Springfield, Massachusetts is the second largest independent metropolitan area in Massachusetts–and third largest city overall–and is located about 90 miles west of Boston and a half hour north of Hartford, Connecticut. Like many old New England manufacturing centers, the Springfield area has fallen on some hard times in the last few decades, facing a loss of jobs and general disinvestment in the urban core.
Tower Square–which was born as the Baystate West Mall–is a prime example of a common attempt 1970s at reviving an urban downtown. The mall opened in 1970 with about 200,000 square feet of retail space on two levels, but the low figure is somewhat misleading; the mall also adjoins a large Marriott Hotel and was built on a parcel in the center of downtown (at Main & Bridge Streets) between the city’s two flagship department stores: Forbes & Wallace and Steiger’s, and contained skywalks to connect to both.
For a significant time during the 1970s and 1980s, Baystate West Mall helped stabilize downtown Springfield, and as a result the city appeared to be in much better shape than similar-sized urban areas like Providence which bled most of their retail base and street activity. All was not completely well, however; Forbes & Wallace went out of business pretty early on, in the mid-1970s, and their building was demolished to be replaced with a large office complex. This paved the way for other, newer, larger suburban malls (especially the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside, but also the Fairfield Mall and two others) to begin to userp its audience.
The real kiss of death for Baystate West’s retail dominance was the 1995 loss of Steiger’s. The May Company bought the chain in 1994 and re-branded their locations with the more well-known, Boston-based Filene’s nameplate, but the downtown Springfield store was dumped in the process. Several years later, Steiger’s art deco flagship store was demolished and replaced with a park. In the time since, the remains of Baystate West Mall became more of a convenience-oriented downtown mall with shops and services catering primarily to the downtown office and hotel crowd, with a busy food court and “essentials” type stores such as CVS, a bookstore, or Dunkin’ Donuts.
The 1970s vintage photo at the top of this page is from a period issue of Architectural Record on the mall, and highlights the giant rotating cube that hung in the center of the mall’s center court. As you can see from my more modern photos (taken January 2007), it’s not quite so snazzy now: gone are the distinctive colors, and instead the mall has a more institutional, lobby-ish feel. While some of the space is still devoted to retail–and the mall still gets some traffic due to the hotel and the downtown office crowd–it’s not really much of a mall anymore in its current “Tower Square” incarnation.
Deadmalls has a somewhat more complete write-up of Baystate West’s history, if you want more details.