White Oaks Mall (1993)

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Believe it or not, 2007 marked the 30th anniversary of the opening of White Oaks Mall. Today, it may be hard to imagine Springfield without Westside shopping, traffic, and congestion – but thirty years ago, the area surrounding the 80 acre site at Wabash and what was then called the West Bypass was mainly empty land and a relatively new Colony West subdivision.

Opening festivities included a balloon race featuring celebrities like Ed McMahon, Bruce Jenner, Billy Carter, Bobby Riggs, Artis Gilmore, and Lou Brock.The giant glass and steel sculpture that used to hang in the mall's center court.Aerial shot of White Oaks in 1980Center Court at White Oaks was renovated in 1993.The old stairs that were replaced by escalators in 1993.

Here’s the announcement from the 1/14/1971 State Journal-Register. Notice that the original name planned for the mall was “Westroads”.

New Shopping Center To Feature Covered Mall

Westroads Mall, a new shopping center that will feature a mall area covered, heated and air-conditioned with internal landscape, sidewalk cafes and courts for community activities, exhibits and art fairs, is being planned for Springfield. Construction will begin this year.

Westroads Mall will be located at the northeast corner of US 36 and the future west four-lane by-pass that will link the South Bypass due to be completed in 1971 and the future North Bypass.

The shopping center area is part of the Colony West Master Development Plan and was zoned several years ago for shopping, offices, and high-rise apartments. All necessary utilities have been extended by the developer to the acreage which lies immediately west of the Colony West subdivision.

Westroads Mall, which will have over 600,000 square feet of enclosed mall retail space, is scheduled to have three local department stores, Myers Brothers, Bressmers, and Montgomery Ward. Discussions are under way with other national chain stores.

Upon completion, the center will have at least three and possibly four major department stores in addition to over 50 other retail and service establishments. Parking for 4,000 cars is planned.

Here is an excerpt from the 6/19/1973 SJ-R article by Mike Clark that announced that the project would finally be getting started.
Mall Construction To Begin This Fall

Fall construction of the Westroads Mall, the largest enclosed regional shopping center in downstate Illinois was announced Monday.

The mall will have one million square feet of floor space. It will be located at the northeast corner of US 36 and the proposed west bypass.

The mall, which will be opened in August of 1975, has been the subject of discussion since the first announcement was made in early 1971. Monday’s announcement marked the third one, but there appeared little doubt of the project’s completion from the participating business executives.

In a news conference held at the Sangamo Club Monday officials announced that these stores will have major units at the mall: Montgomery Ward of Chicago; Famous-Barr of St. Louis, Mo.; and Myers Brothers of Springfield.

Negotiations are being concluded with a fourth major store, but an announcement could not be made. However, Sears-Roebuck is believed to be the fourth major occupant of the mall. Announcement of the fourth major store is expected in 30 days.

The large scope of the project raised questions that Springfield can support such a mall without hurting downtown sales. But executives said that Westroads Mall is the only enclosed shopping center within 70 miles. Peoria has a mall.

Work finally got started sometime in 1975…

Completion date of fall 1976 set for first phase of White Oaks Mall

by Toby McDaniel
State Journal-Register, 5/1/1975

The first phase of White Oaks Mall, a 120-store regional shopping center under construction on Springfield’s southwest side, will be completed in the fall of 1976, according to an announcement Wednesday.

Addition of a fifth department store, Bressmer’s to the shopping center also was announced by representatives of Melvin Simon & Associates.

Two or three of the department stores are scheduled to open upon completion of the first phase, developer Herbert Simon said. The full project is expected to be complete in early 1977.

Other department stores in the center on an 80-acre site at Wabash Avenue and West Bypass will be Myers Brothers, Sears, Montgomery Ward and Famous-Barr.

Simon refused to reveal the estimated cost of the development. A building permit for $8 million was issued late last year. Site preparation began shortly after and Simon said some building materials are being delivered to the site.

The totally enclosed mall will encompass more than one million square feet of floor space. Sears will have the largest store, about 186,000 square feet on two floors. Myers Brothers’ plans call for 100,000 square feet and Bressmer’s 60,000 square feet.

Simon said his comany, headquartered in Indianapolis, became the principal owner and developer of White Oaks last month. Paul Barker, president of Park Realty Co. of Springfield and the Arthur Rubloff Co. of Chicago will continue to play a role in development of the shopping center, he said. The Rubloff firm will assist in the local and regional leasing programs.

The Simon firm rates as the fourth largest shopping center developer in the nation. It has built more than 90 centers in 22 states and has 14 others under development.

Businesses that were opened in March of 1977

The Carousel, Osco Drug, National Shirt Shop, Jean Nicole, Circus World Toy Store, Gallery Sea Food, Star of India, The Cookie Factory, Hickory Farms, Flowerama, Lowery Organ, Shaver’s World, Kinney Shoes, Brooks Fashion, Jo Ann Fabrics, Printer’s Ink Bookstore, Keepsake Photos, Aladdin’s Castle, Spencer Gifts, Lober’s, Swiss Pretzel Shop, Florsheim Shoes, Buster Brown Shoes, Mermod Jaccard & King, Topps & Trousers, Gordon Jewelers, Endicott Shoes, Winston’s, Susie Casuals, Petrie, Foxmoor, Walden Books, Nobil Shoes, Wag’s Restaurant, Byerly Music, So-Fro Fabric, Casual Corner, Kirlin’s Candies, Murray Shoes, J. Riggins, Claires, Helzberg Jewelers, GNC, Musicland, Orange Julius, Life Stride, Bressler’s Ice Cream, Air Step, Silverman’s, Motherhood, The Ranch, Service Optical, Tanneberg & Sandorwitz Deli, Merry Go Round, Zales, Tinderbox Tobacco, Hanover Shoes, Bottom Half, Gingiss Formalwear, Oriental Gifts, Herndon’s, Maling Shoes, Paul Harris, County Seat, Just Pants, MCL Cafeteria, IPCO Optical, Roberts Brothers, The Hub, Illini Sporting Goods, Baker Shoes, Union Jack, The Children’s Shop

AND the 4 anchor stores – Famous Barr, Myers Brothers (now Bergner’s), Sears, and Montgomery Ward (now Dick’s).
And a few that opened between March and August…

McDonald’s, Hotdog on a Stick, The Book Market, White Oaks Cinema, Luca Pizza

Archive photos courtesy of The Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library and White Oaks Mall.

33 Comments

  1. I love that photo from 1993. Could have been from the 1980s – that’s the way I remember the mall from when I was a kid. I remember one time when my parents bought me a new Pound Puppy from Kay-Bee Toys and we sat down on those steps to open it up and play with it (yes, boys had Pound Puppies too). That brown tiled floor is something else too! I still like the old mall better than the new mall.

  2. JeromeProphet:

    Very nice!

    I remember being only a few feet from Bruce Jenner, and Billy Carter. Billy Carter was waiting within a hot air balloon, and Bruce Jenner was walking through the mall in a white tux followed by a dozen excited children.

    Ed McMahon I could hear, but he was the big celebrity, and I decided not to try and push my way through to him.

    I recall all the excitement at having a brand new mall. Everything seemed modern and new.

    Now looking back, I’d have to ask – what was all the fuss?

    JP

  3. JeromeProphet:

    Oh yes, and Lou Brock was there too. He was wearing this stupid umbrella hat which he was pitching (selling). Only money could convince a grown man with Lou’s reputation to wear such a stupid looking hat.

    That photo of the balloons which you include took me right back there – thank goodness my memories aren’t as gray, and horrible looking as that photo.

    JP

  4. Rick:

    The mall was so great 20 years ago. I had forgotten about Wag’s Restaurant. That was a good place to eat. There was a really cool store called World Bazare or something like that, which had all sorts of cool furniture, sort of like a Pier 1. Then, there was Jr.’s Music Shop, where we used to buy vinyl records. I, too, loved that stone floor. I grew up about 50 miles west of Springfield, and coming to the mall was a real treat. It was the first sign of life when you came into Springfield. Everything west of it was just cornfields. I could spend hours in the mall. It had character back then. Now, it’s just kind of a cookie cutter shopping center with the usual Journeys, The Buckle, Hollister, etc.

  5. Shoo:

    Growing up, it was always a treat to go to the mall with my mom and grandma. Of course, I always had to get a toy from Kaybee toy store, candy from Mr. Bulky, and run around in the center court.

    Good times. Thanks for the reminiscing Russ.

  6. Steve:

    Wow. What a difference from the old mall to what’s there now. I forgot how dark it used to be. It seems a lot cleaner and more inviting now, but I’m sure back in the 80’s it was fine. Ahhhh — way too much time in the ‘old’ Aladin’s Castle and Chik Fil-A!

    And I could be wrong, but wasn’t there a bar in the mall at one time?

  7. Dave:

    You are correct; there was a bar. I think it was called “Change of Pace.” It was right by Montgomery Wards, where that steak sandwich place is now located in the food court.

  8. Child-of-the-80s:

    I remember when the mall used to host “major events” like the Days of Our Lives cast (specifically the love interest couple Pete & Melissa who were very popular back then). I also seem to recall a few other young soap stars or singing sensations making appearances – does anyone recall who that was?

    Fond memories of McDonald’s being its own restaurant with the brown entrance & the brown swivel chairs at the tables. Also the colorful hats & uniforms of the Hot Dog on a Stick employees.

    Going to the mall as a young person on a Saturday afternoon or evening was a HUGE deal. That was our social life….and parents weren’t afraid to let their teenagers shop by themselves back then.

  9. The 26th Man:

    Man, seeing those old pictures unleashes a torrent of memories. My older brother and I used to go to the mall all the time, grab a pretzel from Swiss Pretzel and sit at Center Court to eat and make fun of people.

    Child-of-the-80s, I vaguely recall Michael Damian making an appearance there.

  10. Kayliss:

    wow!! i was reading this springfield mall artical and it really amazed me. ive been only to this mall 1 time when i was very little. i now plan to come here tommorrow. i dont get to go to this mall very often because i live 3 hours away. but still, the history of this mall amazes me.

  11. june abbott:

    my dad actually was a cement mason who worked with many on the construction of this mall. I was about 13 years old at the time. I can remember hanging out with my best friend and shopping all the cool stores back then.

    you were cool if you went to the mall! i remember when they added the theatre, oh my goodness, now that was awesome! i eventually got my first job at the mall when i was 16. mcl cafeteria, then later, famous barr.

    fond memories, thanks :)

  12. Mr. Bulky’s was the best store in that place.

    I miss it.

  13. Wow … I’d forgotton how dark the mall used to look. Is it wrong that I MISS it looking that way? I loved the old cobblestones and the “pits” you could sit in and watch people go by. Remember the stairs? How you could actually feel the floor shake near them when people walked up and down …

    Luca Pizza used to be there … and it was the coolest place to eat. We loved seeing movies … I bought a copy of Thriller on vinyl at JR’s Music. Good times. Good times.

  14. Sarah:

    Does anyone remember the name of the store that was on the lower level, down by Famous Barr, and it was the first store on the right as you were walking out of Famous and into the mall? They had a big square check out/display case right in the middle of the store. They carried all sorts of stuff, specifically little knick knacks like Troll dolls, posters, cards, Sand Creatures, etc. It was an eclectic mix of a store.

  15. Giuseppe:

    I think I worked there briefly… Was it the Loading Dock? They were kind of a Pier 1 type store and I worked there a few months back in the early 80′s Next to it was a mens clothing store and a shoe shop across from it.

  16. Gregg:

    The Loading Dock is correct. They sold pretty much everything in there.

  17. Gregg:

    When Famous Barr first opened, wasn’t there a restaurant in there? I thought there was a restaurant located somewhere in the vicinity of the current furniture department, but I could be thinking of a different mall.

  18. Giuseppe:

    Hey Gregg!
    Yes Famous had a restaurant and they also served wine… I remember because I went there with some friends for lunch one day and they ordered what looked to be served in a punch bowl and they called it sangria, I think? It was like red wine with fruit in it! Oh to be young and wild again! LoL

  19. Emily:

    Wow – This really does bring back memories. I remember embracing the renovations in 1993 because it was so dark and monotone before, but would now much rather see those brown tiled/concrete/stone floors. The way it is now makes me think of Miami Vice or something.

    I moved away from Springfield almost 8 years ago so it’s always a treat to visit White Oaks when I go home. As with any mall, the people watching is still fantastic, no matter the decor.

  20. Mike:

    I wish there were more pics of the “old” mall. I remember shopping at Silverman’s with all of the colorful clothes.

    I worked at Bachrach’s for a while and at Musicland, and then Illini Sporting Goods, which was on the lower level outside of Sears. Across the way from Illini Sporting Goods was a hotdog place.

    I remember being too young to go into the Change of Pace but went in anyway because my co-workers went in. I remember meeting Pete and Melissa from Days of Our Lives and also met The Lone Ranger himself, Clayton Moore as he was vying to keep his mask. There was some sort of legal battle over it and he wore these big, black sunglasses.

    I miss that “old” mall and wish it could return to it’s glory days.

    Thanks for sharing Russ!

  21. They served tasty onion soup.

  22. They developed cornfields and called the mall “White Oaks”; not an oak in site, that I can recall. (Of course, Faihills Mall used to be a piglot!)
    The destruction of this farm acreage led to the demise of downtown retail. One by one, the department stores moved west into the mall or closed outright. The stores that moved into the mall could not make it there, and closed also. We became a chain store town. Myers Bros, Barker’s, Herndon’s, Westenberger’s, Bressmer’s and so many more passed into retail history. The Mall itself prospered for a time, but it doesn’t look healthy now. It’s no wonder Wal-Mart does so well in this town.

  23. Kelly Joyner:

    Ahh…the mall as it used to be! I can remember riding a bus all the across town on Saturdays with maybe a dollar in my pocket for lunch (fries from McD’s or a big Laffy Taffy from Osco) back in the 80′s because it was a cool place to hang out. Later, I worked at Herndon’s — what a gorgeous and classy store that was! I’ll bet you didn’t know that even though Herndon’s was on the second floor, the store actually had an upstairs and a downstairs in the back (downstairs was a receiving room, upstairs was a suite of offices). I remember The Limited being dark and trendy, the owner of Luca’s being there every day (and he recognized EVERYONE!), and just how interesting the whole place was back when it was full of shops.

  24. Mark:

    The aerial photo of the mall is not from 1980. Probably from 1977. My house was built in 1978 behind Kmart and it’s not visible in this photo. Great picture by the way.

  25. Nicki:

    I so miss that old center court. It felt so Barbiefied after the renovation. I miss the real restaurants and the good stores that we had. I don;t tend to go to the mall much now, but back then, my best friend lived in Colony West and we would walk over all the times.

  26. Alicia:

    They called it White Oaks Mall because the White Oak is the state tree of Illinois.

  27. sue:

    Does anyone remember the name of the restaraunt inside of Famous Barr?

  28. Every mall had a Tinder Box – a store of dark lighting, exotic scents and general mystery to draw the passing gaze of an eight-year-old child.

  29. The onion soup was good! I miss it :(

  30. Brian:

    Yea it is great to see the old mall. I lived in Sherwood i worked at the mall when i was n school at the Mirror store that had stencil on them you the ones that had like Pabst done on the mirror or the gold foil on them i used to walk there it was cold in the winter walking to workevery year it was set up right next to chik fil a. and yea spent alot of time at Aladins castle (space invaders,Astroids) had alot of friends in colony west use to belong to Colony west swim club and

  31. Jennifer:

    I don’t even remember what the mall looked like in 1993 I was only 9 yrs old at the time, I only know what the mall looks like now

  32. Ruby:

    Does anyone remember the construction crews who worked on the mall back than?

  33. Mike Jones:

    I interviewed in July at the mall for Radio Shack. The place was dark and gloomy…..much like Radio Shack

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