mall, and many more inside stores closed. Articles surfaced about Randhurst on the site deadmalls.com and although there are several glaring factual errors and the two articles seem to disagree with each other, it was not a good omen for Randhurst.
2004 saw some resurgence of the mall with a few additions and cosmetic updates. Both the former JCPenney and Kohls anchors were razed for a 150,000 square foot brand new Costco anchor. Similarly, most of the Wards anchor was also torn down, giving way to a brand new entrance called the “Promenade” with new restaurants Applebees and Buffalo Wild Wings. In 2005, Circuit City and Old Navy closed amidst the new construction, but were quickly replaced by Steve and Barry’s University Sportswear and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. In addition, Jewel-Osco, Borders Books, and a Home Depot continue to operate on the outlots.
Today, the mall is humming along and appears to be holding its own. The Limited, Victoria’s Secret, and American Eagle Outfitters all continue to operate, along with about 90 other stores and services (including outlots). Hopefully, with the recent updates and continued pandering, shoppers will still frequent this outdated mall and keep it open, at least for us Vic Gruen fans.
The pictures below of Randhurst were taken in October 2005. The man seen in one of them with what looks like a large orange cone was standing in the middle of the parking lot between Borders and the mall’s Promenade entrance spinning the orange cone on its top repeatedly. He was middle aged and kind of looked like Mike Ditka (or one of the other Superfans) and just kept spinning that cone, like a small child would do. Only he was a middle aged man with a moustache. He also didn’t pay any attention to anyone driving by. Must have been fun.
Update 10/6/08: Randhurst has closed for good after 46 years, as of September 30, 2008. At the end of the month of October a sale of Randhurst’s holiday wares, benches, and other doo-dads that can be stripped from the mall will be for sale inside the former Steve and Barry’s location. However, the mall’s carousel won’t be for sale; it’s already on its way to California to be used in another shopping center. I hope they deserve it. Look for a new development called Randhurst Village to emerge from the mall’s rubble sometime in 2010. And finally, for some really awesome vintage shots of Randhurst check out John Gallo’s blog Stores Forever.