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               LAKEHURST MALL: WAUKEGAN (NORTH OF CHICAGO), IL

Daniel Oines's Commentary:

Posted February 21, 2005 (user submitted)

Lakehurst was once a thriving, busy mall. It was uniquely different from other malls because it always seemed like 1/3d of the customers wore black sailor uniforms from the nearby Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I was just a little kid in the early 1970s and took the density of sailors for granted even though it was unusual and sort of intimidating. It must have looked and felt like Logan's Run (1976) at times.

The central open area had a large Calderesque sculpture of bent silver ovals attached to hanging rods, which turned slowly from motors in the ceiling. I remember taking the Pepsi Challenge in that garish gold and neon space filled with the faint scent of Karmelkorn. The plexiglass-sided escalators had circus red rubber hand rails that soon became grimy.

The mall always had a dark, dead corner near the underlit Athens Gyros and Aladdin's Castle. It had a wall tiled in large square light beige plastic panels with curvy hexagons protruding. Perhaps that wall was meant for future expansion and another potential anchor. It was weird to go up and down the wide staircase of an otherwise bright and inviting mall and see no businesses. Aladdin's Castle had pinball machines and a huge air hockey table in its early days. It was next door to Hot Sam, a Corn Dog restaurant in hideous silver, red, and yellow decor that hurts my eyes just to remember it. Hot Sam was the smallest tenant in the mall and I never ate there once.

The bold, thick red and white horizontal stripes on Carson Pirie Scott's windowless exterior were unlike anything else in the area. The only time I saw any other building look like that was the Sultan's fortress in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). Carson Pirie Scott had "Scotty," a talking Christmas tree between the escalators one year. It had large round eyes and a moving mouth. There had to be a video camera in it because the operator in another room greeted everyone who walked past. It was quite eerie and strange to walk in autumnal silence through the brown weed field between Child World's castle and Carson Pirie Scott in the mall's declining years. Child World sold cutting edge TI-99/4A and Vectrex cartridges in those blissful days of yore.

One black lit, Hendrix, Dragon, and attacking Panther poster-filled gift store had old, bearded faces sculpted into logs with glass marbles for eyes and colored flicker bulbs inside. The marbles acted as fisheye lenses to show the light bulb's oscillating filament, giving a vivid impression like the face had burning eyes. I've never seen those weird log face gifts from the 1970s again.

The mall's decline was depressing and the demographics completely changed from those with disposable income to poorer people looking for bargains. I was sad to learn the place was demolished since I have some pleasant Lakehurst memories. The place was dying for years with cracked parking lots, turned off fountains, and the "Calder" stilled, so the loss isn't particulary traumatic.

Ernesto Cano's Commentary:

Posted May 31, 2004 (user submitted)

The population of Waukegan in suburban Chicago was growing steadily in the late 60s and early 1970s. Most of its new residents were fleeing the city, which is a 1 hour drive south of Waukegan. Waukegan is also about 10 minutes north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border. Due to the growing population of Waukegan and neighboring areas, Lakehurst Mall was born. It opened for business in 1971, located on Belvidere Road, just off of Skokie Highway and 1/2 a mile east of I-94 tollway (2 major arterial highways). Lakehurst was built on a total rural area and several years before, it used to be a small farm and school. It was for a short time the largest mall in Lake County.

Waukegan had a thriving downtown area at this time and then Belvedere Mall was built in the late 1950s, which housed Montgomery Ward's, Walgreen's, the Belvidere cinema and another anchor. It was considerably smaller than Lakehurst Mall. When Lakehurst (just 2 miles west) opened in 1971, the crowds began to ignore Belvedere and flock for the fresh new mall 2 miles down the street. The mall never closed, but began to turn into a 2nd rate mall with all mom and pop businesses (swap meet) that specialize in spanish food, small gifts, religious items, urban gear and counterfeit designer goods. Despite Montgomery Ward fleeing in 1988 for Lakehurst Mall (we'll get back to that later) and Walgreens moving to a free stading location on the corner in 1996. Suprisingly, the mall still exists and does good business and a 2nd run movie theater is there and a Home Depot was built next to the mall too. It never got a true interior facelift and it still somewhat feels like you are in an OLD 1950s mall inside.

Back to Lakehurst Mall. It was the best thing for the city of Waukegan, Lake County and the people from this area in 1972. The main anchors were Wieboldt's and JC Penney, with a nice eatery and malt shop inside. Both stores were complete full line stores large in size. The other anchor was Carson Pirie Scott, which did have a huge furniture area and even had a clearance center and a restaurant (Heather Room) on the store's third floor. Rumor had it back then that Sears or Bergner's (who later bought out Carson Pirie Scott in the late 80s, now a part of Saks Incorporated) were supposed to be its 4th anchor, but they could not reach a deal, so an empty grassy area behind the mall existed because of that. It was a nice regional mall that boasted about 120 shops in its first 25 years. most being first rate shops (Casual Corner, Radio Shack, Charles A Stevens, Thom McAn, Things Remembered, J. Riggings, GNC, The Gap, Walden Books, Circus World, Lerner, Best Travel, 3 optical shops, Just Pants, Sears Portrait Studio, Kinney Shoes, Underground Station, Whitehall and Page Jewelers, Claire's Accessories, KayBee Toys, Deb, Trade Secret, Camelot Music, Foot Locker, Champs Sport, Sam Goody, etc.) local shops (Gift Tree, Barbary Coast Barber Shop) and some nice eateries like Cinnabon, Orange Julius, Fannie May, Good Sam Pretzels, a pizza place, sandwich place and a few other local owned restaurants within its time. One thing that many people did not like was that there never was a food court built in the mall, despite that, all areas did have individual seating areas throughout the mall. The first 20 years were glory days for the mall, as most or all the stores did good business.

The exterior corridor of the mall housed a Courtyard by Marriott, Pier 1 Imports, La-z-boy, Service Merchandise, Pizza Hut, Bank of Lakehurst, Ace Hardware, Jewel Finer Foods, Fun Harbor, Lakehurst Theatre, Olive Garden, Denny's, Red Lobster, JC Penney Auto and Brunswick Lanes. One stop shopping, what more can you ask for.

Survival of the mall came in 4 obstacles.

Obstacle 1: In 1976, Hawthorn Center was opened in Vernon Hills, IL which was 15-20 minutes southwest. It boasted Marshall Field's, Sears and Lord And Taylor (later Carson Pirie Scott took it's place) and the mall was more high end than Lakehurst. Few businesses fled to the new mall but most had dual locations at both malls, not to mention it was about twice as large as Lakehurst. It didn't hurt Lakehurst Mall much, but for a long time, these 2 malls remained strong for Lake County. While Hawthorn was a larger regional mall, Lakehurst mainly was flocked by locals in Gurnee, North Chicago, Winthrop Harbor, Zion, Great Lakes Naval Training Center and Waukegan.

Obstacle 2: Wieboldt's declared bankruptcy in 1988 and was forced to close all of it's Chicago stores. In a heartbeat, Montgomery Ward and its AutoExpress business moved to the mall. After all, the mall was still profitable. One problem was that all the anchors at the time were 2 levels. When Mongomery Ward moved into the Wieboldt's building, they only occupied the 2nd floor, this made this particular Wards store the smallest suburban Chicago store yet. Level 1 of the Wieboldt's building was occupied by Dunham's sporting goods.

It was around this time when JCPenney closed the restaurant inside its store and Carson Pirie Scott (bought out by PA Bergner & Co. and close to filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy) closed the 3rd floor completely (except for restrooms and gift wrap) and abandoned the Heather Room altogether. Carson Pirie Scott used the remainder of the third floor for storing fixtures from its other smaller stores. Also, Hawthorn Center had a minor indoor renovation and the creation of an even better and brighter food court. By 1998, Hawthorn was 100% renovated and looking very modern.

Just as soon as the mall was getting back on track, the 3nd and 4th obstacles that it couldn't overcome were starting to happen. By the end of 1989, the mall was still about 90% occupied.

Obstacle 3: The mall had not ever had a facelift and it was looking very dated. Management of the mall, Jacobs Group, let the mall deteriorate and never even did any remodeling in the interior. The one interesting thing that I most remember was the unique fountain in the center court, it was cool and despite the mall being small, it never felt congested, just out of date. It was busy in its heydey, but the ultimate killing was 10 minutes west of Lakehurst, GURNEE MILLS!

Obstacle 4: Gurnee Mills at that time was the country's largest outlet mall, opened in 1988 or 1989. Few stores had made 2nd locations at Gurnee Mills, unfortunately almost everyone fled Lakehurst for Gurnee Mills. It housed hundreds of stores, looked brighter, appealing and hip. JCPenney even had an outlet there. Lakehurst Mall vacancy started to drop quickly after 1991 and by the time 1997 rolled around, there were about a dozen stores left. 1997 saw JCPenney closing underperforming stores and Lakehurst was one of them, in addition, they had opened a new location a few months before at Hawthorn Center. All employees were transferred to that store after the store's merchandise was liquidated. Not even 2 months later, Montgomery Ward decided to close up shop and in its first round of bankruptcy, Lakehurst was quick to go. Mall management was not quick enough to get replacement anchors and understandably not too many people wanted to move into a sinking ship.

Carson Pirie Scott, a management company that didn't care and less than 10 stores was left by 1999. The remaining stores did ok business, but everyone felt the low to non existant foot traffic of the mall and the decay of business, so the mall management formally closed and locked the mall up in January 2001. I visited the mall many times when I was younger (I lived in Chicago) but I did visit it a few times when the mall was pretty much vacant, the mall looked like I was in a 1970s time capsule, the mall NEVER had any sort of renovation, but it was well maintained for the most part, except for the damp smell. Mall security asked me not to take pictures, but I did and unfortunately a virus on my old computer destroyed all of my data, so no pics, sorry!

There were many plans for the mall right after Wards and Penney's moved out, one was University Center (college and retail mix) which the planners did not get much support from other educational institutions (such as University of Wisconsin or Illinois Institute of Technology whose name were thrown into the plan a few times) or retailers for that matter. The only thing that did happen was for some time the College of Lake County did hold classes and had a satellite office in the mall.

The shops on the exterior corridor fled too... Red Lobster and Olive Garden fled to Gurnee and Service Merchandise closed all their retail stores. Jewel Osco, Ace Hardware, Denny's and Courtyard Marriott are among the only shops that still remain today.

Carson Pirie Scott remained open until January 2004 and even until the day the store closed, the store never received a remodeling, just a new carpet. Passing through the escalators, the walls looked like a disco ball with tiny reflective mirrors looking at you as you go up. The vibrating red elevator was a highlight of all my last visits to this store and mall, old and never replaced. Businesswise, this location was somewhat profitable, mainly with furniture sales, but the merchandise mix changed dramatically in its last 5 years at the mall, most of its business came from clearance merchandise that other nearby CPS locations could not sell or had to get rid of to free up space for new merchandise. Little by little it turned into a low volume store known as the infamous 'bargain' store. I was an employee of Carson Pirie Scott at another location for 4 years and everyone made reference to Lakehurst as the 'dead store that was falling apart' and it was, the entire mall was kept up better than this store. Service was bad toward the end too, they didn't hire a lot of employees and you had to walk 3 departments away to find an open cashier and would often find cosmetic or jewelry associates sitting down reading a magazine, novel or just taking an afternoon nap on the selling floor. I could remember fondly the 'dings' in the PA system everytime I went there, just like an old fashioned department store. The 'dings' as a paging system were abandoned by all CPS stores, except Lakehurst. Ah, the nostagia!

Carson Pirie Scott was forced to close its Lakehurst Mall store by the new management of the mall, the Shaw Group, who will be transforming the mall into the Fountain Square of Waukegan. I last passed by Lakehurst Mall in early May of 2004 and it has been totally demolished. The new plan calls for high end shops and is supposed to be a great boost to the Waukegan economy. Passing through the city of Waukegan, there is plenty of abandoned retail and opportunity there, especially in the downtown area (aka skid row). Fountain Square sure would put this back on the map. We can only wait and see.

Memories is all that is left, there will never be a place as unique as Lakehurst Mall. It was a fun place and it had a community feel to it.

Scott Eddy's Commentary:

Posted March 20, 2004 (user submitted)

Here is a 2 story mall that opened its doors in 1971. Upon opening, it had 3 anchor stores (Carson Pirie Scott, J.C. Penny, and Wiebolts.)

Later on in the 80's, Wiebolts closed and quickly Montgomery Wards took its spot but only on 1 story. The other story was later occupied by Dunham Sporting Goods.

This was the mall to be at in the northern Chicago suburbs in the 70's and 80's. Plenty of regional small stores lined the mall including The Gap, Kinney Shoes, Champ Sports, Footlocker, Lerner New York, Camelot music, Waldenbooks, Radio Shack and a host of others including mom and pop type shops. I believe this mall could accomodate about 130 businesses and for 20 years, the mall stayed at least at a 95% occupied rate.

The mall also had outer properties which circled the mall itself including a General Cinema, Brunswick Bowling, Child World, Jewel/Osco grocery and drug, Service Merchandise, Pizza Hut, Denney's, Marriott Courtyard, Wards Auto, J.C. Penney auto, and Olive Garden.

While this mall including the outer businesses had plenty of restaurants, this mall never did construct a food court. The inside mall eateries were scattered throughout the mall.

Then, sometime around the late 80's, Gurnee Mills opened its doors just 4 miles from Lakehurst. While some will argue this wasn't the fault of Lakehurst's demise, it certaintly didn't help.

Soon after, the Jacob's group based in Cleveland purchased the mall but they never seemed to really care what happened. Businesses throughout the 90's started pulling out of the mall at an alarming rate. Along with that, J.C. Penney's decided to close underperforming stores and the Lakehurst site was one of them. A couple years later, Ward's also pulled out leaving just Carson Pirie Scott as the lone anchor.

By the late 90's, the mall was probably around 80% vacant. Carson's was still hanging on and were actually doing a good business so they stuck around. Then in 2000, Jacob's informed the remaining tenants that they would be closing the mall for good. They were given 30 days to vacate.

However, Carson's must have struck a deal or legally were able to stay open because as the mall shut its doors, Carson's continued to operate up until January of 2003.

The reason Carsons did leave just a couple months ago is because Jacobs sold the Lakehurst property to the Shaw Group. This new owner is now in the process of tearing down the mall and replacing it with separate retail, office, commercial, and entertainment complexes. Once all of this is completed, the area will be re-named Fountain Square of Waukegan.

As I type this, they just completed tearing down the old J.C Penny building and the wrecking ball continues. I will try and get some pics of the demolition along with other pics of the rest of the mall while its still standing.

Some of the outside businesses are still going but others have closed as well including Service Merchandise, Pizza Hut, Olive Garden, and a La-Z-Boy gallery.

This mall meant alot to me because I grew up with it and would often walk there to hang out and did some highschool jobs. It will be missed.

Gregory Sebben's Commentary:

Posted March 20, 2004 (user submitted)

Built in 1971, the colossal Lakehurst Mall in Waukegan began its life well enough. It boasted some strong anchors (Montgomery Wards, Wieboldts and JC Penney) and one smaller (Carson Pirie Scott). It is/was 2 stories and had a total of 66 stores, and was officially shuttered in 2001 when the last store (Carson Pirie Scott) finally gave up. Wards and JC Penney closed up shop in 1997 after years of unstellar sales.

I never spent any large amount of time there, but have two vivid memories: when I was about 7 years old, my soon-to-be-Aunt was working in a hair salon there, and my Uncle brought me there for a haircut (and to meet her, I guess). I was only 7, so it's possible that my perception was a little off, but the place was so huge and empty feeling that it was kind of scary. This was like 1982 or 1983, and overall, the place was still doing okay, but there were already a few empty stores. We had lunch at some kind of restaurant there too, but I can't remember what the place was called.

My second memory is much more recent, 1993 or 94 to be exact. By this time, the mall was pretty much an empty shell and a massive, white-elephant eyesore. It hadn't been remodeled since the 70s or so and showed it's age. Wards and JC Penney were soon to pack up and leave. However, there WAS still one excellent reason to go there: the awesome movie theatre! The theatre was separate from the mall itself (actually, an outlying building) and in 1993-94 I was going to a community college, and took a date to see some movie at this theatre. It was kind of freaky: a smallish, modern, well-maintained theatre in a huge empty parking lot with the behemoth that was/is Lakehurst Mall behind it.

Today, Lakehurst Mall is in the process of demolition (and unlike many others which are partially torn down and then left standing for years and decades, they're really pulling this one down). Plans are to open a casino on the spot to bring some sorely needed money into Waukegan.

So what killed Lakehurst Mall? Several things come to mind. The primary nail in the coffin was the construction of the ultra-trendy, fresh, gargantuan Gurnee Mills a short distance away (approx 10-15 minutes drive, if I remember correctly). Gurnee Mills has EVERYTHING, and looks great to boot. Another big killer was the inability to attract fresh, new stores to replace the old-school anchors who left. When Wards and Penneys packed out, their large store buildings stood empty for years, which is never a great way to ensure customer flow or a sales pitch for new tenants. The last straw was the overall decaying look of the place. As stated, it was very outdated, particularly when compared to other North Chicago suburban malls (Northbrook Court, Old Orchard, Hawthorne) which have undergone regular updates over the years and as a result, almost always have full tenant capacity and get tons of business to their anchors.

It's sort of sad to see an old timer like Lakehurst go, but it's probably better than letting it crumble for decades and become another Dixie Square Mall.

Photos:

Demolition Photos - by Jon Revelle

Links:

Lakehurst Mall LakehurstMall.net, Nicole Yugovich's cool site
Lakehurst Mall - Jon Revelle's Lakehurst Mall site

Bing Bird's Eye View:

Lakehurst mall from a satellite in space









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