How my dead mall is slowly turning into the dead mall
2012 wasn’t bad to me. In spite of a few existential bumps, I’m still standing.
The same can’t be said for Dixie Square Mall, which finally succumbed to demolition last spring. Though the news shows failed to count it among the losses featured in their saccharine end-of-year montages, I mourned the passing of Dixie Square deeply (or as deeply as one can mourn a rotting symbol of urban blight he’s never actually visited). It took years — decades — for the city of Harvey, Illinois to finally demolish the legendary dead mall (it had been closed for more than 33 years before its hollow halls finally came down), but even in all that time I never managed to see it and all its squalid glory in person.
By most accounts, Dixie Square was the victim of its environment, and its fortunes turned when the surrounding area’s did. The changing socio-economic conditions of Harvey throughout the ‘70s left Dixie Square without enough customers to sustain it or attract redevelopment interests. Hell, it took three tries just to finally get a deal together to knock the place down. The demolition didn’t merit much media coverage beyond the Chicago area; certainly not in my hometown of St. Louis, several hundred miles from the former site of Dixie Square in geography, but perhaps much closer in character.
We’re no strangers to ailing malls here. St. Louis has had three of them on life support for almost a decade (including what was once the largest indoor mall in the world) as suburban flight spread further to the west and north. In fact, our glut of dead malls is one of the few areas in which St. Louis is undeniably on par with other major metropolitan regions.
But 2012 threatened to change that, with momentum gaining on several large-scale redevelopment proposals.One such plan hit especially close to home. When the last of the anchor stores remaining at the long-declining Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Plaza) finally closed in February, and all other tenants were served notice that their leases would not be renewed, it seemed as though the mall where I’d spent my formative years was finally doomed for demolition. Following the sudden closure of Crestwood’s multiplex movie theater — reportedly on the very same day the last walls of Dixie Square fell — I feared it was time to pay my last respects.
Upon my visit one Saturday in June, my first trip to the mall in at least two years, I was surprised to find it still open to the public, let alone occupied by a handful of morning mall-walkers easy-striding to top-40 pop songs provided by the mall’s PA system. With the exception of a few deteriorating pockets of the mall’s parking garage, there was very little in the way of ruin porn to be found — and of course nothing on the scale of what so many had documented at Dixie Square.
I bid farewell to the mall and the memories I made there, fairly certain it would not be long before the benches I’d made out on as a sixteen-year-old were displaced by a Wal-Mart.
But thanks to a bit of Harvey, Illinois happening in St. Louis’ backyard, Crestwood mall may endure beyond my nostalgia. Following a December 2012 stall in the vote to hire a planner for the redevelopment project (fueled by lingering doubts about the project’s viability and resistance to its tax-incentive financing), the redevelopment of Crestwood is still just words.
It’s hard to imagine Crestwood sticking around as long as Dixie Square stood dormant, but I leave 2012 behind and enter 2013 comforted by the knowledge that while I will never walk those infamous halls in Harvey, at least for a little while my Dixie Square isn’t going anywhere.