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.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Scent of Mystery Still Stinks

After intense public demand, and for the first time on the interweb, I proudly present the "Official Clue Card" for the classic 1960 film Scent of Mystery.

Actually there was no public demand, and this card is from the 1985 showing on MTV which you could purchase for a buck at 7-11 stores. It's sort of amazing that MTV ran a rather dull and obscure 25 year old (at the time) mystery movie - even with the scratch and sniff card gimmick. They'd never run such a film today, but maybe they could try a scratch and sniff version of Laguna Beach.

When the film was originally released there was a machine that pumped the scents into the theater, but from all reports it didn't work very well. I've read the machine held 50 scents, but the card only gives you 30. Looking back now I feel short changed on smells.

Side 1

I'm happy to report the scratch and sniff card still works. Talic being the strongest of the scents, which you don't even have to scratch to smell. The strawberry and rose scents are pleasant enough, but the popcorn is just bizarre and indescribable. I guess a fake popcorn smell was beyond the grasp of science.

Side 2

I debated if I should even post this. I doubt anyone cares about a 1985 MTV scratch and sniff card for a forgotten movie. But then I thought if I don't post this who will? And it's my duty as a blogger to fill the internet up with crap nobody cares about. That's what we bloggers do dammit!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another Hole

The Blue Hole in Castalia Ohio is no longer with us. Well the hole is still there, but it's no longer open as a tourist attraction.


I never visited the Blue Hole, so any "Hole Fans" reading this feel free to call me out, but the Blue Hole was simply a spring fed pond. It looked like a perfectly delightful place to have a picnic, but let's face it, as a tourist attraction it was pretty lame.


I do admire the showmanship of the Blue Hole owners. In their brochure they make the pond sound as exciting as they possibly can. First they never refer to it as a pond, and play up the "fact" that its depth is unknown - that's a good start. Then they manage to make the pedestrian information seem almost impressive: "48 degrees winter and summer," water flow "7,519 gallons per minute," and it's "not affected by floods or drought."

Unfortunately they didn't invent a legend of a spooky creature or magical being living in the hole. They really dropped the ball here because in their history they do talk about an Indian Village and "large medicine camp" near the Blue Hole, and that's fertile ground for some sort of ancient mystical myth. As I kid I would have gladly stared into a pond for who knows how long if I thought I could catch a glimpse of some monster.

Inside flap and Back

From what I've read online the Blue Hole was in operation from the 1930's to 1990. With Cedar Point so close by the Blue Hole never stood a chance. Cedar Point has been in operation since the late 1800's, and how could a pond ever compete with an amusement park. Maybe they thought they could sorta ride Cedar Point's coattails, and I guess it worked for about 60 years. Eventually time caught up the non-thrill attraction of the Blue Hole, but even a child or adult of the 1930's (or any time period) would rather ride a roller coaster than watch pond water wouldn't they?

PS: It was difficult to write this post and use the words "blue" and "hole" so many times, and not make an X-rated Smurf joke.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

My First Hole

That first time.

These are experiences in every boys life that become a touchstone of going maturity. Sometimes it's scary or awkward, as first times usually are, but they become adventures that he'll remember for the rest of his life.

On a family vacation when I was about 10 years old I experienced my first time with one of the wonders of Mother Nature. I took my first trip into a cave.

We were driving from Michigan to Florida down I-75, and once you cross into Tennessee you're hit with a seemingly never ending barrage of billboards for 3 big tourist attractions: Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Lost Sea. I had picked up a brochure for the Lost Sea, and became quite curious about the "world's largest underground lake."

Front and back of old Lost Sea brochure

Look at that tiny little boat floating in that vast underground chamber. To our super advanced futuristic 2008 eyes that picture of the boat looks pretty suspicious. But to the eyes of a kid back in the day before the internets it looked totally real, and a amazing adventure. Who knows what kind of strange cave creatures could be swimming in that water?

I suggested to my parents we should see the Lost Sea, and surprisingly with no resistance they agreed.

Here's a funny note for future travelers to the Lost Sea. I don't know if this is still true, but once you exit the interstate there are Lost Sea signs directing you that read, "15 minutes to the Lost Sea" and "5 minutes to the Lost Sea." None of the signs gave you the actual distance. Maybe they thought listing the actual distance would be off putting to motorists. All I know is that these signs frustrated my father because it took a lot longer to reach the Lost Sea than the signs had told us.

Inside of old Lost Sea brochure

Once we arrived at the Lost Sea me and my father bought tickets (my mother decided to wait for us spelunkers above ground). Once inside the entrance building there are glass doors to the ominous entrance tunnel.

The mildly hypnotic entrance tunnel to the Lost Sea

Seeing that entrance tunnel for the first time was a little intimidating as kid. The thought quickly went through my head that maybe I didn't want to see the Lost Sea after all. But before I had time to give it a second thought we were quickly ushered down the tunnel to our waiting tour group.

Front and back of a newer Lost Sea brochure

Well I won't go into great detail, but my experience at the Lost Sea was awesome and it started a lifelong fascination with caves.

Inside of newer Lost Sea brochure
(If you didn't notice they dropped the misleading tiny boat pics)

During my adventure in the Lost Sea it never occurred to me that the picture of the boat on brochure was grossly exaggerated. It was just cool to take a boat ride in a cave - even if I didn't discover any strange new cave creatures.


Related Posts with Thumbnails