(Editor's note: The following is largely comprised of excerpts from Randhurst: Suburban Chicago's Grandest Shopping Center, written by Peerbolte on behalf of the Mount Prospect Historical Society. It is available for purchase from the society and benefits its operating fund. The society also has a Facebook page to share photos and memories: facebook.com/RandhurstBook.)
Fifty years ago today, Randhurst Shopping Center was a beehive of activity leading up to its grand opening on Thursday, Aug. 16, 1962. Workers frantically installed plantings, painstakingly moved sculptures, put the finishing touches on window displays, and even donned bathing suits to ensure fountains were achieving their maximized aesthetic potential.
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All eyes in Chicagoland were on the fanfare at the newly-incorporated 100-acre site of Randhurst. Mount Prospect Herald Editor Stuart R. Paddock proclaimed in his column that, "We have never met so many Brother Editors in one room as we did on Monday noon when Randhurst held a press preview of the new shopping center. There was not a Chicago daily or weekly newspaper in the area which was not represented."
Herald Reporter Melda Lynn, who had covered Randhurst almost since its inception, wrote about the palpable excitement on the front page of the Mount Prospect Herald on Aug. 16, stating simply what virtually everyone in the Northwest suburbs was thinking:
"Randhurst opens today. Finally arrived is the day all Mount Prospect has been waiting for since May 13, 1959, when it was first announced that this village had been chosen as the best location in the Chicagoland area for building the multimillion dollar shopping facility. Randhurst is the largest regional shopping center in the United States. What's more, it's the largest center under one roof in the entire world. Mount Prospect residents have already begun to reap many benefits from this gigantic $21 million enterprise, created and sponsored by three of the best known and respected department stores in the country."
At 9 a.m., village officials, officers of the Randhurst Corporation, and the famed architect Victor Gruen himself marched in a parade, the largest in Mount Prospect's history, thrown to commemorate the day when Randhurst's doors were finally opened to the public.
The festivities were marked by six ribbon-cutting ceremonies, one for each of Randhurst's arcade entrances. The first was cut by 12-year-old Diane Hahnfield, the granddaughter of the Burmeisters, who had sold the majority of the land to the Randhurst Corporation years before.
Shortly afterward, 10,000 balloons were released into the air. In an event that would likely not be allowed today, each balloon contained a small colored key. When the balloon inevitably popped, the key fell to the earth. The keys, when found, were to be taken to the center and inserted into three large treasure chests, which contained various prizes. Keys were also mailed throughout the region and handed out to patrons as they entered the center during the grand opening festivities. The keys were four different colors, and were to be redeemed each week of September according to color. The prizes ranged from "a set of automobile tires to a portable phonograph to a men's wardrobe of shirts."
The climax of the grand opening events occurred under the massive 200-ton dome of the structure, which was given the elegant moniker of "The Galleria." Colorful beams of late summer sunlight pierced through the stained glass figures ringing the clerestory windows underneath the dome. The company described it as "the center of attraction, as well as the center of Randhurst's physical structure … a magnificently domed central plaza consisting of four levels."
The massive dome capping the Galleria was flanked by sculptures consisting of 78 separate figures in pre-cast concrete just under its interior, executed by Vern H. Walt of Los Angeles. The figures contained multicolored glass that gave the Galleria an awe-inspiring stained glass effect when light coming through the base of the dome passed through them. While the fate of many of the sculptures is unknown, following various redevelopments of Randhurst, some found new homes. "Horses" is located in the courtyard of Wheeling High School, and two out of a set of three penguins were recently located outside of condominium unit on Skokie Valley Road.
Even when it was closed, Randhurst continued to draw crowds. The Chicago Tribune reported that on the Sunday following the center's grand opening, thousands of cars trekked to Mount Prospect to get a look at the massive center, despite the fact that it was closed on Sundays. Mount Prospect police officers were dispatched to the center to control traffic on the swollen thoroughfares and to regulate the crowds. The newspaper reported that "about 2,300 persons jammed the grounds of the mammoth center and surrounding highways as they spent a Sunday afternoon window shopping."
Fifty years later, Randhurst Village has taken up the torch as retail trendsetter in the Northwest suburbs. As shops, stores, restaurants are added to the exciting mix of retailers, Randhurst Village has plans to reintroduce itself to the area this fall. As one newspaper concluded following the original grand opening, and which no doubt holds true today: "Randhurst's presence here can be seen as one of mutual benefit. … We welcome them to this bustling, booming area, and wish them every success."