Dixie Square Mall

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Dixie Square Shopping Center
Dixie Square Directory.jpg
Front cover of mall directory
Location Harvey, Illinois
Address 15151 Dixie Hwy, Harvey, IL 60426
Opening date August 31, 1966
Closing date November 1978
(demolished February–May 2012)
Developer Inland Construction Inc. (1965)
No. of stores and services 64 (in 1968)
20 (in 1978)
No. of anchor tenants 6
Total retail floor area 71,100 feet
No. of floors 1 (2 in Montgomery Ward and JCPenney)

Dixie Square Shopping Center was an enclosed shopping mall located in Harvey, Illinois, United States, at the junction of 151st Street and the Dixie Highway. It stood vacant for 32 years, more than twice as long as it was in business. It was famous for having been used, both inside and out, for the mall chase scene in the movie The Blues Brothers. More recently, it achieved notoriety because of a growing Internet cult following (including local urban exploration groups) dedicated to covering the mall's deteriorating condition. Like other "dead malls", it had been characterized by high vacancy rates and low patronage, which led to its closure. However, while other dead malls were redeveloped or demolished, Dixie Square stood out due to its extensive neglect, vandalism damage, and sordid history.

Since the mall closed in 1979 (J.C Penney official closure), close to 10 proposals had been announced, all including ideas to demolish or redevelop the property, though none came to fruition. The first plan to demolish the mall was developed in the late 1970s, but the filming of The Blues Brothers prevented this from happening. In 1983, Harvey Mayor David Johnson held onto hope that a handful of developers, who had all provided land use proposals, would revitalize Dixie Square. None of those plans came to fruition, however. In 2002, an announcement was made that the former JC Penney store would be leased by the state to house offices for five state agencies. The plan also included the demolition of the rest of Dixie Square. After these proposals failed, Dixie Square Mall was then left to decay, due in no small part to a lack of funds. For some time, the only parts of the mall that had been fully demolished were the central energy plant, Block A entrance, the former Woolworth anchor, and the former Montgomery Ward building. Final demolition began in February 2012 and was completed in May of that year.


At the cost of US$25 million,[citation needed] Dixie Square opened in 1966 on the site of a former golf course. Construction had begun in late 1964, and Montgomery Ward was the first of the mall's stores to open, on October 21, 1965. A soft opening took place August 31, 1966, with 36 stores. Construction was completed nearly three months later, and the mall was dedicated on November 9, 1966, with grand opening celebrations from November 10–12, and 50 stores open. Grand opening celebrations featured Homer and Jethro, Art Hodes and Sid Sakowicz, the Art Van Damme Quintet, and Ned Locke of the Bozo's Circus show.[1] The mall had 64 shops by 1968,[2] including the two anchor stores, Woolworth, Walgreens, and a Jewel supermarket.[3] In 1970, Turn Style was added as another anchor.[4][5]

However, by the early 1970s, crime was becoming an increasing problem in the mall's town of Harvey, a failing, poverty-stricken suburb 20 miles (32 km) south of Chicago, and several major incidents occurred at or near the mall, including three murders in one year alone. In November 1972, a young woman was fatally shot near the mall in a botched robbery attempt. On April 20, 1973, another person was shot and killed in a robbery on the mall property itself. On July 17, 1973, a teenage girl was lured away from the mall by three other teenage girls, and strangled to death.[6] From 1973 to 1976, Dixie lost many stores, including the Montgomery Ward anchor, which closed on October 4, 1976 and Turn Style which closed in January 1978 (the entire chain would close). In a last-ditch effort to bring back shoppers and tenants, the mall underwent a renovation in 1976 and shortened its name to simply Dixie Mall.[7] These efforts failed, as by 1978, it was down to its final twenty stores,[6] with JCPenney departing in January.[5]

The entire mall closed its doors in November 1978. On January 25, 1979, J. C. Penney briefly reopened and held a sale which they called "Dixie's Last Gasp", in which they liquidated outdated merchandise, mannequins, and display cases.[5][6]


Temporary school and movie set[edit]

In January 1979, two months before Walgreens vacated, after the mall's interior had closed, the city of Harvey gave the part of the property not still in use by stores to the Harvey-Dixmoor School District. The mall space was used as a temporary school while a new one was constructed. Turn Style's floor space was used as a gymnasium. The mall was used for this purpose for two years.[5][6]

The mall chase scene from The Blues Brothers

Shortly after Jewel vacated in the summer of 1979, director John Landis rented the vacant mall for eight weeks in the summer of 1979 to film a scene in the movie The Blues Brothers. In the film, main characters Elwood and Jake Blues drive through storefronts, display cases and walls and destroy much of the mall while being chased by Illinois State Police troopers. Some former tenants, including Hickory Farms and Walgreens, refused to let their storefronts appear in the film so these were either "dressed up" as other stores or not featured at all. For example, the Walgreens became a Toys "R" Us, and the JCPenney interior became that of Jewel, although the exteriors of the real Jewel and JCPenney stores were retained. (The Jewel store never had a mall entrance.) Much of the mall interior was left in poor condition after filming wrapped. The fake wall that the cars crashed through in Toys "R" Us at the beginning of the scene remained in the building until the mid-1980s.[5][8] The “Toys R Us” signage inside the former Walgreeens remained until 2006.

The Harvey-Dixmoor School District attempted to sue Universal Pictures in December 1981 for $87,000, citing damage to mall property created during the movie shoot, which was never repaired. The district eventually vacated the property, and the mall was completely shuttered.[5][6]

Abandoned, seeking uses[edit]

After the mall's abandonment, it experienced extensive neglect and damage from vandalism.[9][10] Following the movie shoot and the departure of the school district, the mall sat completely empty while new uses for the property were sought. The town of Harvey, which by now owned the mall,[11] did not have the funds to maintain it. In 1984, vandals broke in for the first time, damaging and looting the mall, and leaving a number of entrances wide open in the process. Every accessible pane of glass in the mall was broken. Within a year, any piece of metal worth salvaging had been stolen. Also, around this time, the large triangular "Dixie" sign, added in the 1976 renovation and seen in the Blues Brothers film, was removed. The canvas covering the JCPenney court area was removed as well, allowing rain and snow to enter into the building. Over time, this, coupled with lack of maintenance, took its toll on the building.[5]

In approximately 1985, the Wards Auto Service garage in the southwest corner of the mall property was razed, in preparation for construction of a new police station for Harvey. Work was temporarily halted on July 9, 1987 (at about 35% completion)[12] while concerns about the building's foundation were addressed; work on the police station resumed a week later.[5][13]

"Block B" storefronts inside Dixie Square as they appeared in 2009, showing a severe state of decay

Despite the new Harvey Police station occupying land immediately adjacent, the shuttered mall gained a reputation as a notorious crime magnet during the early 1990s. Gang and drug activities frequently took place inside the former mall. In the early 1990s, a juvenile court was built on the far west end of the parking lot. Despite numerous attempts to board up and secure the mall, it was forced open repeatedly. Vandalism was the primary cause, but many homeless people also turned the former mall site into makeshift living quarters.[5] In 1993, a woman was raped and fatally strangled inside the ruins of the mall.[5][14]

By the end of the 1990s, trees had grown throughout the former parking lot. In the mid-2000s, a massive fire broke out inside the Woolworth store and nearly destroyed the building. The fire caused the roof to cave in, and due to that and other structural collapses, saplings started growing inside the building. Another fire broke out in the former City Life lounge, causing minor damage to the abandoned bar.[5]

Demolition and redevelopment plans[edit]

Early plans[edit]

Redevelopment plans were announced as early as 1997.[15] In January 2005, an agreement was made with American Kitchen Delights to turn the former Montgomery Ward building into a showroom for American Kitchen's products, with the YMCA then using another portion of the property to build senior citizen housing. Just days after the agreement was made, work on the Montgomery Ward store began. The store was gutted.[5][16]

On April 14, 2005, a plan was set in motion to demolish the remnants of Dixie Square (except for the Montgomery Ward building which was ostensibly being renovated) and bring top "big-box" retailers to the former mall site, including Costco, Kohl's, and Old Navy. This plan forecast bringing more than 1,000 jobs to Harvey, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Cook County.[5][17]


Former JCPenney and Jewel buildings in 2009

Soon, it was found the mall contained asbestos. The removed debris was haphazardly covered in plastic and the Montgomery Ward renovation and mall demolition were halted in late June 2005. It was also discovered that the demolition and renovation company had acted without a permit.[16][18] On July 3, 2005, the site renovation project was put on hold until the asbestos issue could be dealt with.[18] On Christmas Eve 2005, during demolition of Dixie Square Mall's central energy plant (which was being done late at night and illegally, as the asbestos problem had not been resolved), a large portion of the Montgomery Ward building was accidentally demolished as well, ending any chance of its renovation. The mayor of Harvey actually witnessed this personally and stopped the crew from doing any further damage, when he happened to drive past the site.[19]

On February 16, 2006, the entire mall property was sold to developer John Deneen of the Emerald Property Group. The remainder of the Montgomery Ward building was torn down March 1 in a widely publicized stunt, but no progress was made to demolish the rest of the mall afterwards. After the news crews left, so did the demolition companies.[20] Within several months of the Montgomery Ward demolition, liens were placed against the building by several invested companies. Deneen himself threatened the owner of one of these companies with brass knuckles and a firearm (he pleaded guilty in 2008 to aggravated unlawful use of a weapon).[21] Attorney General Lisa Madigan also filed lawsuits against Deneen and several previous developers for failing to remove the asbestos in accordance with state law.[21]

On July 20, 2009, a fire of unknown origin broke out in the entrance to Block C during the late afternoon.[22] The fire damaged the Block C entrance to the point where its roof collapsed within a month, and left scorch marks on the exterior of the former JC Penney building.

Demolition plans resume[edit]

In February 2010 it was reported that Chicago-based developers MG Development South LLC were planning to demolish the remains of the mall and replace them with a mixture of big-box stores and other retail on the site.[21]

The last remains of Dixie Square as seen on May 17, 2012

On September 23, 2010, Governor Pat Quinn announced that a $4 million federal grant would be used to demolish the mall. Gov. Quinn also stated that the total cost will be around $5 million, with the remainder of the money coming from federal disaster recovery funds given to the state due to flooding in 2008. According to officials, demolition was to start in November and take four to six months.[23] In June 2011, ruins of the mall remained standing with demolition funding still available, but with the demolition project itself mired in government regulatory hurdles.[24]

Finally demolished[edit]

In January 2012, contractors were finally issued the necessary permits to begin demolition. After several weeks of asbestos removal, which was completed by early February,[25] the actual demolition process began on Wednesday, February 15, as crews started to demolish the mall.[26] The final part of the mall (J.C. Penney) was demolished May 17, 2012. Following the demolition of the mall, the site was cleaned up and leveled in preparation for future development.[27]

The vast majority of the former site is now brownfield land.[11] A November 2015 article suggests that the land has been proposed for development as an intermodal freight site.[28]


  1. ^ Dixie Square Mall grand opening flyer
  2. ^ "Vintage Dixie Square Mall map". Mallsofamerica.blogspot.com. 2006-08-28. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  3. ^ "Dixie Square Mall being demolished, finally". Chicago Tribune. 2012-02-15. 
  4. ^ "No title". Realty and Building. 163: 68. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m
  6. ^ a b c d e Paw Filmworks. "Dixie Square Mall History (1961 - present)". Pawfilmworks.com. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  7. ^ "Urban Exploration Resource: Gallery: Dixie Square Mall > Historical Stuff > new_ads012-207x457.jpg". Uer.ca. 2002-06-23. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  8. ^ Paw Filmworks. "Dixie Square Mall History". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2006-08-11. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  9. ^ ABC News Report, June 7, 2006
  10. ^ NBC News Report. "Mall Used In 'Blues Brothers' To Be Torn Down." February 28, 2006 [1]
  11. ^ a b United States Environmental Protection Agency. "National Brownfields Assessment Pilot".
  12. ^ Chicago Tribune. July 9, 1987, Chicagoland section, page 8. "Harvey orders work halt on its new Police Station."[2]
  13. ^ Chicago Tribune. July 15, 1987, Chicagoland section, page 2. Harvey Police Station Work, Controversy Resume.[3]
  14. ^ http://www.nwitimes.com/uncategorized/harvey-man-gets-life-term/article_b9e87ce5-08fd-5d7a-a0a3-486ff87e4abe.html
  15. ^ "Developer Still Seeks Pact On Harvey Mall". Chicago Tribune. 1997-09-10. 
  16. ^ a b Ziemba, Stanley (2005-06-29). "Harvey mall work prompts asbestos suit". Chicago Tribune. 
  17. ^ Evans, Cristin Monti (2005-05-17). "Governor announces $15,000 for Harvey police cadet program". Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  18. ^ a b Ziemba, Stanley (2005-12-21). "State targets Harvey mall asbestos work". Chicago Tribune. 
  19. ^ Ziemba, Stanley (2005-07-02). "Work on mall in Harvey sparks a suit over asbestos". Chicago Tribune. 
  20. ^ Noel, Josh (2007-04-02). "Threats alleged in mall tiff". Chicago Tribune. 
  21. ^ a b c Schorsch, Kristen (2010-02-16). "Another mission for 'Blues Brothers' mall". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  22. ^ "'Blues Brothers' Mall damaged". WBBM 780. 2009-07-20. Archived from the original on July 24, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-21.  The news report incorrectly states the fire broke out in Sears; however there was never a Sears store at Dixie Square.
  23. ^ "Quinn announces $4 million grant to raze 'Blues Brothers' mall". Chicago Breaking News. 2010-09-23. Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  24. ^ Roeder, David (2011-06-07). "Dixie Square ruins remain untouched". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  25. ^ "Demolition Going Ahead At Last At Long-Abandoned Dixie Square Mall". CBS 2 Chicago. Chicago, Illinois. 27 January 2012. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  26. ^ "Dixie Square Mall demolition begins". Chicago Tribune. February 16, 2012. Archived from the original on February 18, 2012. 
  27. ^ Passel, Ed (2012), Editorial Advisory Board: SMMA works behind scenes to improve lives, The Times of Northwest Indiana, retrieved 2012-11-25 
  28. ^ "Harvey mayor touts achievements, rivals push for change as election looms". Daily Southtown. Retrieved 2015-11-07. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Luhar-Trice, Christopher W. (2008). Aesthetics of Abandonment: The Dixie Square Project. ISBN 978-0-615-26033-4. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°36′48″N 87°40′07″W / 41.6132°N 87.6687°W / 41.6132; -87.6687