Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Park Forest Centre

Park Forest, Illinois - 1962

Nice view (above) outside the manicured grounds of the Park Centre in suburban Chicago. I really like that cool clock tower, too! Reminds me of the monolith thing in 2001: A Space Odyssey! I can so see all those apes sitting around staring up at it and timidly touching it--while curious shoppers walk by and shake their heads. Heh.


Blogger dark said...

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Wed Sep 28, 05:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Jack Shell said...

That doesn't really look that old.

Amazing how architecture has come full circle like that.

Wed Sep 28, 11:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In those days it was called the Park Forest Plaza. "Centre" was a later attempt to class up the failing mall. The clock tower was cool even then. To see its thoroughly depressing fate, see my photo at

Tue Oct 18, 10:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Park Forest Plaza as it was originally called was a very nice place to shop in the 50's thru mid 70's. The plaza was originally built in the 50's as part of the planned community of Park Forest Illinois. There was no downtown area, so the Plaza was kind of the central place in town. As a child, I remember Sears, Goldblats, and Marshall Fields, as well as The famous clock tower which actually had 3 faces and sides to it!
Alas, by 1985, larger malls had taken all the business away and there was an attempt to revive the mall, which did nothing except add cosmetic touches. Along in 1990's -2000'2 most of the mall was removed and a "main" street was put in to create our downtown.

Today the village hall occupies a storefront, but really little else in the way of major retail exists!

Thu Sep 28, 01:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Park Forest Plaza was a very nice outdoor mall, opening in 1949 and enjoying great popularity until the mid-'70s. As the previous poster stated, the major anchors were Goldblatt's, Sears, and Marshall Field's. Other stores included Kresge's, Jewel grocery store (seen in the photo), Lyon-Healy instruments, Kinney Shoes, and Sherwin-Williams. As a kid I mainly went there for the Holiday Theatre, a huge old-fashioned theatre with a balcony that showed all the Disney movies of the day.

Even in the '70s, though, our parents thought of this as the "old" mall -- it had been around since THEY had been kids. The new and enclosed Lincoln Mall in nearby Matteson started siphoning off business, being closer to major roads, and that was the beginning of the end for Park Forest Plaza. And as a kid, I was guilty of it, too -- Lincoln Mall seemed more modern and exciting (and they DID have a great arcade, with bumper cars!).

In retrospect, though, Lincoln Mall was just a nondescript enclosed '70s mall like a million others springing up around the country. Park Forest Plaza was, by contrast, tasteful and elegant; it had history; and outdoor malls (not strip centers, but actual large malls with walkways, courtyards, fountains, etc.) were starting to become rare and really should have been treasured.

There was a mid-'80s attempt to give it a facelift as "Park Forest Centre" but when Field's left, and Sears announced they were going to follow suit, the village of Park Forest decided in the mid-'90s to purchase the mall, demolish it, and build a civic center/main street/town square area, "Downtown Park Forest." Never mind the fact that, as a previous poster said, the mall was already acting as the "downtown" for Park Forest and was in fact constructed to serve that function...

I guess it's understandable that Park Forest had to make some hard decisions. It's unclear to me, however, why the clock tower had to be demolished as well. It was not only the centerpiece of the plaza, it was THE symbol of the village of Park Forest, featured in logos and brochures, etc. There may have been a good reason for its destruction (anyone know...?), or it could have been pure bureaucratic short-sightedness, but I'm sure it hurt longtime residents to see their most distinctive landmark torn down. As you can see, it was stunning -- and yes, it was three-sided, with a clock on each side. Thank goodness we still have the photographs...

A great mall that spanned three generations of shoppers!

Thu Mar 08, 06:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Jane Nicoll said...

I am the archivist for the Park Forest Historical Society.
If you have found this site, I want to let you know that the society has a website at We welcome submissions of memoirs.
For those interested in the history of the shopping center, there are copied documents from the archives available at the Park Forest Public Library on the history of all of the phases of the shopping center's development.
There are some photographs in the library. The society has many more photographs, in storage at this time [Summer 2007.]
Check out the society's website.
If you connect to the digital project, "Park Forest: An Illinois Planned community," available through our site, you can read the oral history transcript of Richard M. Bennett, architect who designed the orignal Plaza and the Clocktower.
Hope some of you send your nice memories of Park Forest to our email. The society has also operated a museum, now the 1950s Park Forest House Museum for the past 9 years. We are temporarily closed and available as a virtual exhibit on our website.

Sat Jul 07, 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Illinois Theatre Center, the only professional theatre in the South Suburbs is now located the space that was originally Kresge's (later Saxon Paints and All the Makings craft shop).

Our website is

Thu Sep 13, 04:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Those of you interested in this mall will want to check out YouTube and search for Park Forest Plaza. A guy has posted a 4-part video which he and a friend shot in the mid-90s just before the mall was about to be demolished, as they walk through the mall one last time and reminisce.

It's obviously a little sad, as virtually all the stores are gone and the demolition equipment can be seen waiting ominously on one side of the mall. It's especially sad to me because the clock tower had already been demolished years before, back when the plaza was given its 1987 facelift.

Still, as these guys wander around, you can see the "old" plaza's white, Modernist glory lurking underneath the cosmetic add-ons from the 1987 remodel. Take away those riverbeds, modern art sculptures, and those colored overhangs, and I can still "see" the way it used to be -- before they went ahead and bulldozed the whole thing.

As I said in an earlier post, Park Forest had to make some tough decisions about what to do with the Plaza in its declining later years, and maybe demolition was the only viable option. Yet I still haven't come across an explanation for why it was necessary to get rid of the famous clock tower (and again, this was already done back in '87 as part of the facelift, not as part of the mid-'90s demolition). The clock tower was THE symbol of the village, like Calumet City's "Mr. Smiley" water tower.

Does anyone know?!?

Thu Oct 04, 04:24:00 AM  
Anonymous jane nicoll said...

The 1950s Park Forest House Museum is now re-opened at 141 Forest Blvd. We are closed in January, but will have our grand opening on February 2, 2008 with an open house from 11-3 p.m. Visit our website at for details.
I can offer an answer to the question of why the clocktower "had" to come down. I am the archivist for the Park Forest Historical Society. The claim by Cordish and Embry, re-developers, was that it was "unsound." It took a lot of dynamite for something that was unsound! No one in Village Government, or with the historical society wanted to mess up the deal to get the shopping center redone by objecting to it. I did, but I could not overrule the fledgling society board at the time. Since the archival collection was so new, I was not as aware of the use of the Clocktower by the Village and the developers of the Village as their symbol on everything. Many people have challenged the society over the years for not saving it. Villagers claim it was done so fast, that they did not hear that it was coming, or they would have fought it. My opinion is that David Cordish's wife was a sculptor. He was putting some very modern sculptures in done by her. They are still in the heart of the shopping center, although they have been moved with the 1990s redevelopment. They are nice, but the Clocktower could have been there, too. Considering how that phase of the development did not succeed for long, many people regret not fighting for the town's symbol, in hindsight. Now we are about to lose the Marshall Field's building. I invite people again to email the society with their memories of the shopping center at parkforesthistory1 at

Wed Jan 23, 12:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Thank you to Ms. Nicoll for her latest post! Though the demolition of Park Forest Plaza has been amply documented on the net (including here!), reasons why its beautiful clock tower also "had" to come down were difficult to locate. Ms. Nicoll has shed some valuable light on the subject.

And now the old Marshall Field's building is scheduled to be demolished, too? Wow.

Anyone interested in this mall entry will love visiting the Park Forest Historical Society's great site! The actual structures may disappear -- for whatever reasons, good or bad -- but at least there are dedicated people committed to preserving the photos, documents, and memories of this pioneering and historically important American suburb (and its equally pioneering and important shopping centerl). Fight the good fight, Ms. Nicoll! And thanks again for the info!

Fri Feb 08, 05:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very interested in being brought up to date on what is happening in Park Forest. I was one of the pioneers who livedin Park Forest in 1948.. I have tried to write to parkforest only to be told that address is no longer relevant. Jane Nicoll sounds interesting. Is there another web site?

Wed Mar 19, 03:40:00 PM  
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