'If I couldn't buy it at Randhurst, it didn't need to be bought': Memories of Randhurst at 60
When Carl and Rae Gach moved into their new Mount Prospect home in January 1959, Prospect High School had recently opened, but much else in the burgeoning suburb remained farmland.
"There were animals over there," Carl said of the property near his home. "It was kind of rural at that time."
But something other than corn was about to sprout nearby that would change life both in Mount Prospect and the Northwest suburbs: Randhurst Mall.
"We could see it being built from our bedroom window," Carl Gach said. "It was going to be under one roof."
The $23 million mall near the intersection of Rand Road and Elmhurst Road opened Aug. 16, 1962, as the first enclosed mall in the Chicago area.
Over the past 60 years, the shopping center has undergone many transformations in response to evolving retail trends. The most dramatic arrived in 2009, with the demolition of the indoor mall and its reinvention as a lifestyle center named Randhurst Village, which will host a 60th anniversary celebration Saturday.
The Randhurst Corp. that built the mall was the marriage of three retail giants: Carson Pirie Scott, Wieboldt's and Montgomery Ward. Each would have an anchor at the shopping center -- Montgomery Ward's initially as the company-owned The Fair Store.
Victor Gruen, the leading commercial architect of the day, provided the design, a triangle with an anchor at each point topped by a dome. It would be entirely air-conditioned, making it the largest air-conditioned space in the country at the time.
Grand opening festivities featured a parade to the mall and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at each of its six arcade entrances. Mount Prospect Mayor C.O. Schlaver and Diane Hahnfield, a descendant of the family who farmed the land that became Randhurst, were among the ribbon cutters. Festivities concluded with representatives from Wieboldt's, Carson Pirie Scott and The Fair Store symbolically affirming their union by each dropping a metal key into a propane-fueled melting device.
When it opened in Mount Prospect in 1962, Randhurst Mall was the first fully enclosed shopping center in the Chicago area.
- Courtesy of Mount Prospect Historical Society
Mount Prospect on the map
The 1960s proved a golden age for the new mall, as the novelty of the center and the wide array of retail, restaurant and entertainment offerings drew customers from throughout the region.
"It did attract people to Mount Prospect," said Emily Dattilo, director of the Mount Prospect Historical Society. "It basically created a second location to go and shop in Mount Prospect. It was not just downtown Mount Prospect anymore."
Village Trustee Michael Zadel, who grew up in Mount Prospect and watched as the center was built, said it was impressive to see.
"To have it here in Mount Prospect was quite exciting for the time, because we were a small community, a bedroom community and a suburb of Chicago, and they chose to build it here," he said.
The 1.2 million-square-foot mall offered nearly every shop and service imaginable, from shoes and clothing to cameras and greeting cards. Shoppers could stop for a trim at Joe's Barber Shop or new eyeware at Almer Coe Optical Co., all while getting their cars tuned up at Ward's Auto Service or Wieboldt's Tire Centre.
"If I couldn't buy it at Randhurst, it didn't need to be bought," said longtime Mount Prospect resident Jill Friedrichs.
Zadel remembers visiting P.J.'s Trick Shop, which catered to budding magicians and offered gags and novelty items, as well as disguises.
The mall also would feature $100,000 in sculpture art, including Herold L. Kerr's "Migration," a 16-foot bronze creation depicting birds in flight.
Early dining options included the Coach House-style Randhurst Corned Beef Center, the Pancake Shop and the Bird's Nest Cocktail Lounge.
Friedrichs has especially fond memories of Carson's Tartan Trey Cafeteria.
"That was my first experience with a buffet. And to this day I still love my buffets," she said.
With a lower-level play area for kids, Randhurst was a draw for families, even those without shopping on the mind.
"It was a nice area to go to, especially in the wintertime," Gach said.
Zadel's wife, Carolyn Zadel, recalls visiting the mall every week as a teenager.
"Once it opened, my friends and I used to take the bus that stopped in downtown and went to Randhurst every Saturday. That was our place to go," she said.
Competition moves in
Nine years after Randhurst's arrival, the even bigger Woodfield Mall opened in Schaumburg.
Randhurst Corp. Vice President and General Manager Harold J. Carlson initially was unfazed.
"I would be surprised if we were that heavily affected," he said at the time.
But in October 1971, a month after Woodfield's opening, Carlson told a different story to Mount Prospect leaders. Randhurst sales were down 15% across the board.
Randhurst responded with a host of changes, including moving the Jewel store out to expand Montgomery Ward, which had succeeded The Fair Store, and adding an ice hockey arena to the property. The arena became the part-time home of the Chicago Cougars of the World Hockey Association, a professional rival of the National Hockey League that featured stars such as Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.
In 1981, the center was sold to Columbia, Maryland-based Rouse Co., which at the time operated more than 50 properties, including Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and the Gallery at Market East in Philadelphia.
Rouse brought more change, introducing a food court, peeling away the coating of the iconic dome to expose the structural steel supports, and building a glass elevator to enable a view of all three stories of the mall.
In 1987, Bergner's took over the lease of one of the original anchors, Wieboldt's. By the turn of the century, Montgomery Ward would also go, leaving Carson's as the only remaining original anchor.
By the 1990s, the writing was on the wall for the indoor mall.
It takes a village
In 2007, Casto Lifestyle Properties of Sarasota, Florida, bought a 50% share in the center with the intention of demolishing the mall and introducing a Main Street concept.
"The trend at that time was to do away with enclosed malls and have open air malls," Mount Prospect Mayor Paul Hoefert said. "And so when they came to us and said they wanted to demolish the old enclosed mall, we got on board very quickly for a couple of reasons. One is it was a revitalization. The mall had been declining for many years."
And so in 2009, the mall came down, and Randhurst Village was born.
The results have been mixed, according to Zadel.
"I think what really hurt the development was when Carson's all of a sudden up and closed," he said. "There was a true belief that that Carson's store was going to be there to anchor retail for a long, long time, because it was one of the best producing Carson's stores in the whole chain."
But while parts of the center continue to struggle, there also have been some successes, perhaps none bigger than the Costco store.
"In terms of revenue, Costco was projected to generate as much revenue as the entire mall did at its height," Hoefert said.
DLC Management Corp. bought the Randhurst property in 2015 and recently received permission from the village board to subdivide its outlots for sale, with the proceeds intended for additional improvements at the center.
In the meantime, HomeGoods has taken over a part of the Carson's space, and DLC officials say they've lined up a tenant for another portion of the former anchor store.
Hoefert said he would like to see some multifamily housing added to the mix, but he still has hopes for a rebound in brick-and-mortar retail.
"On some level, retail is going to turn around," he said.
The 60th anniversary celebration is set to tale place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the center, at Elmhurst and Rand roads in Mount Prospect. The free celebration will feature popcorn and cotton candy, games, music and commemorative T-shirts.
"We're going to have a booth with some historical displays, trying to highlight all those memories from Randhurst," Dattilo said.