Sunday, January 27, 2008

Memories of Westland Mall

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.

Hudson's Crayons

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.

Hughes & Hatcher

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.

Toppie the Elephant

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.


Jay Amabile said...

This is seriously a fantastic post. This mall had an amazing look to it. I have an obsession with retro malls also and love the Malls of America blog also. I wish I had all the photos and info about my favorite mall like you do about Westland. That elevator was awesome.

Dawn Mullally said...

I think the ceiling of the elevator had an almost Escheresque mixture of blue and green fish and maybe birds. It was very cool. I miss the goose also. I remember when you could play on it in the seventies. I think some kid got stuck in the circle where the neck leaned on the body and then they barred it off. I recall the pattern of the stone that the goose was made off was kind of funky - not exactly natural. Thanks for the nostalgic walk!

Pamela said...

Thank you so much for your post about Westland Mall. I adored that place as a child and have fond memories of the fountain, the elevator and the Goose statue. I had almost forgotten about the beautiful birdcage until I read your post. OMG how I loved that thing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pictures and memories. Getting hot turkey sandwiches at Kresge. Being afraid to go near the glass wall at the huge escalators. Also rememeber the strange basement area, looked like mall in Clockwork orange, neon signs and bathrooms having pay stalls.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the photos and blog. It did bring back a rush of memories from my childhood, especially the goose sculpture and Kresge. I think bought my first bra at Kresge..ha!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I grew up in a small town near the Ohio border, but when I was small, once a year, my mother, grandmother and I would travel to a mall in the Detroit area. It was quite the adventure for a farm girl at that time. my mom and grandmother have passed away, and I couldn't remember he name of the mall, until I came upon your post. What a nice trip down memory lane! I especially remember the glass elevator. My grandmother was afraid of escalators, so we used the elevator instead.

Kelly Slack Gray said...

I can't believe I found these wonderful pictures of some of my favorite childhood memories!! I was trying to describe this mall to a friend, and I knew I was just not doing it justice! It's funny to read how people remember the details, and we all remember the details differently, and yet each shared memory helps us recall our own,... gosh how I loved Being able to visit the Westland mall sometimes a few times each week, but always on the weekend. I wish there were actual pictures of the fish tank and the bird aviary, because in my child's mind, they were both so much larger than the drawings, and because I was very tall for my age , I never had a hard time seeing into either tank or cage! I must have spent hours gazing at those fish and birds, just amazed, and all for free! My childhood was pretty fabulous!!!

Anonymous said...

Do you remember the William J. Bono Coin & Stamp shop down in the basement of Westland Mall? This was where I would hang out when my mother went cloth shopping for me. There was a Jewelry shop on the corner and shoe repair shop down there as well. I think there may have been a toy store with a arcade game called Wizard of Wor. What memories do you have of the basement?

David W. said...

Your "basement" memories are probably better than mine. I do remember the Coin & Stamp shop, and I think a barber shop was down there too. As a previous commenter said it, "looked like mall in (the)Clockwork orange" - it that that weird vibe to it. I don't think there was ever a toy store down there. Although there was once a Circus World toy shop on the upper level.

WLND-David said...

David W.- I too miss Keith's page updates. Let's hope he is in good health and gets back to his blog.

Hudson's' restaurant was "The Terrace"; Sam's Mom's store was "Raimi's Curtains"; The furniture store was "Triangle Furniture" and featured a bridge to cross (and look down from) upon entering the store. I do have a couple of pics I could share but don't see how to attach them.

Dawn- "The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg" is made from "Cast Terrazzo" and the egg was cast brass. It was intended as a childs playscape by the artist, Samuel Cashwan.

Annon 4- Buono's was originally "Cherry Hill Stamp & Coin" and when the shopping center first opened it was in the company of other "Concourse" (as it was known then) stores; "Benard's Hair Stylist"; "Elliot Travel Service"; "Hamby's Barber Shop"; "Red Carpet Sandwich Shop"; "Ross Music Co"; "Westland Watch & Jewelry Repair" and the U.S. Post Office.

Anonymous said...

YOU FORGOT ENGLANDER TRIANGLE!!!! They had such fun, funky furniture and also a basement.

Anonymous said...

I work in the receiving area of KOHLS which is in the lower level of what was once HUGHES & HATCHER MENS WEAR. Its been reconfigured when they built MAINSTREET/KOHLS, but there are so many leftover remnants and reminders of what was. Your diagram of the stairwell at the entrance of H & H got me involved and now I cant stop. The stairway reinforcements are still visible as is the pool foundation. The elevator is still in use and there is a wood floor room that I am still trying to find out what that room was. The public restrooms are there but not in use. Hughes & Hatcher was most certainly a very large store.

WLND-David said...

Ah, yes, I stand corrected. The name of the furniture store was indeed Englander-Triangle

Anonymous said...

This is a terrific post. Our family spent a lot of time there in the early 70's and we share a lot of the same memories. Sliding through the neck of the goose! Unlike a lot of later malls, Westland really did have a community feel. There was also a small basement retail level under the East Court that had a barber shop, stamp and coin shop and record store, in addition to the Hudson's basement.

Architect Victor Gruen had an interesting and very influential career.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post. I have many fond memories of going to the Westland Mall as a child. I have often reflected on how I took it for granted! Thank you for reminding me about the "abstract silver fish"-- I had forgotten that! I remember playing on the goose, and shopping with my mother at the "Rainbow Shop", which was in Hudson ' s basement--it was where their sale items were. Also, Sanders!! I remember them having the best chocolate sodas! SUCH a treat!

Anonymous said...

When we were teenagers in the early 1970's we lived in Westland, MI. We went to Westland Mall all the time!!
My sister and I loved to shop at Marianne's clothing store. I believe there was a Thom McAn shoe shore and a Kresge store too.
We liked to treat ourselves to a "fancy" lunch at Hudson's or a dessert at Sander's.
The golden goose and glass elevator were usual stops on our shopping trips.
Back then, Kresge's was as far as the mall went ... then they eventually extended the mall and made it bigger.
Thanks for this site and the memories!! :)

Virtually Unknown said...

I worked at the Pretzel Pedler in my teen years and remember Winklemans and Baker Shoes. Going to Westland Mall on Saturday was a highlight for my mom who didn’t drive at that time my dad would always take her.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what special memories I have of Westland Mall. I remember what an exciting event it was when the mall opened. I recall going with my parents to see Denny McClain perform on the organ and also to car shows and carnivals they would have in the hugh parking lot. My dad worked at JL Hudsons as a part time job and I would hang around there often. The mall had such style and class looking back on it. We moved away when I was 15, but I returned for college and ended up working at a store called LG Haig Shoes in the mall. they had started the expansion around that time. Thank you for posting this information. It really has fond memories for me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this trip down memory lane. My Mom took me to Westland when it opened in 1965. I was enthralled as a kid by the fountain and Jack's beanstalk which seemed to reach right up through the roof, and all the works of art (I particularly liked the mice acrobats which nobody but me seems to remember) - I believe they were somewhere in the West corridor outside Kresge's (which at that time was the end of the mall). Nobody seems to have any photos of the mice, the bird cage or the aquarium. Those were favorite meeting spots. When they remodeled it completely lost its charm and became just another mall. Sad. It would truly be a cool place if they had left it as it was 50 years ago.


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