Malls of America is a truly great blog. Unlike this scatter shot blog, Malls of America focuses on one thing - "Vintage photos of lost Shopping Malls of the '50s, '60s & '70s."
Its creator, Keith Milford, has managed to gather a fun and impressive collection classic shopping mall photos. Unfortunately he hasn't posted since August 28, 2007. I do not know what's happened to Keith, and it's all rather mysterious if you read the comments on his last post, but hopefully he'll resume posting one day.
In appreciation of Malls of America, I thought I'd share my thoughts and memories about Westland Mall. For those of you not living in the Metro Detroit Area, Westland Mall was built in 1965 and was Michigan's' first enclosed mall. Another fun fact, the mall was built in Nankin Township, which later became the City of Westland - the city took its name from the mall!
When I first viewed Keith's photos of Westland Mall I was surprised by the very powerful rush of nostalgia I felt. It was like finding lost photographs of a beloved relative. I can vividly remember going to Westland with my mother and grandfather as a small child.
I've taken Keith's Westland Mall photos and annotated them with my commentary. I even came up with a few new images and rough sketches of my own (don't get too excited, they're not that great). So here we go...
Westland Mall originally had two main courts - the East Court and West Court. The beautiful East Court was the heart of Westland Mall. The glass elevator, Hudsons's restaurant and a truly great fountain were key attractions for small a child.
East Court Photo #1
1. Hudson's Department Store. This was the main reason my mother shopped at Westland. Hudson's was once a very popular Detroit based department store. Hudson's is no longer in business, and today the stores are all Macy's.
2. Hudson's restaurant. As a kid it was a thrill to eat lunch while sitting next to the railing and that overlooked the court. By the 1980's they didn't allow children to sit next to the railing. Was it an example of the management just being overly cautious, or did one kid ruin it for everybody by nearly killing himself? The Hudson's children's menu came printed on paper cowboy or pirate hat, and they gave you your very own box of crayons (see crayons pic). As you can see from the photo, the crayons are FUN to the fourth power.
3. The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg statue. This became something of a playscape for kids to climb on. If you were agile and small enough you could slide though the hole created by the goose's neck. I remember really whacking my chin on one of my attempts to do this. I didn't cry, but was rather shaken up. Some time later they put a fence around it to keep the kids off. The last time I saw the goose it had been moved outdoors in front of Hudson's.
East Court Elevator Photo
The magical glass elevator. Sure the ironwork is a little cheesy even by 1960's standards, but check out at that illuminated ceiling (#1). It almost looks like it could be one of the last works of Matisse with its bright primary colored shapes (too bad the photo is BW). I can remember staring at that as a kid not sure if they were supposed to be leaves, bugs or what.
East Court Photo #2
1. The Greatest Fountain on Earth Ever (or GFOEE for short). I honestly say that without much exaggeration. Sure today there are bigger fountains that put on bigger shows (like the fountains at the Bellagio), but pound-for-pound the GFOEE has them all beat. Not only does the fountain cycle through many different spraying patterns, but it also has colored lights (the snooty Bellagio doesn't have colored lights). Notice the nice extra wide edge around the GFOEE, it was perfect for little boys to lay on their stomach and stick their fingers over the outer ring of nozzles. Can you touch the fountains at the Bellagio? Ha, you can't even come within a 100 feet of them.
2. Real Art by Real Artists. This is a kinetic sculpture by George Ricky (1907-2002) titled "Columns –V." This art consisted of approximately 30-foot brass spears delicately balanced so they gently sway with the air currents. Sadly it's not at Westland any longer. But good news everybody, you can still see this unique art in action now at the DIA. It's a shame real art like this is non-existent in today's malls.
East Court Photo #3
In this shot of the opposite side of the East Court you can just barely see Hughes & Hatcher at the a back (#1). This now defunct men's clothing store was notable for having a basement (which a handful of Westland stores had). What made H&H special for a kid was a brown tiled reflecting pool in the basement level that you could see from the courtyard level. I didn't throw my pennies into the GFOEE, but I'd toss a penny here because it was more exciting to see it drop 16 feet to the pool below. If this was hard to visualize I made a cutaway sketch to illustrate (see Hughes & Hatcher pic). There was some sculpture on a pedestal in the pool too – which I think was a copy of the Thinker.
The West Court is the lesser of Westland's two original courtyards. It had its charms, but couldn't compete with the much grander East Court.
West Court BW Photo
1. Sam Raimi's mother's store. I had no idea it was there, or how long it lasted, well, because little boys don't usually keep an eye on ladies clothing stores.
2. Jack and the Beanstalk sculpture. Now this I did keep on. Even as a child I noticed how it looked like it was going to grow right through the skylight, and for I while I actually thought it might be getting taller each time I saw it. I also liked the green and blue lights that illuminated the base.
3. A & H Butcher shop. Here's something you won't find in today's malls (heck you can't even find a Hickory Farms now), and I don't remember it much. But it did have a certain kind of "Trader Joe's" odor if I recall which you could smell even when walking by. A furniture store was next door to the right, and may have even eventually took over the butcher shop too. The furniture store had a lower basement level that was crazy huge. I think it may have reached as far back a Hudson's
4. Kroger Grocery Store. Directly behind the photographer was a Kroger grocery store. In the mid 70's the mall added a new corridor with JC Penney as Westland's second major department store, and a helpful reader has informed me that the Kroger moved to a near by strip mall. About the only thing I can remember about the grocery store was this gingham cartoon elephant was hanging from the ceiling of the store (see Toppie the Elephant pic). He was life-size (well maybe cow size), and I think he was made from some sort of paper mache.
West Court Color Photo
1. Birds and Fish. When you walk down this corridor from the east to west court you could view Westland's birds and fish. First was the birds who were enclosed in a floor to ceiling circular cage with a fake mountain in the center (see birdcage sketch). The mountain had a stream of water the spiraled down the outside. I'd guess there were about 2 dozen parakeets that lived in this cage, and for a parakeet it was pretty swanky digs.
Next was a large hexagonal or octagonal (I don't remember the exact number of sides) freshwater fish tank (see aquarium sketch). If you were a small child it was hard to look in the tank. You could try to stand on the base, but the base was smaller than the tank was round. This made it very awkward to get a peak.
2. Kresge. Before there was K Mart there was the Kresge. This store had escalators in the center that took you into the basement. Okay that's not very exciting, but stores with basement levels are totally gone from Westland to the best of my knowledge. It's probably due to fire and ADA codes.
3. Silver Fish Sculptor & fountain. As a fountain it couldn't compete the GFOEE. It was mostly a reflecting pool with a few small water jets in it. But if you were looking for a big abstract silver fish here it was.
That's it. I wish Westland Mall still looked like this today. I was there about five years ago, and it was rather heart breaking. Misguided remodeling has erased most all of the mall's original retro charm.
Thanks to Keith for his great photographs, and a sincere hope he returns to posting at his Malls of America blog.