Monday, June 5, 2023

Old Orchard Shopping Center, Skokie, Illinois. A Comprehensive History.

Nestled amidst the bustling suburbs of Chicago, Westfield Old Orchard stands as a testament to the transformative power of visionary development. Yet, the story of this iconic shopping center traces its roots back to a more tranquil era when the land was enveloped by a vast expanse of apple trees. In the early 1900s, the land now occupied by Westfield Old Orchard was home to a sprawling apple orchard lovingly tended by the family of Philip Morris Klutznick, a prominent Chicago developer and philanthropist.

Phillip Klutznick was instrumental in creating Park Forest Plaza (1949), Old Orchard Center (1956), and Oakbrook Center (1962) shopping malls. River Oaks Center was developed by a joint venture of the Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna Life Insurance Company and Chicago's Phillip Klutznick of KLC Venture, Limited. (1966)

Klutznick, a man with an astute eye for opportunity, recognized the potential of this idyllic landscape to flourish into a vibrant commercial hub. With a vision for the future, Klutznick set out to transform the apple orchard into a thriving commercial center. In 1956, his vision materialized as Old Orchard Shopping Center, a groundbreaking retail destination that would forever alter the landscape of Skokie, Illinois. 

Old Orchard Shopping Center's boundaries are Skokie Boulevard (US Rt. 41) on the east, Golf Road to the south, Lavergne Avenue to the west, and Old Orchard Road on the north, in the Village of Skokie, Illinois.

The Philip Morris Klutznick American Community Builders embarked on developing a new Chicagoland shopping center. It was built as a joint venture with Marshall Field & Company. Old Orchard Center, designed by Richard M. Bennett of Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett, was developed on an 85-acre parcel located 18 miles northwest of downtown Chicago in suburban Skokie.

Original plans called for the mall to be anchored by four department stores: Marshall Field & Company, The Fair Store, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Company. This grandiose proposal was eventually altered, and only two anchor stores would be built as part of the original shopping center: Marshall Field & Company and The Fair Store.

Construction commenced in March 1955. When completed, the open-air facility encompassed approximately 1,079,000 leasable square feet. It consisted of a central retail level with basements beneath significant stores.

Old Orchard opened on October 25, 1956.

Old Orchard Center was anchored by a 3-level (310,000 sq. ft) Marshall Fields stood in the middle of the shopping center. Marshall Fields held its grand opening on October 22, 1956.

A North Mall included the 7-story Professional Building and twenty-two retail spaces. 

The South Mall, comprising three store blocks, featured thirty-six stores and The Fair Store, a 2-level (83,000 sq. ft) building, as the second anchor store. This Chicago-based store was opened on November 1, 1956.

A mall-wide grand opening was held on October 25, 1956. At that time, the retail roster included Lerner Shops, Baskin apparel, Chandler's Shoes, Baker's Shoes, Kay Howard ladies' wear, Broadstreet's men's wear and Burny Brothers Bakery.

Major inline stores were a (19,200 sq. ft) S.S. Kresge Five & Dime, (16,100 sq. ft) Walgreen Drug and Kroger supermarket (27,000 sq. ft). 

An underground concourse, The Arcade Shops, contained nine stores and services, including the Arcade Barber Shop, Arcade Currency Exchange and Arcade Easy Travel Bureau.

A 3-level (58,000 sq. ft) Saks Fifth Avenue debuted on November 10, 1958. 

The first theatrical venue in or around the mall was the Old Orchard Theatre, built 1/4 mile south of the shopping center on Skokie Boulevard. 
The 1,700-seat Raymond Marks and Martin Rosenfield (M&R) Old Orchard Theatre, 9400 Skokie Boulevard, opened with Judy Holliday in "Bells Are Ringing" on September 2, 1960.

The Fair Store was rebranded by Montgomery Ward in March 1964. In April, Montgomery Wards announced that the store would be expanded into a 3-level (114,000 sq. ft) operation. At the same time, the existing Marshall Fields was enlarged with a 4th level. With its renovation completed, this store encompassed 385,000 square feet.

A subsequent expansion of Old Orchard Center was done in the late 1970s. Two North and West Garages parking structures were completed in September 1977.

Saks Fifth Avenue relocated into a 3-level (114,000 sq. ft) building on the mall's northeast corner. The store debuted, with a preview opening, on November 10, 1978. The old Saks Fifth Avenue building reopened as Lord & Taylor on July 30, 1979.

By the late 1980s, Old Orchard had been bested by the region's newer, more trendy shopping venues, such as Woodfield Mall (1971) and Northbrook Court (1976).

A renovation of Old Orchard to make it into a more upscale shopping venue was announced in late 1991. This included an expansion of Lord & Taylor into a 3-level (115,000 sq. ft) structure. The enlarged store was reopened on November 10, 1993.
A Westfield Old Orchard view showing the North Mall and Professional Building.

The mall's south end was demolished and replaced by a 242,000 sq. ft South Promenade. This extended to a 2-level (199,200 sq. ft) Nordstrom Store that opened on October 7, 1994. The South Promenade included the 10-bay Orchard Food Court and Cineplex Odeon Old Orchard Gardens Cinemas. This 7-screen venue was opened on December 16, 1994.

On the north end of the mall, the North Garage was razed. It was replaced by a 154,000 sq. ft North Promenade, which included a 3-level (206,000 sq. ft) Bloomingdale's on its west end. This store welcomed its first shoppers on September 2, 1995.

Moreover, two parking structures, the South and the new North Garages, were constructed. The reconfigured, 1.7 million sq. ft Old Orchard Center held its official dedication on September 1, 1995. New tenants included Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Cache, FAO Schwarz, The Limited, Record Town, Talbot's and Victoria's Secret.

A second theater complex opened on the west end of the South Promenade in February 2006. The old and new multiples were collectively known as Loews Gardens Cinemas 13. The original venue was promoted as Cinemas 1-6, and the second was announced as Cinemas 7-13. The multiplexes were rebranded as Regal venues in 2012.

Meanwhile, Old Orchard Center was acquired by Australia-based Westfield in January 2002. Its name was changed to Westfield Shoppingtown Old Orchard in May. This lengthy moniker was truncated to Westfield Old Orchard in June 2005.

Westfield proposed a third major property expansion but eventually decided on a much smaller addition. Work commenced in July 2006. The Saks Fifth Avenue and its Off-Fifth basement store were shuttered in July 2005. The building was torn down, with 63,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space built.
Macy's took over Marshall Fields on September 9, 2006.

Lucy, a ladies' clothier, was one of the first operational tenants in the 20 million-dollar addition. This store began business in July 2007. California Pizza Kitchen relocated into the expansion. McCormick & Schmick's Seafood & Steaks welcomed its first diners on December 6, 2007. Westfield Shoppingtown Old Orchard now encompasses approximately 1,788,800 leasable square feet and contains 150 stores and services.

The Orchard Food Court was reconfigured as the Wilde & Green Natural Market & Restaurant. This (30,000 sq. ft) facility housed eighteen food stations, with hot foods, a grill, a salad bar, a sushi shop and a coffee bar. There was also a small greengrocer and a rooftop restaurant and bar.

Installed and maintained by a Toronto-based company, the culinary complex opened on July 25, 2011. Unfortunately, it failed to catch on and was shut down on June 23, 2013. By this time, the mall's two multiplex cinemas had gone through a succession of owners: Loews (1998-2006), AMC (2006-2010) and the Regal (2010-2016).
Here is one of the center's winding shopping concourses. This extends from Macy's main entrance to Lord & Taylor.

Both theaters were shuttered in June 2016 and renovated into a state-of-the-art, dine-in luxury theater venues. The CMX Cinebistro Old Orchard (the old Cinemas 1-6) had a soft opening on December 15, 2017. On the opposite side of the mall, the CMX Market Cinema Old Orchard (the old Cinemas 7-13) was opened on July 27, 2018.

Westfield's American and European property portfolio was merged into the holdings of Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco. A new company, known as Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, was created in 2013. The merger did not include Westfield shopping centers in Australia and New Zealand.

A look into the future:
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield unveiled a new landmark vision in December of 2022 for Westfield Old Orchard that will create a North Shore destination unlike anything else in Chicagoland, featuring best-in-class retail, modern residences, chef-led dining, entertainment, gourmet markets, and upscale health and wellness amenities.
Click Pictures for Ginormous Images.

The development plans also feature a park and event space designed as the center's focal point and place for social gatherings. Under the center of native trees and plants, paved pathways will wind through lush landscaping and comfortable seating, leading to an open-air plaza where local events, concerts, farmer's markets, and festivals can occur. More plans for the development will be unveiled in early 2024. A tentative completion date is 2030.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. Thank you for putting together this expansive article on Old Orchard. Having spent considerable time here in my youth, I'm very glad to see how it has evolved over the years. Well done!

  2. Interesting article; thank you. We moved to Skokie in 1959, and Old Orchard was a frequent trek.


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