In one of my inaugural posts about the Billerica Mall, I noted that it was one of four malls around the Boston area constructed with the same basic design. Mystic Mall is another, and it’s in the process of being torn down.
Before I wax poetic about the ol’ Mystic Mall, let me add a pair of disclaimers: I’m sorry for a) talking so much about Massachusetts and b) focusing so heavily on dead malls lately. The former is something of a necessity on my part given my location, but I do branch out often. Similarly, these two have converged in part because news has dictated it so: demolition efforts have begun at both the Billerica Mall and the Mystic Mall very recently, and I wanted to get these pictures up and send out an alert for any soul who may wish to swing by and take a look before it’s too late.
OK, now that we’ve got business out of the way, we can talk about Mystic Mall, a largely forgotten inner city mall that’s been shuttered for four years. Unlike the nearby Assembly Square Mall, which has made constant news since closing in 1999, the Mystic Mall is not located in a desirable location and its redevelopment hasn’t captured the imagination of ambitious New Urbanists. Like the Billerica Mall, the Mystic Mall was constructed in the early 1970s, and it housed a Market Basket (without a mall entrance) and a Kmart. While Billerica is deep in the northwestern suburbs of Boston, however, Mystic Mall is located in the heart of the dense urban city of Chelsea, built as part of a redevelopment effort in the middle of an eighteen-block swath of land that was destroyed by the Second Great Chelsea Fire of 1973.
From the outset, the little Mystic Mall had the deck stacked against it. Located on Everett Street a half mile off busy route 16–the main retail corridor for the area–and buried deep in a section of Chelsea known for gas fields, warehouses, strip clubs, and scrap yards–it wasn’t exactly in the middle of a shopping mecca. Like its three sister malls (the Billerica Mall, the Woburn Mall, and Weymouth’s Harbourlight Mall), Mystic Mall sports a brutalist, ’70s modern decor that’s heavy on such out-of-favor architectural characteristics as corduroy concrete. All four malls had about as much charm as a subway station, with dark interiors and exposed concrete walls. Furthermore, it was located within a few miles of several larger, more successful malls, mainly the Meadow Glen Mall in Medford and the Assembly Square Mall in Somerville. Lastly, crime in the area (or at least the impression of it being unsafe) largely kept away everyone but local residents.
What is weird about this place is that it hummed along relatively well until 2002. Granted, towards the end of its life, most of the stores inside were local, secondary tenants catering to the largely Latino local clientele, but it was mostly leased. Then in early 2002, it was announced that the mall was going to be redeveloped and it was rather abruptly shuttered and all of the stores vacated. The lone exception was one cross wing in front of the old Kmart, which had long since been taken over by a local furniture and housewares store called Adam’s, and two other local stores adjacent to it within the center. At the opposite end of the mall the Market Basket and Brooks Pharmacy stores, which both had exterior entrances, remained open. After this initial buzz of activity, however, the news on the center stopped coming, and it was just left to rot, making its abrupt abandonment even sadder.
While details are still hard to come by, it does seem as though the Mystic Mall is actually going to be demolished in the very near future. Several of the last remaining tenants have vacated the center (and Adam’s Furniture is apparently moving out) and the entire center of the mall has been gutted. Reportedly the two anchor buildings, which sit at opposite sides of the lot, will remain while the entire center of the mall is demolished.
I’m not really sure about Mystic Mall’s redevelopment prospects. Given its location, it wouldn’t make sense for residential and most of the successful retail development in the area is clustered a bit to the west, around busy Wellington Circle at routes 16 and 28. The best bet is probably to incorporate a smaller shopping center with industrial and office uses, especially since it’s difficult to find such a large and unbroken piece of real estate so close to the center of Boston.
The pictures below were all taken in late May, 2006. I wanted to highlight the one above in particular, because it’s kind of neat. You can (clearly!) see that this building was once a Speedy Muffler location, but before that it was the Kmart Auto Service center. It’s actually part of the main Kmart building in the mall.
Prangeway: Here are some vintage photos of Mystic Mall from August 24, 2001. They feature more of the interior of the mall, which was vacated and closed off in 2002 except for the area by Adam’s furniture. Also, one of the pictures is a candid of Caldor laughing at a vacated Deb Shop in the mall after we reminisced about how Deb’s fixtures and overall design in general were ridiculous up until the 1990s. The hanging metal trapeze-looking things and the store’s color scheme of purple, magenta, and sometimes bright green were very new-wave and would be considered kind of outrageous (and maybe a little S&M, if you know what I mean) today.