HARVEY, Ill. (CBS) — Wrecking crews will be finishing the job that The Blues Brothers started more than 30 years ago – demolishing the Dixie Square Mall in south suburban Harvey.
“We’re on a mission from God.”
It’s one of the most famous lines from the 1980 movie “The Blues Brothers,” a line Gov. Pat Quinn borrowed Wednesday as he announced that demolition of the ruins of the Dixie Square Mall would begin.
As CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, in reality, it didn’t take God to finally begin demolition of the decrepit mall, just a $4 million federal grant, funneled through the governor’s office.
The mall at 151st Street and Dixie Highway in Harvey is famous for being used in a chase scene in “The Blues Brothers.”
“I’m proud to say we were the first movie to trash a mall,” Blues Brothers director John Landis said in an interview about the film.
In the scene, Jake and Elwood’s Blues Mobile and pursuing Illinois State Police vehicles crash through the picture windows of several storefronts and mow down shelves and merchandise, leaving the mall in ruins.
Some of the storefronts in the movie were set up with false signs for Pier 1 Imports, Gingiss Formalwear and Toys ‘R’ Us, as well as for a Jewel store with an interior entry that actually had been the J.C. Penney. A man is famously seen buying a plush Grover toy at the Toys ‘R’ Us and asking the clerk, “Do you have a Miss Piggy?” when the Blues Mobile comes smashing through.
It was that chase scene that made the mall immortal, but as WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, it is also infamous as a symbol of blight and despair, having seen vandalism, fires and a brutal rape and murder in the decades it has stood decaying.
When the mall opened in 1966, it was a major economic engine for the southern suburbs, anchored by a Woolworth, a J.C. Penney, a Montgomery Ward, a Jewel store that only opened to the outside, and later a Turn Style discount store. A Walgreens, a Kinney Family shore store, a Fannie May candy shop, a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop and a Wurlitzer organ store were among the other tenants.
But, by 1979, it had already been closed for more than a year when The Blues Brothers movie was filmed.
The mall was only ever open for about 12 years; it has been shuttered for almost 75 percent of its entire existence.
Harvey resident Thomas Lay said, “When that left the neighborhood, everything looked like it just pulled out; like it just pulled the rug away from the neighborhood.”
Crime around the mall was already becoming a problem before it closed. Among the incidents were a shooting in a robbery on the mall property, and the strangulation of a teenage girl who was lured from the mall by three peers.
With the mall completely abandoned, vandals began breaking in and stealing scrap metal. Rain and snow began entering the decaying building as structural elements were taken down, leading to an overgrowth of mold and further disintegration.
The empty mall also drew attention for gruesome crimes. Raymond Eaves was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering a woman, Denise Shelby, in the old J.C. Penney space in 1993. He was also charged with raping a developmentally disabled girl in the empty mall.
Major fires broke out multiple times at the abandoned mall. One fire destroyed what was left of the old Woolworth store in 2004, and another fire damaged one of the entrances in 2009, leading its roof to collapse.
The empty mall became an embarrassing white elephant, a public safety hazard, and an eyesore. Demolition was hampered by a lack of funds and the presence of asbestos.
Maurice Williams, a spokesman for the demolition crew, said, “As the asbestos comes out, the demolition crew will follow. It’s a six month project overall.”
The project also holds the promise of a new beginning in Harvey.
Harvey mayor Eric Kellogg discussed what he hopes to see replace the decrepit mall.
“I have great visions, with respect to seeing, one day, restaurants and tier one stores, economic development, commercial and retail; so our citizens can stay in Harvey and the tax dollars can stay here in our great city,” Kellogg said.
Repeated proposals to tear down the mall fell through over the years, creating an embarrassment for Harvey’s politicians and a symbol of civic failure.
That’s why there was so much joy evident when demolition began Wednesday, not that plans for new development are firmly in place.
But, with the mall finally being torn down, the future can finally begin to unfold.
“Harvey is moving forward, and our future looks bright. Today is a special day,” Kellogg said. “I’m very elated. I’m very delighted and excited about the progress.”
Illinois State Rep. Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest) says good things are going to happen at the site.
“This is just one, but it’s one that has extreme economic significance and symbolic significance for what’s going to happen to the City of Harvey,” Riley said.