Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Park Forest Plaza Shopping Center, Park Forest, Illinois.

The Park Forest Commercial Center (later: Park Forest Plaza) was located at Forest and Lakewood Boulevards in the Village of Park Forest, Illinois.

The South Side planned community was centered around an open-air shopping plaza. Park Forest was coming into its own on 2,400 acres south of Chicago. 

A plan for a shopping center was announced on October 28, 1946. The growing suburb was incorporated as the Village of Park Forest on February 1, 1949.

Developed by Philip Klutznick, Nathan Manilow and Carroll F. Sweet, under the guidance of American Community Builders, Incorporated, the Village of Park Forest would feature a large, courtyard-type shopping center as its downtown. The open-air commercial center was designed by Richard M. Bennett of the Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett firm and occupied 54 acres. The site was located 36 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. 
A circa-1951 physical layout shows a partially-complete complex. At this time, there are over thirty tenant spaces. Stores would continue opening into the mid-1950s.

The shopping complex had a main retail level with basements beneath all buildings. Its first operational store, Park Forest Liquors, opened on December 15, 1949. A (10,000 sq. ft) Jewel grocery store was opened on March 9, 1950, and was fully air-conditioned, as were all of the stores in the shopping center. This was a big deal in the early 1950s.

The H&E Balaban Corporation, Holiday Theatre, showed its first feature on Saturday, October 28, 1950. On November 23, 1951, a (23,000 sq. ft) S.S. Kresge Five and Dime welcomed its first shoppers.

The Park Forest Community Center was a precursor of things to come in post-war America. The facility received a great deal of media attention in its early days. Retail buildings were situated around an expansive, landscaped courtyard, with a distinctive 37-foot-high Clock Tower as a focal point.

Promotional literature at the time described the cluster-type mall: "All shops surround a park area and are connected by permanent canopies for the protection of shoppers against the elements in every season. There are big supermarts, trendy gift shops, a modern drug store, and spacious free parking for 3,000 vehicles."

For its first 4 years, the Park Forest shopping complex had no anchor department store. Anchor department stores were eventually added. A 2-level (62,500 sq. ft) Goldblatt Brothers opened on October 7, 1953. This was followed by a 2-level (70,000 sq. ft) Marshall Field and Company store, the fourth satellite store, which opened on March 28, 1955. 
Philip Klutznick, pick in hand, participated in April 1954 groundbreaking for Marshall Field & Company's Park Forest store.

A 3-level (230,000 sq. ft) Sears Roebuck and Company opened, as the center's third anchor, on August 8, 1963. By this time, the complex, now promoted as Park Forest Plaza, covered approximately 700,000 leasable square feet.
Park Forest Plaza Marshall Field & Company Store.

Philip Klutznick developed the Park Forest planned community and Park Forest Commercial Center  (1949). Some of his other retail projects were Old Orchard Shopping Center (1956), Oakbrook Center (1962), River Oaks Center (1966) and Water Tower Place (1975) in Chicago.

The Plaza was the foremost South Side shopping center for several years. This changed in 1966, with the new River Oaks Center, 10 miles northeast, in Calumet City. Additional competition came from Lincoln Mall (1973), 3 miles northwest, in Matteson, and Orland Square, Mall (1976), 12.5 miles northwest, in Orland Park. Park Forest Plaz was soon in decline. The Goldblatt store closed in early 1981. 

The first plan to reinvigorate the struggling shopping facility was proposed in 1985. Cordish, Embry & Associates of Baltimore conducted the 20 million dollar facelift in the summer of 1986. The center's iconic Clock Tower was demolished. New facades and walkways were installed, and a pond and waterfall feature was set up in the center court.

The Centre of Park Forest was officially dedicated on August 29, 1987. Unfortunately, the renovation was unsuccessful. Another reinvention proposal was considered in 1993 but never initiated. In 1994, Sears closed their Park Forest Store. Marshall Field's moved out on March 29, 1997.

The Village of Park Forest purchased the struggling shopping complex in December 1995 and paid its delinquent back taxes. A new name, Downtown Park Forest, was bestowed. Chicago's Lakota Group was hired to conduct another revitalization. Their master plan was approved by The Village in 1997.

Over 364,000 sq. ft of vacant store space was razed. Sections of the vast parking area were converted to green space, and a Main Street thoroughfare cut through the center. The redevelopment project included creating a "Village Green Entertainment" area and renovating the old Bramson's store into a Village Hall.

New stores and services were signed. A freestanding (15,000 sq. ft) Walgreens Drug Store and a (17,500 sq. ft) Osco Drug Store were built. Additionally, an abandoned 1960s vintage Jewel-Osco store was reconfigured as a (64,000 sq. ft) Sterk's Super Foods Market.

Victory Centre was constructed where the Sears store was. This senior citizen complex consisted of two residential buildings, one being a 79-unit assisted living facility, with the other housing 95 independent living apartments.

Downtown Park Forest now encompassed around 312,000 sq. ft. Spaces were leased to Smooth Cuts Barber Shop, Miss Monica's Dance Studio, Hero's Hoagies & Ice Cream and the Capiche Jazz Club. Most work was completed by early 2001. The former regional shopping hub had been reinvented as a community-class venue.
Downtown Park Forest, c. 2001

Marshall Field's Park Forest Plaza building languished for several years while plans for its reinvention came and went. It was finally demolished in November 2010. Since opening in October 1950, the movie house at Park Forest Downtown has operated under six different names and has been renovated several times. Last known as the Matanky Realty Group's Holiday Star Theatre, it was permanently shuttered in September 2013.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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