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  • Northland Shopping Center Artifacts

    Posted on January 2nd, 2006 Toby Weiss 32 comments
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    Let’s carry the story into 2006, by sharing what I saved from Northland Shopping Center.
    Reminder: Should you want it, the entire story is here, and enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

    Northland’s main sign (above, left) stood diagonal to the West Florissant and Lucas & Hunt intersection. For decades, it was the community’s bulletin board.
    When its demolition date arrived, they obviously didn’t bother to dismantle it; they just crushed and whisked (most of) it away. Broken pieces of the big plastic letters were partially buried in the dirt. The “R” (above, right) was the only letter that remained recognizable. In my backyard, it certainly does look like a haggard “P,” yes.

    The Northland Cinema (above, top) was built in 1967. I took the last pictures in Spring 2002, including the pool-side-fabulous lobby (above, bottom left). Darren Snow and I visited on July 2002, and the cinema had been thoroughly demolished, the last of its remains in a few large trash dumpsters nearby. To which D. pulled his pickup alongside so I could climb atop the roof and get into the trash dumpsters, desperate to get a recognizable souvenir. My only “save” was a single, baby blue ceramic tile (above, bottom right) that was once part of the ladies’ restroom sink backsplash. It’s only 1″ square, inconsequential at best, but simply holding it makes me feel way better than any new age crystals they sell.

    On that same day, we waded through the forest of fallen light poles (above, left) that once surrounded the Cinema. The metal parking-place reminders that hung around each pole turned out to be rather huge. Darren was the toolbox-wielding hero (above, middle) who patiently cracked decades of rust and snagged us some parking reminders. “A13” is somewhat heavy and bulky (above, right), but that’s what makes it the perfect sunroom muddy-shoe-holder.

    The former Baker’s Shoes storefront (above, top left) yielded a few treasures. The original door pulls (above, bottom left) were long-coveted, and once vandals broke a display window, I was able to get in and take the handles, which had been sitting on the vacant countertop (top red arrow in top left picture) for over 2 years. They are gorgeous.

    During a summer 2005 visit, Rob Powers was dead-set on having the Baker’s store address (above, bottom middle). Rightly so, because it’s in that smart Lever House font. I dragged a 6 ft. ladder down from the (now easily accessible) Former Kresge. Darren’s magic toolbox had the right size screwdriver. Rob spent a good 15-minutes of cursing under his breath, and finally dislodged (above, bottom right) the Dirty 30. Since he was so diligent, he deserved to keep it.

    I also had to take a brick from Baker’s (above, top right). Special Nerd Note about this photo: the Baker’s brick is sitting atop a limestone brick from the old Cross Keys Shopping Center. It was part of the former Kroger grocery store facade.

    Baker’s Shoes eventually became Kingsbury Shoes (above, left) and the hanging promenade sign (above, top right) eventually became mine (above, bottom right) after the wrecking ball smashed this section into dust.

    From the Former Famous-Barr (above, top left), I dragged off a stone brick (above, top right). A few days later, Brett Reagan (above, middle right) brought along his pickup truck to help me gather more FB stuff, like a chair (above, bottom right) that came from the FB Human Resources office. I figured out its provenance from there being so many of these desk chairs sitting nearby the Employment Office entrance. Plus, after 13.5 years as a Famous-Barr advertising employee, I was overly familiar with the furniture in the areas where folks filled out employment applications.

    The FB door pulls (above, middle left) were something I always longed for, and I now had clear access to removing them, but we had no frickin’ tools! While we stood talking inside the building, we kicked at piles of debris and up popped a solo door pull! The sucker (above, bottom left) easily weighs 10 pounds, and is dashing in its modern simplicity.

    More FB fixture finds include a fire alarm (above, left) and a tin placard that Michael Allen pulled from an AC unit (above, right) and was so kind as to let me keep.

    I waited a couple of weeks for the sign revealed in the FB window (above, left) to become available. So, it’s large but it’s old foam core, so it shouldn’t have been a problem, right? Oh man, it was brittle, large and awkward (above, right) and was the hardest thing to load into Brett’s truck.

    The begrudgingly optimistic sign (above, left) that sat inside the former candy store’s vacant display window was eventually scooped up by me as it fluttered by in a post-demolition wind.

    The sign died in the above, left windows, and later I got a patch of the ceramic tile (above, right) that covered the display facade.

    The exterior stairwells of the Northland Office Building (above, left) were wings of metal, concrete and Mondrian stained glass (above, top right). During demolition, the glass fell to become candy sprinkles on the sidewalk. I oh-so-carefully carried off some really sharp shards (above, bottom right), and they never fail to remind me of so many moments of sunlit abstract beauty in the stairwells.

    The ground floor lobby of the Office Building (above, top left & right) was straightforward linear, with its only organic texture being the tile walls. One had to stand right against it to notice how jet-age loopy the rock pattern was. I later learned a deep appreciation for those rock walls only after I got a chunk of it (above, bottom left). Those are halved pebbles of polished granite embedded in a sand base. My little piece has heft and presence, and the “Made In Italy” stamped on the side (above, bottom right) reveals a high price tag, even back in the mid-50s. Which just highlights how Northland developers and architects never skimped on materials. The construction and the finishes were for important permanent buildings, so they figured the cost was worth it. So, cost pro-rated by 50 years, they probably got their money’s worth…

    The former Kresges at Northland was my Xanadu, and while I got a few things, I never got the chance to thoroughly dig through the guts in search of authentic Kresge souvenirs. The wrecking ball and rain got to it before I got a final crack at. But I did get to tear off a piece (above, bottom right) of Kresge’s upper level facade (above, top). Those sheets of coral and red enameled metal were screwed on for eternity, and I even lost my best screwdriver in the fray, but I won the fight (above, bottom left) and took away a valid, solid chunk of S.S. Kresge & Co.

    On another day, I was happy to just get an original thermostat cover (above, left & right).

    But for me, the most-coveted item in the place was the original Coke-Cola clock (above, top left). Forever it hung on the back wall of the upper floor; when Conine said to meet her by the cash registers in 15 minutes, that clock kept me from losing solo toy browsing privileges. At some point, a cat lover permanently altered the clock face, but I still wanted it bad.

    Many times I tried to work up the nerve to walk inside as McCrory Furniture staff cleared out the store, and simply ask if I could have the clock. But if they knew it was important to me, they’d want to sell it for some absurd amount, I’d refuse and they’d keep the clock to spite me. That’s how revved up I was about snagging the clock – imaging fights with furniture storeowners.

    I kept a vigilant eye, and finally Powers, Snow and I had unrestricted access and a ladder. Despite repeated attempts, we couldn’t budge the giant, heavy clock from the wall, and my heart was breaking. I was so close, the clock is right here in my hands and I can’t have it! Just cruel.

    About a week later, Vince Mattina and I found the clock had been carefully removed from the wall, and sitting on the floor not too far from where it hung (above, middle left). It’s way too big to fit into my car, but what about just taking the clock face? The hands (above, middle right) had to be removed in order to free the face plate, and I failed miserably at it, almost snapping off the hands in anger. Vince was far less emotional about it, and methodically removed the hands (“Now, you have to save these, too. It’s the best part.”) without aid of tools. My hero, Vinceman, freed the clock hands and face, helped me cart out the bounty, and even took my picture (above, bottom) with the hard-won prize. It was a triumphant moment of relief and happiness, certainly the biggest mount in my trophy room (above, top right).

    The stairwells at Northland (above, right) were always a visual and physical delight. On one visit, one of the canister lights (above, left) had fallen down onto the stairs. The scale of Northland was so large that all ornament on it seemed normal-sized when seen from the sidewalk. But when finally right up on a piece, it was overwhelmingly large. This canister light was monstrous. So huge that I had to pass on carting it off, and I regret not having made the effort. It would have made a unique and durable trash can.


    And here’s the last piece of Northland I own (above). I have no idea exactly which store it came from; it peeked out from a pile of debris on the northern lower level, so I scooped it up. This one square foot ceramic glazed tile summarizes the Northland in my mind. That particular shade of blue is so mid-century modern, so cocktail lounge cool, so New Frontier. It’s the big brother to the little sister Northland Cinema tile. If all my Northland artifacts were in book form, this tile would be the cover.
    A warm “thank you” to all the people who helped me cart off “chapters” of the Northland story.

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    32 Responses to “Northland Shopping Center Artifacts”

    1. That was touching, my friend. Almost obsessive-disturbing, but touching.

    2. Thanks so much for posting this! I grew up in nearby Berkeley in the 60s, and on many occasions my brother and I would join my Mom for a day of shopping at Northland. I remember it vividly, in particular the wall decor in Famous-Barr, the cool chrome table lamps with blue bulbs in the cosmetics department, and best of all, the “Jade Room” dining room. We ate lunch there on a number of occasions; it was a classic old-school department store dining room with excellent food and luxurious decor.

      I still have a book I purchased from the book department at the Northland Famous on what may have been my last visit there, with my grandparents for a birthday dinner and a movie.

      Regards!

    3. Thanks for sharing the info about Northland. Steve Patterson gave me your blog info. I went to Northland mainly in the 80’s and early 90’s and have fond memories of the bowling alley, Famous Barr, Kregskey’s (sp?) (before McCroy’s), Radio Shack & Walgreens before the fire. Schnucks was before ALDI’s was present. I could go on… My grandmother worked there for many years. In fact she said she was there for when JFK appeared. I remember when they used to put up large Holiday Candles before they put up the more permanant fixtures on the sides of the walls. My grandmother passed away on Easter of last year (2005). Pretty wild that the old Northland has been put to rest since my grandmother has passed.

    4. I was there with my mom and aunt the day Northland opened. I lived in Country Club Hills and made the trip on my bicycle, walking and later in my car. I was there the day JFK spoke from the medical building. I moved away in the early 70’s however came back to visit my mom and dad which usually included a trip or two to Northland. From the firworks display to all the carnivals and my first date at Northland Bowl it was a big part of me as was that whole area which will be and is missed. <

    5. The Northland Shopping center was designed starting in 1953 by a team of three designers that practiced for the firm Russell, Vugglardt, Schwarz and Vanhoefen. The three designers/architects were Herb Vanhoefen, E J Thias and Dick Hemmi. The team of architects set out to design the most modern shopping area of that time. They used what designers consider permanent materials like stone, brick, and stainless steal trims and designed the shopping not to deteriorate. The 20 million dollar budget at that time was the largest budget to date for a shopping area in the United States.
      The ribbon cutting was a major event as my father E J Thias recalls. I came upon this blog while researching for an article I am writing for a trade publication. I am sure that my father will be so happy to find out that the mall that he was part of brought so much enjoyment and fond memories for so many. It is so sad that it was demolished to build a generic big box (dead architecture) discount store. For more information about E J Thias and view some of this watercolors, renderings and a watercolor of his studio home, visit website http://www.paperpetals.com. and click on Artists petal.

    6. St. Louis to Boston

      This certainly brings back a lot of memories – thank you!

      I grew up in Walnut Park, and then my family moved to Jennings. I spent my teenage years at Northland and RiverRoads. I learned to drive in the Northland Parking lot. Spent New Years Eve 1978 with my girl friend at the movies, the movie title I can’t remember. I worked at So Fro Fabrics for a short while stocking shelves and accepting inventory. I worked at the McDonalds down the road, so I passed Northland almost everyday. Went to Popes, bowling alley, and Schuncks grocery (where they had a small movie theater showing cartoons while your parents shopped). Gosh, a lot of memories from the early sixties though the early eighties. Thanks again.

    7. The year was 1977, I just turned 17, I walked into Famous-Barr, and was hired as a stockman for the basement floor of the store, I worked there for almost two years.I saw a lot of the store that customers didnt get to see, there were stockrooms that went all around the store and the basement below the basement floor was a world all its own, the stories I could tell of my time working at Famous….ah, just one for now, like riding on TOP of the customer elevator…oh and turning all the lights out in the whole store after closing at night and walking around in the store, bringing the receipt trunk down from the third floor for pick up…want to hear more…email me…

    8. ALthough I am way to young to remember when the Northland was a booming mall (as I was born in the early 80’s). My grandma and mother always shopped at Northland. We still live a few blocks away from Northland (off of Cozens). There a still a handul of white people in our neighborhood. The new Target they have built opened Tuesday October 3 with Shnucks the week of the 10th. We have a Footlocker that opened up the same week also. So far that is all that is listed of the new stores. There are several places still for lease. Thanks for this website.

    9. I am a supervisor for Target and was just transfered to the new Target in Jennings in late August. To be honest, I never set foot in Jennings until I was transfered from Fenton MO. I didn’t realize such a deep and meaningful history came from the shopping center. The warming stories from the bloggers reminded me of little moments going to the mall (So. county & Crestwood)as a kid. The pictures of the artifacts were amazing. Keep the stories coming.(11/8/06)

    10. Thank you for the Northland piece- we lived within walking distance of Northland until I was in 2nd grade (about 1976). I can remember clear as a bell, the layout of the inside of the bank, the walgreens with restaurant, kresge’s,the grocery store back behind there and the layout of Famous-Barr. ahhh, the good old days….

    11. anyone remember the jade room at Famous….

    12. Thanks man. I wish I could of dug thru the rubble and get some mementos.

      I was born in 65 and grew up in Florissant. As a kid I remember the pretzels at Famous Barr, Kregskey’s for the toys and the movies that I saw some many movies at that theater. My friend cried at “Spoopy Come Home” he was such a jock I never would of thought he would cry. WOW the memories are pouring through my mind I am welling up.

      Thanks again for rekindling my childhood memories.

      Oh I caught the Cross Keys sign and Noah’s Ark. Thanks.

    13. Wow just found this site and now am tempted to drive over and look at this.I grew up in Ferguson and remember ‘walking the tracks’ to Northland all the time with friends in the late 60’s. Remember seeing JFK too even though I was pretty little then.Buying 45’s at the music center then going to Kresges.Searching the floor at Famous for discarded receipts we could redeem for Eagle stamps :)Cherry cokes at the bowling alley ahh almost forgot all that stuff.

    14. Does anyone remember-the bowling alley in the 60’s had go-go girls dancing in cages…heard a few stories about that from my mom-it seems pretty bizarre from todays standards that you could go into a bowling alley and see that,guess it was more in the loung area

    15. OriginalGlitterGirl

      Hi, I came across your site while “Googling” info on “Northland”. (It’s amazing that people–including me! ;)–are still posting comments over a year later! πŸ™‚

      I was born in 1969–the youngest of 3 kids, and we lived off of West Florissant and I-70.
      “Northland” was THE place to shop…and it was GLORIOUS!!! πŸ™‚

      I recall the beautiful stained-glass windows, and the old-fashioned pharmacy. (My pediatrician was located in the area, and we used that pharmacy to fill our prescriptions.)

      My mother used to have to “trick” us into going to the doctor (because, invariably, the dreaded “SHOTS” ALWAYS occured there! The free lollipops were the only “boon”! πŸ™‚

      My fondest memory of “Northland” was of “Famous and Barr’s” FABULOUS TOY DEPARTMENT! It seemed to be a virtual SEA of NEVER-ENDING bliss! It was a CITY OF TOYS! :)…And I was its QUEEN! πŸ™‚

    16. I vividly remember in the 60’s and early 70’s my mom taking us to the woolworth’s to ride the ceiling tram. This tram had 3 or 4 cars each joined with an accordion crawl through connection. we could look down upon shoppers as the tram ran around on the ceiling. At one point the tram went through a large rubber set of doors to the outside of the store and around corner of building and then back in another set of rubber doors to end the ride. I still remember the old wooden stairs and heavy wire mesh in the back of the store where you went up to board the tram. I have talked with several people who said that they had forgotten about the tram until I mentioned it. I would love for someone to send in a picture of this tram.

    17. I grew up in Ferguson and my mother worked at Famous-Barr. I got my first glasses in the office building and bowled at the lanes. You bring back great memories. We used to watch fireworks in the Northland parking lot, sent up from behind the main sign.

      Here is a question – when I was a child in Ferguson, our teacher showed us a “city symphony” style film that had no actors and showcased areas around St. Louis. It prominently showed Northland, brand spanking new. Any chance you know what that film is or how to find it? That’s what I was looking for when I saw your site. Its probably a 30 minute short, not a feature film.

    18. We are in Jennings right now trying to see all of the places where my parents lived and worked in the early 60’s. My parents lived on Lucas-Hunt. My father was on staff at Calvary Baptist Church and worked part-time at Northland Bank. He would walk from the house to work. My mother did a lot of shopping at Northland and especially Famous Barr. Thank you for sharing all of this. They will enjoy the pictures and comments.

    19. Lets see.My mom worked at Famous forever.When I learned to drive I would go wait out front in the car for her to get off work. Had my first wreck in a car in the parking lot. That was back when they were improving the drive thru at the bank.I remember the Halloween paintings on the windows.Going to the stores to buy a 45 record for 50 cents.The mini golf on the corner.The 4th of July fireworks.It was quite a place.

    20. Thanks for the memories. Born in 57 and spent most of my life since in north Saint Louis county less than a handful of miles from Jennings. I Have many fond memories of Northland especially the big red candles on the roof during the holidays, You could see them from hwy 270 and West Florissant at night and combined with the chill in the air you knew Christmas was close. Fast forward nearly 4 decades and I am a laborer for the demo contractor who wrecked Northland – River Roads and a host of other Saint Louis landmarks. Talk about bittersweet.I managed to salvage a couple hundred of the limestone masonry units from the lower level exterior facade. They were destined for the fill pile for the basements but were resurrected as landscaping on a couple of personal projects. Took a few pictures as Famous Barr was dropped I’ll see if I can dig them up and submit them.

    21. Elmonte,
      You’re absolutely right about those red candles – it DID mean Christmas was coming!

      How hard that must have been to be part of the demo crew. It was a long, sad job, I’m sure.

      Please do see if you can find the photos. Would love to share them on BELT.

    22. I truly loved reading about Northland Shopping Center. That is a place that will live in my heart forever. I was born in 1954 and grew up and to this day still lives in Dellwood. I worked at Famous Barr for a very long time as well as The Lerner Shops.
      I remember as a kid waking to Northland with my 8th grade class going to Kresgese to pop a balloon to see how much my banana split was going to cost.I loved when ir was free or a penny. I probably have more memories of Northland Shopping Center then anything else. This has been great! Thank You

    23. […] July 26, 2005; July 31-September 4, 2005; and September 24-November 9, 2005. A final entry – β€œNorthland Shopping Center Artifacts” – details the many items Weiss salvaged during the demolition. Virtually all of the posts have […]

    24. Samantha Edick

      man i wad only born in 1991 but mii dad was born in 57 n to this day i stay 2 blocks from northland on kinamore i it get demolished n i played up there almost everyday n the late 90s mii grandma lived n famous but i only heard about that but i know it true cuz when they moved she moved to that mall lol but mii house looks like.northland mii grandpa designed our house off tha breaks n light n other little things mii dad was n tha window painting contests n i remember a lot of storys wish i cud i been alive bck then so i could of seen it myself but thnks that was heartfilld n made mi cry πŸ™‚

    25. Samantha Edick

      that was suppose 2 be a sad face πŸ™

    26. Here is a memory- this is back in the 50’s when HOOLA HOOPS were the rage. there was a hoola hoop contest and hundreds of kids were hoola hooping on the parking lot of Northlands. It was glorious! Anyone else remember this?

    27. I was born in 1948. I remember Northland well. My mother was a Tie Tie employee @ Famous-Barr. My sister and I went to see Kennedy’s Election speech, it was on the lower section. Great memories, I hung out at Jenning’s Steak & Shake and yes I use to eat lunch in the Jade room.

    28. […] And click here for some wonderful photos of a mid century mall that has sadly been torn down: http://www.beltstl.com/2006/01/northland-shopping-center-artifacts/ […]

    29. Wow, I was just thinking about Northland. I went there just about every Saturday with my mom and aunt. We had to dress up to go to lunch at Famous (remember the fabulous mural of a Dickens story??) and window shopped most of the time. Also, saw John F. Kennedy on a campaign stop in 1960 when I was nearly 4 at Northland. Anyone remember that?

    30. Mimi,
      I remember the Pickwick Room! I studied those murals of the Dickens characters whenever my mom and I ate lunch there. I wonder what became of them?

    31. It was the “Pick Quick” Cafeteria and the wall murals were scenes from Pickwick Papers. I so wish someone took pictures of them- I would love to see those again -one of the most poignant memories of my childhood. I supposed they were demolished with the building. But perhaps they had been painted over years before.

    32. Peggy,
      Thanks for the correction. That play on words makes the whole thing even more interesting! I sure wish there were photos of the murals.

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