James P's Commentary

Posted April 29, 2006 (user submitted)

Baystate West, now re-named Tower Square, was a true urban mixed-use mall, built within a large city block in the center of downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, a smaller former industrial city of about 140,000 in western Massachusetts. Located on the Connecticut River about 40 miles north of Hartford, CT, Springfield is also the county seat of Hampden County and is home to several colleges, some major insurance and finance companies, still some major manufacturing and the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Originally concieved of in 1962 by a business consortium called Springfield CBD, Inc., Baystate West struggled to get off the ground until it was fully taken over and financed by the locally based, and deep-pocketed MassMutual Insurance Co. The mall, office tower and hotel finally opened in 1970 and for a time was Springfield's answer to the decline of its center city. Built for $52 million, Baystate West was located along Main Street on its eastern side and conveniently sited at the foot of the elegant Memorial Bridge connecting West Springfield with downtown, across the Connecticut River. Along its western side is a Marriott Hotel overlooking the river, and faces Interstate 91, which connects the city to the rest of New England. The architecure of the complex itself is early 70's modern, with clean lines and massing, it is a formidable precast concrete, brick and glass complex. O has been somewhat altered from its original state, but actually still looks much like it did on opening day.

First some facts. The mall itself is approximately 200,000 sf on two levels, in what is a cross shaped interior plan. A large central court acts as the center of the complex and contains a pair of escalators and a concrete grid ceiling. The interior has been altered significantly since it was originally built, losing one of its early and coolest features, a gigantic spinning polished metal cube, that was suspended from the ceiling. This feature needs to be archived and I can remember seeing a very old copy of Archtiectural Record with the cube and mall interior on its cover....very 70's. A globe spray jet fountain also sat off to one side and was very vintage 70's, but it was actaully well scaled for the space it was in. The interior flooring is now a mix of faux brick pavers, spanish tile and some finer stones on the upper level. Until a large two story glass window was installed in 1997 (about the time they re-named the mall Tower Square) the mall had almost no natural light, since sitting on top of the mall is a four level, 1200 car parking garage, a 300,000 sf, 27 story office tower and a 10 story Marriott Hotel and meeting complex. On the roof of the parking garage, the original design had a roof garden with a fountain, plazas and sitting areas, and I think a restaurant as well. I am not sure that any of this remains or is used, but it was a nice feature for its time.

Even though the mall still exists and is open as a retail center, it really no longer functions as it once did as the center of the retail core of downtown, and you can question whether or not it qualifies as dead.....on life support maybe, but it still contains many local services and a good size food court, but is mostly serves the downtown office population and a few residents.

Baystate West itself was located on a central downtown block between the city's two major department stores, The Albert Steiger Co, a higher end fashion store, and Forbes & Wallace, a traditional old-line family department store. It was connected to both by wide and huge 'merchandised' bridges. In the case of Forbes & Wallace, the store itself was extended across the bridge to act as though it were directly part of the mall as opposed to across the street. The bridge to Steiger's had some small women's apparel shop and I remember a card store that you went by before you entered the store itself. The mall had a collection of what were then decent mall stores...Waldenbooks, Stuarts and Marriane for women, Chess King, Thom McAnn shoes and later on, a Limited store, a Friendly's Ice Cream shop and several nice jewelers, many of whom I think relocated here when the mall opened. I only remember being there once as a kid, and then when some friends went to college in the 80's, visiting there more often, especially after MassMutual put some money into it and renovated it, and added a food court too.

Baystate West's demise was slow and really had more to do with external forces than being a bad or poorly designed complex. In fact, the mall actually did some good for the city, by stabilizing the downtown retail area for a time, and it spurred a lot of redevelopment including the civic center arena, some apartments and condos and a several new office towers and a new federal building in its early years. What happened to the mall was what has happened almost everywhere; competition from bigger malls nearby, the decline of the city's manufacturing base and growing minority poulation, and the demise of the department stores all contributed to its present state.

Early on, Forbes & Wallace went out of business in either 1974 or must have been a sudden move, since it made all the news broacasts and newspapers for days afterward. Its L-shaped, elegant building was torn down in the early 80's and was replaced by another huge commercial complex called Monarch Place, with a 30 story office tower for (at the time, the Bank of New England) a Sheraton hotel with a dramatic 12 story atrium and parking and some small street level stores on its Main Street side. It was connected to Baystate West by a glass bridge, the merchandised bridge being torn down when the Forbes & Wallace building was demolished. Along the way, Springfield was ringed by three large suburban malls that pretty much killed off the suburban shopper who had more convenient alternatives. On the south side, over the Connecticut state border was Enfield Square mall, built in 1971, with 700,000 sf with branches of Hartford's G. Fox & Co, a branch of Steiger's and J.C.Penney. Today that mall is called Westfield Enfield (great name, huh?) with Filene's (soon Macy's) Target, Sears and a cinema. On the east side of Springfield, and within the city's borders was the 600,000 sf Eastfield Mall with Steiger's, Sears, and (replacing the Forbes & Wallace branch store) J.C.Penney. Today the Steiger's store is a Filene's as well. Then, as if this wasn't enough, the Pyramid Companies from upstate New York, came in and built 'Holyoke Mall at Ingleside' (this name is really strange, as though they don't want to admit they are really in Holyoke, an interesting but very run-down old mill town) around 1980. Now expanded to over a million and a half s.f., this mall pretty much nailed the coffin for downtown Springfield and it totally killed off what little was left in downtown Holyoke. Today the mall has Filene's, JCPenney, Sears, Target, Dick's sporting goods, Best Buy and Christmas Tree Shops and over 200 stores....not a small place.

Baystate West held on for a while, although it slowly bled its better stores to the malls and shopping plazas thorughout the late 80's and early 90's. The knock-out punch was the takover and closing of Steiger's by the May Department Store Company in 1994. Typical of such moves, they bought only selected suburban sites and gave the city the buildling and land of the downtown store, which finally closed its art deco, five level location in 1995. Only a few years later, I think in 1998, the city tore down the Steiger's building (and its merchandised bridge too) and made it into a downtown green and events plaza. Needless to say, the mall had to be reinvented to more or less cater to the daytime local office workers, visitors and residences, so it remains to this day, but as Tower Square. You can visit its web site, , where there is a cool picture of the new glass walled corner, and see what stores are left. Not many that anyone would recognize in this age of national chains. It is a relic from the days when shopping downtown still meant the big department stores and local shops with character, and a unique mall that didn't sprawl on forever across the landscape.

Links - Malls Of America Retro Postcard of Mall (includes the giant cube!)
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