Editorial: At 50, Woodfield remains the gamble that paid off
In 1971, then-Schaumburg Mayor Robert Atcher took a trip to London, stopping in to see one of its city planners.
The planner, he claimed, greeted him with "How's Woodfield?"
From that encounter, Atcher said he determined that Schaumburg was "internationally known for our planning and momentum" in commercial development.
It takes some chutzpah to declare that your community is on the lips of commercial developers worldwide. But people who have the guts to make big decisions usually get a big say in how the histories are written.
The Woodfield Mall turns 50 this week. We don't know if Atcher and his village board ever truly envisioned the size and scope of the economic engine Woodfield would drive Schaumburg to become, and in turn drive the entire Northwest suburban area to become -- with Rolling Meadows' office centers, Itasca hotels, corporate centers in Hoffman Estates, and multiple colleges and universities, among much more.
It wasn't just Atcher and his trustees, of course. Public officials who followed him in Schaumburg and in other suburbs over the last 50 years have all had to make decisions, and take chances, of their own.
Woodfield's ultimate success -- as both a shopping center and an economic catalyst -- may seem like a no-brainer in hindsight. But while malls weren't entirely new to the U.S. in 1970, they were far from ubiquitous. Success was not guaranteed.
Moreover, turning over a huge chunk over of farmland in northeast Schaumburg to the Taubman Co. had the effect of driving the modest little farm community to a specific destination. That was new. Many, or most, suburbs had evolved naturally, haphazardly, growing outbound from railroad hubs, or as chunks of farmland were bought and developed on their own, not as part of something bigger.
You can call it visionary, you can call it lucky. But in order for a Woodfield to be built, or an Arlington Park, or even the first McDonald's, it took people who were willing to lose everything -- with money and respect usually the first casualties. But if Woodfield had bombed out, the village would have spent decades trying to recover.
Take a close look at this photo. If you are at least 60 years old, you might remember this intersection of Golf Road and Route 53 -- home to crops and cows, from a time when the suburbs were stop signs and not stoplights. That's Woodfield, straight ahead. Can you see it?
In the 1960s, when this photo was taken, Golf Road was mostly a means to get somewhere else -- Evanston or Elgin, perhaps?
Now, for 50 years the world has been beating a path to Golf Road, for jobs, for shopping, for entertainment.
It was a gamble, and a good one, one that those of us alive today have reaped the benefits of for half a century.