Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dixie Square shopping mall: More notable in death than it ever was in life?

I’ll believe it when I see it. Reports are going about that the remains of the one-time Dixie Square shopping center in south suburban Harvey will finally be torn down.

Supposedly, the contracts for the demolition will be approved some time during this month – with work to begin shortly thereafter.

I’M SKEPTICAL BECAUSE there have been so many instances throughout the years when people have talked about clearing away the structure that was a shopping center for about 12 years until 1979 – but now sits just off of Dixie Highway (Western Avenue, to city-folk) in a physical condition that goes far beyond decrepit.

Collapsed is more like it.

Heck, I was on hand (as a reporter-type person) just over a year ago when Gov. Pat Quinn (seeking re-election) offered up state aid to help Harvey turn the one-time shopping mall into a site that would benefit the local economy.

Not that his appearance (which may have helped Quinn get an overwhelming number of the area’s votes against opponent William Brady) has done much to speed up the demolition process. Because the ultimate significance of the Dixie Square shopping center has nothing to do with its time as a place of commerce and business.

WE’RE ALL THINKING of those scenes from The Blues Brothers film in 1980 where the one-time Mount Prospect police car goes crashing through the shopping center, with Illinois State Police troopers in hot pursuit.

Yet whenever I see that film and watch those particular scenes, I can’t help but think of how un-realistic they are – and NOT just because of the sight of a police chase taking place in a shopping center.
Dixie Square NEVER looked this good

I don’t ever recall the Dixie Square mall being as nice, as detailed, or as varied in its selection of stores as it appeared to be in that film. I never would have expected to see “the new Oldsmobiles” in this year at a visit to the mall.

Although I’ll be honest, the one recollection I have of shopping at Dixie Square was a limited visit. My mother and her friend took me and the friend’s son (who was also a childhood friend of mine) to the official Boy Scout store located there so as to get the uniforms we needed for our couple of years-long stint in Cub Scouts.

MAYBE THERE WAS more to that shopping mall than I recall. Although I am skeptical that there was.

My memories are of a second-rate retail center that was dwarfed by the (still existing) River Oaks Shopping Center – located in nearby Calumet City. That was the place where serious shopping took place – and where one could find auto dealers located nearby.

Which is why it was available for the setting of such an outrageous scene in The Blues Brothers. If it had been a thriving shopping center, nobody would have given serious thought to letting it be used for the destruction that was caused during the film.

And if not for that film, who would even care about what became of this site at 151st Street?

THAT IS WHY it is sad that this site, which in theory has a central location within the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs that could have made it a prominent retail collection, has spent the past few decades rotting away into nothingness.

For its own sake, I hope the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association is capable of getting its act together and hiring a demolition company that can finally take down what remains of Dixie Square.

Because a part of me has always wondered if the inaction toward destruction and re-development would last so long that this structure would literally collapse on its own before the wrecking ball ever got around to it.


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