Randhurst Mall in the 1960s

by William Holderfield

The new wave of consumerism and mass marketing, along with mass production of goods for the common consumer, increased the need for a one-stop place for all your shopping needs.  Supermarkets increased in number and size, the quick pace of home building after World War II, along with pre-established home styles by builders in cookie cutter fashion, allowed for such fast growth of suburban Chicago.  Suburban sprawl littered the previously fringe farm areas surrounding Chicago.  While the suburbs reveled in the pace of growth they realized that growth would soon become limited or completely stop.  Perhaps fear and remembrance of the boom of near Northwest suburbs of Niles, Skokie, Park Ridge, and others closer to Chicago during the 1920s, and how the depression, lack of local jobs, and lack of commercial centers aided in the demise of the newly anointed homeowners of the time.  In order for a community to thrive they needed business, shopping, expansion, homes, and taxes above all else.

The suburbs began to see sales tax as the only way to draw more residents to the area, and to keep property taxes low for potential home buyers.  As such shopping centers were the craze.  Mt. Prospect saw the need for their own centers of shopping and this paved the way to allow for a regional mall, which would cement their place not only in the suburbs of Chicago, but in the region.  By 1960 the stage was set for such an undertaking.  While other shopping centers had sprouted up and began to draw residents of Mt. Prospect to their stores, Mt. Prospect looked at the bigger picture and 1960 became the first year that the village had witnessed its last five years of work at the government level begin to take shape.  Mt. Prospect was primed to become the retail center of the region within a couple of years time.

According to the book Suburban Nation, there are five steps or rules of suburbanization.  “1. Subdivisions, 2. Shopping Centers, 3. Office and Business Parks, 4. Civic Institutions, and 5. Roadways.”  With the culmination of mall building many local villages became suburbs.  Mt. Prospect took proper measures to grow from a farming community with a rail stop in the 1850s to a suburb just over 100 years later.  1955 marked a turning point as people began to move out of the cities thanks to an increase in expendable money for items such as homes and, perhaps more importantly, cars.  Commuter trains became very stylish with double-decker service to Chicago and back out.  Thanks to Eisenhower and the highway system of 1956 those suburbs previously left out of the growth experienced thru railroad expansion were allowed growth.  The other advent of the 1956 highway system was the paving of smaller streets and main veins of automobile traffic.

Cookie cutter homes created in subdivisions allowed for cheaper purchase prices and a removal of the Chicago city rectilinear street design.  The subdivisions in the outlying suburbs allowed for greater designs in regards to street layout, which typically sought to stray from blocked planning and resulted in many curving and interestingly patterned roads.  In Mt. Prospect subdivisions began their growth in the early 1950s, as was taking place throughout Chicagoland.  The idea of suburbanization saw to it that areas were zoned off, creating one area for residential, one for shopping, one for business/working, and another for civic events.  Mt. Prospect was no different.  The village realized that in order to accommodate its residents and provide such things as education, government, and other services they needed to levy taxes.  To keep residents moving to the village and keep those already living there from moving, the village also realized that expansion was only possible through lower taxes for the residents, while ultimately increasing their tax revenue base.  Sales tax revenue became the modality for the village.  This required a shopping center.  The shopping center was established by first laying out the land area needed, which meant empty space, only available through annexation of outlying land that was not yet developed.  The village also realized the need for traffic control and the roadways by which shoppers could get to the mall.  As a result, throughout the 1950s the village annexed land large enough for a shopping center and the roadways near the mall area by which people could gain access to the shopping center.  By the end of the 1950s the location of the future mall, which would become the first indoor air conditioned two level regional mall, was ready for development and an owner/developer of the mall was already in place.  The mall would become Randhurst Mall, as a combination of the roads running alongside the mall, Rand Road and Elmhurst Road, and the major retailer backing and owning the mall was to be Carson Pirie Scott.  Carson’s would rename its arm handling the mall development, and later managing the mall after it opened, Randhurst Corporation.  With everything in place for construction, the one remaining piece was an architect for such a project.

On May 13, 1960, after five years of discussion over creating a mall for Mt. Prospect, the Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago Tribune), reported that renowned architect Victor Gruen would be the architect on the Randhurst project.  A model of Randhurst Mall, with a unique domed center, was pictured in the newspaper.  Karl A. Van Leuven, Jr. of Victor Gruen Associates described the design as being a triangular shape.  Each of the major retailers would occupy one point of the triangle, with Carson Pirie Scott & Co., Montgomery Ward, and Wieboldt Stores, Inc. as the three major department store retailers.  The mall was designed to provide the shortest distance to each of the major department stores, which would each be two levels. Between the major department stores were expected to be smaller retailers on each of the three levels of the mall for shopping, with fountains, plants, and sculptures throughout the mall for the visitors.  The general manager of the store, George O’Neill, remarked that the mall would be one of the largest at 1.35 million square feet, nearly 10,000 parking spaces, and would have sales approaching $60 million a year.  The mall was constructed indoors, which in the Chicago area was seen as a luxury in order to provide a heated space for shoppers in the winter and an air-conditioned space in the summer.  The mall was a new movement in the shopping construction and future of retail.

In the village meeting minutes of November 8, 1960, months after the expected start of construction slated for June of 1960, it was recorded that George O’Neill claimed that “preliminary ground preparation for the shopping center” was underway.[1]  By January 10, 1961 Trustee Ekren requested to have a report of the Architectural Committee on Randhurst to be reviewed by the Building Committee during a village board meeting.[2]  The village board then forwarded a letter dated December 20, 1960 from the Randhurst Corporation to the Building Committee for review.  At the meeting of January 17, 1961 the village agreed to the allowance in height to Randhurst, and President Lam read a letter from Randhurst Corporation in regards to a liquor license.  The letter gives some additional information in regards to the early design of the mall.  Carson Pirie Scott decided to run the main restaurant in the Galleria of Randhurst, at which time they asked for a Class A Liquor License, although the board approved a Class B license as this was the class that was used for serving alcohol.  In addition, a retail store was to sell alcohol, Sun Drug, a division of General Stores Corporation, was to be the merchant, requested a Class A license as well, but the board would approve a Class C license for sale of packaged alcohol to the store instead.  Construction was moving forward and the retailers were taking shape for inclusion in the mall.

Randhurst continued to take measures to continue increased connections between the village and the mall.  In the meeting minutes of the board on February 14, 1961 a letter from Randhurst Corporation was read.  George O’Neill made it clear that they knew the taxes from the mall were not to be collected until construction was completed, but the corporation provided a $2,000 check as a donation for fire and police protection services for mall development until construction was completed.[3]  The growth of the village and the increase in profile due to Randhurst boosted the need for fire and police protection.  At its April 19, 1961 board meeting, a request was made by the fire and police departments to increase the police force by three patrolmen and the fire force by five firemen.  Oddly enough the request from the fire and police department mentioned only the new shopping center, which can be assumed at that time to mean Randhurst, but left off mention of the other shopping centers that were being constructed such as Mt. Prospect Plaza and the Serafine property.  This shows the importance of the mall even before its completion to the growth of the village and its unofficial central location for the village.  At this same meeting Well #6, that which was built on the land of Randhurst was discussed.  Due to extenuating circumstances regarding St. Peter Sandstone, the well was to be raised above the sandstone.[4]  Despite this movement of the well, the village would reject a request from the mall later in the meeting to raise the water main of Well #6 to allow sewer creation for drainage of the mall property as well as a request to review potential connection of the mall to the water main, a total cost to the village of $700.  The village felt that agreeing to such measures would cause problems with other businesses in regards to similar requests and the costs to the village was not acceptable.  It seemed as if the mall had pushed its requests once too many, or that the board was beginning to see that  any further manipulation or bending of the rules for the mall would cause continued strife with other shopping centers, whom they had not had positive relations with.

On April 25, 1961 the suggestions to changes in Well #6 depth and the cost to repair were approved by the board.  As news of the need for water continued later in the meeting, the fact remained that Well #6 was nearly operational, while Well #5 and an additional above ground reservoir were available for the additional water supply, despite industrial areas not being fully constructed in the village.  Mt. Prospect Plaza was already open to the public, bringing in $100,000 in sales tax.  The board expected Randhurst to open as scheduled in fall of 1962, bringing $300,000 in sales tax to the village a year.  Mt. Prospect boasted its top spot as the largest sales tax income collector, with between ½ and 1% of gross tax coming from sales tax income.  The village estimated that by the time Randhurst opened the sales tax generated from sales tax would reach nearly $500,000 annually.[5]

Maurice Rothschild and Co. announced expansion in the Chicago market with the creation of two new stores, each of which would total 24,000 square feet, in the August 25, 1961 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune.  One of the stores would be located at the under construction Oakbrook Terrace shopping center that was under construction and slated for a mid-1962 opening, the other was signed for through a lease with Randhurst Corporation’s John Hollister, Jr. to be included among the stores at Randhurst Mall, also under construction and scheduled for a 1962 opening.  Rothschild stated that the reason for the expansion of the stores in the area was due to “Constant growth of the consumer market in the burgeoning Chicago metropolitan area points to a continued favorable climate for retail merchandising during the foreseeable future.”  Thanks to the increase in interest of the under-construction mall in Mt. Prospect, the village increased its focus on getting the mall opened.  The meeting of the board on September 5, 1961 was largely devoted to different issues of the mall.

A letter was read at the September 5, 1961 meeting, dated August 10, 1961 from the Randhurst Corporation.  The letter asked for permission to connect the water main at Pine and Foundry Roads to the water tower along Rand Road, according to the plans that was drawn up by Victor Gruen and Associates.  The idea was to have Randhurst pay for the work and then the completed connections being turned over to the village once completed according to plan.  The village agreed.  A second letter, dated August 28, 1961, from Randhurst regarded the agreement to metering of water.  Randhurst Corporation requested that water be supplied to the mall and metered from the water tower at the established rates.  Randhurst Corporation understood the value of a dollar as their second letter went on to ask for a stipulation of the water metering.  Randhurst sought to create its own water meters that would branch off of additional mains piping from the original at the water tower to locations at the Randhurst site.  These meters would be run and checked by Randhurst based on the same schedules as those by the village.  Randhurst agreed to pay the metered amount of water based on the village meter at the water tower, however, Randhurst said that the amount would be based on their meters as well.[6]  The board agreed to these stipulations.  Perhaps the board was waiting on Randhurst to bring the usual financial support when it came to its requests for changes to its building plans, as it appears that if Randhurst had not mentioned that it pay for the connection to the water supply that the project would not have taken place, leaving Randhurst with a lack of water supply.  This could have potentially hurt future leases for stores, as this allowed bathrooms for department store shoppers and for smaller retailers along the walkways for employee use only.

The meeting continued with a vote on Ordinance 786, which would provide for fallout shelters to be built in the village, which amended a building code of 1957 and Ordinance 553.  The village voted to pass the change.[7]  As the Cold War with the Soviet Union continued to heat up at this time, the village was looking for a way to protect its residents.  While personal bomb shelters had increased in the nation, the village sought a way to stem the building of the personal use shelters by creating a space large enough for everyone in the community to be protected.  Since Randhurst was so large, it could easily house such a shelter.

At the January 16, 1962 meeting of the board Trustee Casterline read a letter from the owner of Armand’s Restaurant, Armand Lotchie.  Lotchie asked the village for permission to install just one washroom for employee use only at his small snack shop that he would be operating at Randhurst Shopping Center.  The required number of washrooms was set by the village at two public washrooms, however the board decided that the size of the snack shop, along with the stated fact that there were already two public washrooms in the center of the mall, plus those at the department store locations, was sufficient for the location.  To this day most stores have their own employee only washroom, with public restrooms available at the center of the mall.

On August 5, 1962 the Chicago Sunday Tribune (Chicago Tribune) reported that Randhurst Mall was scheduled to open on August 16, 1962, with 90 shops.  The mall was to be the world’s largest indoor center.  The article continues on with descriptions of the mall, including the price tag of $21 million to build.  The project, originally intended to anchor its three arms with Carson Pirie Scott, Montgomery Ward, and Wieboldt’s, was scheduled to open with the anchors of Carson Pirie Scott, Wieboldt’s, and the Fair, which was part of Montgomery Ward and Co.  A total of 7,500 parking spaces were built in anticipation of its popularity.  Lockers were built to allow shoppers to store their belongings and free their arms for carrying purchases.  Randhurst would house doctors offices, dentists, and other professionals on the mezzanine level.  Throughout the mall there would be exotic and not-so-exotic plants, that were able to thrive thanks to the natural sunlight that came through the dome at the center of the mall, and the constant temperature controlled 70-degrees throughout.  Kiosks were strewn throughout the walkways on the main floor along the straight walkways between anchor department stores.

The kiosks, thanks to the Viennese designer, Victor Gruen, were the first such invention in America in the style of street vendors of Europe in order to increase shopping options.  The center of the mall was to house several restaurants for mid-mall easting, along with a restaurant at the middle of the mall at a “floating” island in the center.  Harold Kerr, a Palatine artist, provided one of the sculptures at the center of the mall that was called the “galleria”, which would total artwork nearing $100,000.  Wieboldt’s went to further expense to create luxury in the women’s washroom, totaling $60,000 in improvements and comfort.  The washroom was home to imported “marble basins, creating mosaics, and using gold-leaf outlines for the room.”  Under the mall was a half mile of shipping roadway for store pick-ups and deliveries in order to hide this unsightly activity from shoppers.  The village expected sales nearing $61 million in the first year and $98 million in sales by 1970, with the sales tax revenue for the mall generating $500,000 for the village.  Sites around the mall were also home to some early developments, including a Jewel grocery store, which stands today.

On August 14, 1962 the Chicago Daily Tribune reported once again on the opening of the mall.  This time the article states a cost of $21.5 million for the development.  The number of stores was reduced to 50, was still having finishing touches being put into place before the opening.  20,000 visitors had visited the store as a “test” for the opening of the mall on August 16.  It was expected that in the first three days of opening the mall would have 90,000 visitors, this was after an open house was staged for employees families whereby 10,000 people visited the mall.  On August 16, 1962 Randhurst Mall officially opened.  According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, six ribbons were cut at the opening ceremony staged at 8:30am and attended by executives, civic leaders, and their family members.  When the store was to open at 9:30am it was expected that some 100,000 people were to enter the mall on its first day.

Facts about the mall continued to change slightly, with seven restaurants were scheduled to open, with two more on the central “floating” level.  An auditorium, meeting rooms, and professional offices would add to the 1.2 million square feet of space.  Although there were only 7,500 spaces for parking, the lot allowed for more spaces to be added if needed and increased to 10,000 spaces.  The mall was now expected to be kept at 72-degrees year round.[8]  It was expected that at some later date other stores would open.  The list of stores opening later in the year were as follows: “Randhurst Beef center, Randhurst Heel bar, Randhurst Music center, Randhurst Tie rack, Maurice L. Rothschild & Co., Singer Sewing center, Stuarts, Sun Self-Serv Drugs, Tedd’s Sportswear, Walton Rug and Furniture Company, Ward’s Auto service, Wieboldt’s Tire center, and Youthful Shoes.  Among those which have scheduled later openings are Baskin’s, the Card Shop, Frank Jewelers, Lauter’s William A. Lewis, and Randhurst Key shop.”

After the opening of Randhurst little else was done at board meetings as is noted in very little conversation in meeting minutes from August 21, 1962.[9]  The only additional comment was from President Schlaver, who remarked that the crowd at the opening was larger than expected and complimented the fire and police departments on their work at the opening.  By October 25, 1962 the mall began hosting events.  According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, the mall would host 200 exhibitors to the outdoor art show.  The mall expected, at this early stage of its existence, to host two annual art shows.  Carson Pirie Scott began running ads with the bold statement at the top in the same newspaper, “Now: At Randhurst, Too:”

By the meeting of the village board on January 2, 1963, the village was looking to continue efforts throughout the year to lower the village tax rate and the removal of the garbage fee by the following May 1.  The board also looked at further annexation to the south of the village and to the east of Randhurst, in order to balance the “residential, business, light industry, research and development in order to help with further tax relief for the village residents.  By January 12, 1965 the board was in the process of reviewing the request of rezoning of the lower level of Randhurst for use as a warehouse.  This seems to be the last time the lower level was mentioned by the board, and perhaps took the idea of using the basement as a bomb shelter and turning it into a storage facility for the mall.

In a Chicago Tribune article on April 9, 1967, then general manager of Randhurst, Harold Carlson, would remark on the effects of shopping centers.  Carlson stated that as a recent invention, shopping centers were now a major part of business with one out of every three dollars being spent on retail goods is done so at suburban shopping centers.  He would go on to claim that a 20% increase of shopping center developments since 1966 was due to “relaxed” mortgages for home buyers, which led to an increase in retail spending, and saw that the future would involve an increased number of indoor malls with heating and air-conditioning.  In a somewhat accurate prediction, Carlson also pushed the idea that smaller shopping centers would also begin to grow in number, along with new purchasing opportunities surrounded by store credit.

With the opening of Randhurst Mall the Village of Mt. Prospect had its sales tax revenue.  The mall was not the first to be built in the Northwest Suburbs, however it would become the largest space under one roof at its inception.  The mall helped revolutionize the growing shopping center/mall craze that gripped suburban America after World War II.  The mall would be at the cutting edge of the industry, thanks in large part to the architect Victor Gruen.  Since its opening the mall has competed with other local malls.  Carlson was right in his views of the future of shopping centers.  As the time after Randhurst Mall opening, other malls would be built in surrounding areas.  Rolling Meadows saw Meadows Shopping Center open in the mid-1980s, much smaller in size to that of Randhurst, which would later close down in the early 1990’s and be rebuilt as a strip mall housing Wal-Mart.  Town & Country would open in the early-1980s in Arlington Heights, again as a much smaller indoor mall, but it was home to an indoor movie theatre and arcade until closing in the late 1990s.  Town & Country would reopen as a strip mall anchored by a Best Buy and later in the early 2000s an Ashley Furniture.

The one main downfall to Randhurst’s prominence was the opening of Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg on September 9, 1971.  Just nine years after Randhurst opened, Woodfield re-revolutionized the industry.  Woodfield would become the new regional mall, larger in size, had an indoor and shortly after, outdoor movie theatres, more retail space, and was perhaps more in the fashion of the time.  In addition, the roadway system that was begun in 1956, and had gained a great amount of usage as the automobile increased in stature, saw Schaumburg outpace Mt. Prospect in population and area size.  The major roadways, totaling over a half dozen highways and state routes ran through the Village of Schaumburg and right past the newly opened mall, making it more accessible to a larger number of shoppers.  As Woodfield grew in significance Randhurst became less visited, leading Randhurst to follow a natural lifecycle that had become the way of mall fashion.  Randhurst would begin as a regional mall with everything under one roof.  In part it was to act as a social center for the village, even for the region.  Events and fairs were to be hosted in the center of the mall, shoppers were expected to socialize and convene in the mall’s center, which can be seen in the centrally located food court at the mall opening in 1962.  Kiosk carts along the straight walkways between department stores were an idea of bringing European outdoor pushcart vendor feel to the indoor mall.  The natural sunlight from the domed mall center, along with fountains, and plant life were an additional way to bring the outdoors in.

As time went by and the mall began to lose prestige, the indoor had to push back outward in order to draw shoppers.  First the sprouting of satellite locations such as the addition in the 1990s of the movie theatre complex and its renovation at the end of that decade, then the addition of Borders, Steak n Shake, Home Depot, and Kid’s World were attempts to draw visitors to the mall location and draw them into this commercially created environment with the mall at its center.  As mall fashion went full circle and strip malls have come back into fashion, segregating the shops and experiences, removing centrally located social opportunities and hosting of events, malls are no longer a place of gathering, with the few exceptions that have been able to reinvent themselves and keep the lifestyle going such as Woodfield Mall.   As the strip mall has come back into fashion, Randhurst Mall has begun to create the same style of shopping in an effort to rejuvenate interest.  Currently there are a number of new anchor stores, with most now facing outward, some no longer having an indoor entrance from the mall itself.  Redevelopment is planned for Randhurst in next couple of years, with a developer recently being chosen and a completely new feel.  The redevelopment is expected to bring Randhurst back to life, but the original intent of the mall and feel of the mall is expected to disappear, perhaps being marked by the suggestion that the domed center itself will be removed from the no longer familiar structure in Mt. Prospect.

[1]  O’Neill also gave the village the $6,000 check that had been earlier promised to the village for the moving of Well #6.

[2] A report was later read at this same meeting regarding Case 61-2, which claimed that the Board of Appeals approved a petition by the Randhurst Corporation to build higher than the village Building Code had allowed.  The Board of Appeals voted 7-0 in favor of allowing additional height as the allowance would not cause issues with enough light or air to areas near the property, traffic congestion, fire hazards, decrease public safety, decrease in property values, or decrease health of the community.

[3] A second letter was read, although the exact wording is not available it does speak of water supply availability to Randhurst, with a meeting to take place at 7:30 on “Tuesday evening, February 21, to discuss this matter” by President Lam.

[4] Apparently there was a failure of the pump for the well due to sand.  St. Peter Sandstone was responsible, which the village was hoping to push the well below the sandstone to 950 feet underground, however fear from the servicing company of the well suggested 650 feet, which was above the sandstone as a result of the sandstone filling in the well hole around the pump, which could cause future problems of fixing the pump should it breakdown or need repair due to inability to remove the pump from the filled in sand.  In addition there was concern over instability of the sandstone should drilling take place going through the layer.  A new pump was agreed upon to help prevent future sand locking at the site.

[5] The village also hoped for the removal of an annual fee charged to residents of the village for garbage removal in the amount of $15 and a decrease or stabilization of real estate and personal property tax bills as a result of the increased revenue from sales tax in the near future.

[6] Randhurst understood that their meters may differ slightly from the meter of the village; however, Randhurst was only willing to accept a difference of 2%.  Anything above or below 2% of the village meter would be accepted to be accurate in regards to the village meter.  However, anything more than 2% higher than Randhurst’s meters would be split between cost to Randhurst and the village.  If the meters of village and Randhurst had a difference of 5% higher in favor of the village, Randhurst would ask for a request to check the accuracy of the meters.  If the village meter was inaccurate then the village would pay the cost of such test, or if the village meter was correct then Randhurst would pay the cost of the test.

[7] While it remains unclear as to the exact nature of the building of fallout shelters, it has been rumored since the construction of Randhurst that the basement of the mall was created to such a size that would allow the entire population of Mt. Prospect to fit in the basement.  Further stories continue as to the fact that the basement of Randhurst Mall was created for use as a bomb shelter.  It is difficult to say whether this is true or not, but if not perhaps the “urban legend” of the basement as fallout shelter began with this meeting on September 5, 1961.

[8] “Almer Coe Optical company, Apple Basket restaurant, Baker’s Shoe store, Benson-Rixon, Brautigam Florist and Gifts, four Carson’s restaurants, Chandler’s Shoe store, Claire Hats, Cover Girl, Craft Studio, Dutch Mill Candies, Fabric Mart, and Flagg Brothers shoes” were all scheduled to open as mall retailers.  “Also Florsheim Shoe store, Hosiery Bar, Jewel Food store, Karpet Show Case, Kay Campbell’s, Kinney Shoes, Kresge’s, Le Petit Café, Le Rendez-Vous Snack bar, Lorsey’s Fashion Accessories, Marianne Shop, Normans, O’Connor & Goldberg Shoes, Emery’s Tailor shop, Randhurst bank, Randhurst Barber shop, and Randhurst Camera shop”, were all additional stores to open at Randhurst and be available starting August 16 to shoppers.

[9] “The subject of electrical installations at Randhurst would be delayed for further consideration.”  Well #6 was considered for rehab work.

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