Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fairlane Town Center

Dearborn, Michigan - late '70s

"Fairlane Town Center, a Taubman prototype suburban subcenter."

Following up on Saturday's Woodfield Mall entry, I'm featuring yet another Taubman shopping center today (though I have blogged about it one other time), Fairlane Town Center mall in Dearborn, Michigan. I wish to extend a really big thanks to reader, Troy Donovan, for submitting these wonderful photographs and accompanying text, from a late '70s Fairlane brochure. Thanks again, Troy, I really appreciate it!

The first photo above, was on the cover of the brochure, the rest, with their corresponding captions, now follow:

Interior mall court

"The center consists of 1.4 million square feet of gross leasable area, including a 595,000 square-foot, three-level enclosed mall and three department stores, J.L. Hudson Company, Sears Roebuck and Company, and J.C. Penney. These anchor tenants account for slightly more than half of the total leasable space. A fourth anchor, Lord and Taylor, will be under construction by early 1977. The development plan calls for two additional anchor tenants, which will increase the gross leaseable area at Fairlane Town Center to more than 1.5 million square feet. These additional components should be complete and occupied by 1980."

Octa-Lift elevator

"New 'Octa-Lift' elevator design prides a distinctive and modern touch to the center."

Automated shopper transit system

"The automated transit system is the most innovative feature of Fairlane, as it represents perhaps the first time that a regional center has been designed for other than automobile and pedestrian access. The initial half-mile segment of the looped system, which connects Fairlane with the Dearborn Hyatt Regency Hotel, started operating in early 1976. The facility consists of an elevated guideway resting on concrete columns and running between a joint station within the shopping mall and one adjoining the hotel lobby.

The automated system, with its two bidirectional vehicles, is programmed to operate under peak load conditions of 1,800 persons per hour. Each electrically powered, computer-controlled vehicle is designed to accomodate 24 passengers and cruise at 25 miles per hour. A 500-foot bypass lane near the midpoint of the system allows vehicles traveling in opposite directions to pass each other. The ACT was developed by the Ford Motor Company as a prototype urban transit system.

Original plans to extend the system to Ford International Headquarters were eliminated because of the expense and because of difficulties associated with a freeway crossing. Nevertheless, even in its modified form, the looped system has the potential of becoming an important means of access to the shopping center for the Town Center's working population, once the line is completed and the peripheral parcels are fully developed. Meanwhile, the system functions as a tourist attraction and runs at full capacity most of the day."

Fairlane Town Center map

"The distinctive interior feature of most very large shopping centers is a series of expansive open courts, and Fairlane, with 138,00 square feet of common area, is no exception. The internal pedestrian network consists of upper and lower modified X systems superimposed over one another and a more limited middle level centering on the ACT station. Because of the design constraints imposed by the people-mover, incorporated into the center as part of the agreement between the Taubman Company and the Ford Motor Land Development Company, there are twin interior courts rather than a single grand court at the intersection of the mall axes. The south central court was designed as an activity center, with a stage and seating areas, and the north central court was designed as the location of a large terraced fountain, which provides an attractive community focal point.

Additional courts, each highlighted by a contemporary sculpture of grand scale and designed on the basis of 30, 60, and 90-degree angles on a horizontal plan, were created at the apexes of the grand court locations. This design forshortens visual distances within the mall interior, maximizes the exposure of mall stores, diminishes walking distances required to visit all stores, and creates changing vistas of excitement and interest for shoppers. Aesthetically, the interior is a contemporary urban enviornment rendered distinctive by terrazzo floors, white ceilings articulated with geometrically shaped skylights, and white walls which contrast dramatically with the colorful storefronts.

Access among the three retail levels is provided by stairs, ramps, escalators, and twin elevators flanking the ACT station. These, together with seven carefully placed entrances and exits, permit ready movement between levels and minimize the amount of 'dead' space. Everything possible was done to make the store locations attractive to potential tenants. One way was to angle the mall facades to create a high frontage-to-depth ratio, thereby heightening the visual impact of individual stores.

The resulting pedestrian streetscape consists of irregular storefronts, each unique but coordinated within a design and operational framework established by the developer. Some tenants have preferred an open and casual facade, while others have chose a closed, formal appearance, depending on the tenants merchandising philosophy and anticipated pedestrian traffic. This mix of store facades appears to be characteristic of most recent centers, and there is no apparent marketing advantage in either approach, other considerations being equal.

The mall areas are lighted by an unusual system which uses the skylights as the primary light source during the daytime and lighting fixtures in the evening hours. Illumination requirements for the mall area are weighted in such a way that a large percentage of light is emitted from stores and storefronts. It is thought that this system has reduced lighting system demands at Fairlane Town Center to one of the lowest levels ever achieved in a regional center. Natural daylight reduces energy requirements in the daytime and makes the displays of merchandise more attractive."

Mall history: 1976 - present
Developer: A. Alfred Taubman
Current website: here
Current aerial view
Info from Wikipedia
Previous entries: 1


Blogger Kangoon said...

Wow! Great post!

Sun Dec 10, 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been there soon after it was completed and I rode the monorail. They also had an indoor skating rink at sometime attached to it. My father's company had their christmas party there one year...

Sun Dec 10, 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Sobieniak said...

Too bad I missed out on Fairlane in it's glory days (having first been there around the early 90's). After reading the blog entry, I wish THIS was the mall Toledo got instead of one of our usual ones (practically only one survived out of four indoor malls built).

Sun Dec 10, 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an awesome entry. I had heard a lot about the peoplemover over the years but never got to see pictures of it. Many thanks to Troy for sharing these photos! I think the first image of it is actually taken from the Hyatt with the mall in the background.

What's blows me away is that I took almost the exact same "interior mall court" photo this past May when I was visiting there. Those levels are so cool to take pics of...!!

Sun Dec 10, 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Cora said...

It's a mall with its own monorail. Now how cool is that?

Sun Dec 10, 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Troy said...

This mall's brochure was part of a series of brochures, all pertaining to prototype malls. This one was the most interesting, to me anyway. It's a shame they renovated it, as they do all malls. I also find it funny how they accuse past architects/contractors/mall owners of renovating late 19th century and early 20th century shopping areas and such when they are in fact doing the same thing to midcentury malls, and will be blamed for it in about 20/30 years. That's my opinion, anyway.

Sun Dec 10, 07:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the monorail still exist at this mall? It's definitely a cool thing that you don't see elsewhere!

Sun Dec 10, 08:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monorail is long gone. So is the ice rink.

Sun Dec 10, 09:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing, all the details that were crammed into press brochures and such when a new enclosed mall was about to open to the public.

Nowadays, when we get that one-or-two enclosed malls that open per-year, all that's done is a simple "Grand Opening!" with a list of shops.

They sure went all out back then.

Sun Dec 10, 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there, great pics of the mall from the glory days. Even though I'm from across the river in Canada my shopping skills were honed at Fairlane!

I rode the monorail many times from the Hyatt to the mall. Today I wish I had taken pics of it!

You've got to remember that "Fairlane" was also a "Ford Motor Company" showcase so they pulled out all the stops when it came to publicity, design and such.

Fairlane is still a great place to shop at.

Sun Dec 10, 11:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno about it being great. When I went there, it felt like all of the Detroit Metro area was crammed in there, milling about. Also, even looking at their directory now, I see a lot of empty storefronts.

Sun Dec 10, 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger Scott Parsons said...

Wow, what fantastic pictures!! Let me see if I've got this, is one side of the mall higher (or lower, depending on your view) than the other side? That gives a unique perspective on this prototype. It's certainly true to Taubman's vision on malls, right down to the very details found in every Taubman mall.
Too bad the monorail is gone. Anyone know why?

Mon Dec 11, 04:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, in this particular instance, one side of the mall is higher than the other. It is where the three level center portion transitions into the two level portion towards the north end of the mall. In this case the "mysterious" middle level has a unique role since the pamphlet states it is where the ACT people mover station was located. Friends have told me it crossed right between the elevators to drop people off.

From what I have read in the past the "monorail" / people mover simply deteriorated over time and needed to be removed. Since it was basically an electric bus on an elevated concrete roadbed, there were some issues with snow accumulation. Using salt to melt the snow damaged the roadbed over the years.

I suppose a true monorail would have had less of a snow issue, (and would have been infinitely cooler), but Ford was certainly not interested in the monorail business. One has to give them credit though for such an ambitious endeavor and the Breuer-esque portal where it enters the mall is a fascinating design element still present today.

BTW, does anyone know where the Ice Rink was located?

Mon Dec 11, 07:48:00 PM  
Blogger Troy said...

Yes, I'll send the map to Keith when I get a chance, I just didn't think it was relevant at the time. It is in a hallway that branches off of a court not in front of, but near J.C. Penney.

Mon Dec 11, 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger Troy said...

Just checked the current store directory and it's where the theaters are now.

Mon Dec 11, 08:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting to see that Ford was devloping a public transit system, especially living here in Los Angeles where the Big Motor Companies paid off the the City and County once apon a time to squash the Devlopement of Rapid Transit here.

Mon Dec 11, 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn! A 70's mall with a monorail with a skating rink!? That's JUST too good to be true?!?!

Tue Dec 12, 01:45:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Sobieniak said...

Adam Adler said...
Interesting to see that Ford was devloping a public transit system, especially living here in Los Angeles where the Big Motor Companies paid off the the City and County once apon a time to squash the Devlopement of Rapid Transit here.

There are times when I wish I could be in Japan right now what with the kind of train systems they have in place. You would not feel ashamed to drive a car there. :-)

Tue Dec 12, 03:57:00 AM  
Blogger Livemalls said...

I remember seeing pictures of this mall in a book from around 1980. it still looks pretty cool, and the monorail is 'off the chain!'

Tue Dec 12, 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Scott Parsons said...

Right... Ford developing a monorail isn't in their best interest. What a shame. :(
I didn't originally notice this was a "mystery level" mall. Prototype to Eastridge and Woodfield. I love it even more! And they didn't remove the mystery level!!

Tue Dec 12, 03:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was always interested to see the peoplemover station inside the mall. My only visits to Fairlane Town Center were in 1990. By then, the peoplemover had already been taken out of service and there was no discernible evidence remaining of the station inside the mall. My understanding as well was that it was on the middle level. At the time of my visit, the track outside was still standing.

Tue Dec 12, 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Reverend Grim Daddy said...

I was a mall rat when Fairlane opened. I worked at Olga,s Kitchen across from the theater entrance. The new theaters are actually located just outside of the old theater and ice arena They took away some parking for the new theaters. The Theaters used to be above the ice rink. Then they closed the rink and built more theaters. Yup two levels of theaters. I used to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show there at midnight for a buck and a half.
The monorail did roll in between the elevators on the second level. It was a pain in the A** because to get from one side of the mall to the other you had to go up to the third level or down to first. My friends and I would ride over to the Hyatt just to mess wth security.
There was also an awesome fountain with a waterfall back in the day too. Now it's a stage (yawn).
I spent many a wasted evening on the walkways trying to look down girls shirts as they passed by under us. It was an incredible mall. Lakeside mall, it's east side "twin" wasn't as interesting as Fairlane, too spread out, although I have a few "security chased us" stories from there too.

Tue Dec 12, 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There was also an awesome fountain with a waterfall back in the day too."

The north court with the fountains is still there...and they are still operating!! It's a very impressive display. I hope they don't go away.

Another Taubman center I was at recently is Hilltop Mall. Their fountains are also still going strong, and Hilltop has that cool spiral ramp that encircles them. Unlike the angular theme of other Taubman malls, Hilltop has the unique theme of circles everywhere in it's design.

Wed Dec 13, 12:45:00 AM  
Blogger Scott Parsons said...

And don't forget the rock climbing wall in Hilltop.
Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to get the people in! :)

Wed Dec 13, 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The people mover looks a lot like the one at Circus Circus in Las Vegas. I wonder if they were the same design.

Wed Dec 13, 08:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at Hilltop just a few weeks ago and I saw no climbing wall in the center court....but then again it might have been disguised as a Christmas castle. ;) I'm glad the seating pits are still there...the round ones by the escalators at Macy's and JC Penney remind me of dry jacuzzi's. :D

One thing I have noticed about these malls is that the colors of the common areas...carpeting and such...have been subdued quite a bit. It's unfortunate since that is what contributed to their vibrancy. Fortunately, carpet is an easy thing to replace.

Thu Dec 14, 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger John said...

On a visit to Fairlane early last year I ran into a great elderly lady who gave me a very quick paced tour of the mall as it was in it's "Hey Day".

She was working behind the information booth but took the time out to walk me around the mall.

I have contacted the mall office to find out who this mystery woman was and to see if she would repeat this tour but I got a curt reply from the powers to be that a mall employee should not have been giving tours and that they couldn't divulge any further information.

Has anyone visited Fairlane lately and asked for a tour?

Also, does anyone have any pics of Christmas at Fairlane as I remember their decorations as being truely outstanding.

Thu Dec 14, 08:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi everyone.

I was born, raised, and now work in Dearborn. If anyone would like any information about this mall or photos, please don't hesitate to ask.

Wed Dec 27, 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was part of the team that developed and operated the people mover at Fairlane. It was technically known as the ACT -- Automatically Controlled Transportation system.

While similar to a monorail, it was different in that it ran on rubber tires and was centered in the guideway by another set of wheels called lateral guidance tires, that were parallel to the ground and engaged a vertical rail on either side of the vehicle. Power was supplied to 3 rails - a "signal" rail, 2 phases of 480VAC power and a common ground/lateral guidance rail.

One unique property of the system was that the two driverless cars traveled along in opposite directions at the same time, passing each other in the center of the guideway where the track opened up into two lanes. Each car had two "switch arms" on one side that determined which of the two lanes the vehicle would take. Aside from this bypass area, the guideway was a single lane for most of the way, stretching from the Hyatt & Town Center stations, respectively, to the center of the parking lot.

The vehicles had redundant propulsion and HVAC systems to ensure operation in the event of failure of one. Propulsion was via two 60HP DC motors, made by General Electric. They were completely automated, taking instructions in a 3-of-5 "tone" code from a wayside controller located inside the Town Center. This 3-of-5 command structure gave only basic instructions: open & close doors, leave the station, extend the switch arms near the bypass, decelerate into the opposite end station, etc. The commands were decoded by the onboard controller, made by Robicon. At the heart of the control system was a DEC PDP-8, with 8k of core memory and 4k of RAM, not even enough storage space for a small email, by today's standards.

The bidirectional single lane/bypass concept was unique to the industry at the time, as most competing systems ran in a loop, or on redundant dual-track schemes. Our systems had the two vehicles running directly at one another at a top speed of 30mph with no driver onboard, and no human capable of preventing a collision. Only the bypass design and redundant failsafe equipment stood between the riders and disaster.

I worked with the Fairlane People Mover from its early development days starting in 1972, through the opening of the Town Center on March 2nd, 1976, and left for another position in September of 1984.

The system originally was designed with a 10-year projected lifetime, and was conceived as a showpiece for Ford's foray into mass transit. A sister system was installed Bradley International Airport, in Windsor Locks, CT (near Hartford) to take passengers from a nearby hotel to the airport. Its cost of $4.5 million was considered too expensive by the newly-elected governor of CT, and she mothballed it before it ever carried a single paying passenger. Henry Ford II withdrew from the people mover before these two systems were even made operational, and they became, essentially, twin orphans.

The system at Fairlane shut down in about 1989, when the cost of spare parts became prohibitive. Some were standard automotive/truck components, but others were made specifically for the 4 vehicles. (2 Fairlane, 2 Bradley)

The Bradley Vehicles wound up in a CT trolley museum that used to have pictures of them on the internet. I've not been able to find out if they still exist. The Fairlane vehicles were sold for salvage after being removed from service.

Chuck Brillowsky

Sun Jan 28, 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Mr Brillowsky

Excellent history lesson of Fairlane's monorail/ACT I've always wondered about it, since seeing the monorail lines from the Southfield Freeway as a kid. I never saw it operational, so the pics and your explanation were very interesting.

Thu Nov 01, 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have many memories of my grandmother working at Hudson's. She worked ther from 1986 to 2003. She now works at Target in Atlanta.

Wed Apr 09, 08:28:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This. Is. Awesome. A friend sent me this link today and when I saw the name of the link I thought, "Monorail! There better be a pic of that monorail!" And don't forget that fab lighted elevator.

I worked at Victoria's Secret at Farilane in the mid-90's but grew up taking a Semta bus to this mall from west Dearborn because it was too far for us as 13 year olds to hoof it.


Thu Dec 11, 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just happened upon this great post. Brings back memories. I worked at my first job less than one year after the Mall opened. It was at a little restaurant called Coney Island. I remember the monorail well; it was quite a draw to the mall when it first opened.

Sun Jan 03, 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have fond memories of the ACT from a stay in the Hyatt as a kid. It was a cool way to get to the mall.

Thu Apr 15, 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fairlane was THE mall back in the day in this area. I spent probably way too much time there with my mom and one of my sisters as we would split up when we got there then meet back at a certain time, usually for lunch at one of the many great restaurants they had there. On top of that my first job in high school was there and I absolutely loved working in that mall. It was a completely different place than it is now. Every type of restaurant under the sun, every kind of store under the sun, and many different types of each. At least three record stores, a couple sports stores, specialty shops and so on and so on. When I go there today for as nice as it still is I pine for the good old days when it first opened. If you were lucky enough to be a part of Fairlane during that time, you are lucky indeed. That was also the only place many of us would go to see a movie. Nothing like it back then.

Tue Sep 07, 08:53:00 PM  
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Thu Oct 21, 12:00:00 AM  
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Sat Oct 23, 06:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to ride the monorail all the time as a kid. I would ride my bike five miles to Fairlane Mall, the take the monorail to the hotel, ride up an down their glass elevators, get chased out by security, do it again, then go to the mall, go ice skating, sneak into R rated movies, played tag up and down all those ramps, get kicked out, eat at the fancy Burger King with the video arcade, play video games, ride my bike home.

Sat Jan 15, 12:36:00 PM  
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Tue Sep 20, 12:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up going to Fairlane and stopped going several years ago when it seemed to be falling into disrepair and lost business. I recently took my children there on a whim and was very taken aback at how much it has been renewed since I last went in the early 2000s. It was also amazing how many memories it brought back. I used to go there on the weekends with my friends as a preteen and teen and spend the entire day milling about - perusing the record store (which no longer exists) and meeting boys! It was a wonderful time. I remember my father taking me to the ice skating rink when I was a little girl. It was later replaced by the downstairs theaters. The upstairs theaters have now been devoured by a Forever 21 which looks the size of an airplane hangar. I plan to go back there very soon to see what else has changed. It was weird to see they had taken out part of the second floor to make the downstairs area that now houses an H&M into a cathedral ceiling-style store. Where there was once an Olga's Kitchen is now an empty area that is windowed off and you can look down into H&M. It has really been something watching the mall evolve over the decades. Does anyone else remember some of the 80s stores? There was a whole store dedicated to stickers which had a huge popularity when I was in elementary school. There was also a huge Danskin clothing store on the lower level when Flashdance made tights, leotards and leg warmers all the rage. Does anyone remember the name of that one store that was not far from Saks that had the store where they had multiple "pieces" that you could put together in different ways? You could turn one piece of fabric from a skirt to a top to a headband, etc. It was very chic and modern at the time and I just remember it had several television screens that would play over and over models on a runway showing the different conversions you could do with the pieces. It's amazing what you remember from childhood! Love Fairlane and the wonderful memories I have of going there!

Fri Aug 03, 04:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post. I went to Henry Ford in 1976 and somehow took a job at a drapery store there for about 6 months. I wish I could remember the name of the store. I do remember the cute girls that worked
David G.

Tue Mar 19, 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Toni said...

Your post about the architecture was really interesting. A fact that very few people may remember and much less talk about was that for the first 20 years or so, Fairlane was very much a store that discouraged African American shoppers (that's a really nice way of saying that they harassed them so much they couldn't shop there). Henry Ford and Dearborn was extremely racist and it didn't stop at the mall. I am not sure when things began to change but by the early 1990s more African American people began to shop at the mall and the retailers had decided that anyone with currency was ok to shop.

Sun Oct 18, 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I spent a lot of time there as a teen when it opened. I had a few friends that worked at the mall after high school. I remember meeting them at a Train themed bar at the mall. I'm trying to remember the name of the bar.

Sun Jan 10, 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I spent a lot of time there as a teen when it opened. I had a few friends that worked at the mall after high school. I remember meeting them at a Train themed bar at the mall. I'm trying to remember the name of the bar.

Sun Jan 10, 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Thu May 26, 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You remind me of myself I was the Fairlane kid 9 hours at the mall and 8 trips a day to the Hyatt trying to pick up those sexy waitresses I also worked there got in trouble with the security they put me with 45 women it was only like 19 got in fights with the mall security got arrested a couple times but I had a lot of fun at the hotel in a lot of dates from the mall too

Thu May 26, 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Anyone remember the origin shops at the Feasterville Plaza Shopping Center? Was Montgomery Ward Catalog Shop one of them??
I wish someone can confirm that for me. Thx.

Thu Aug 03, 11:14:00 AM  

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