Driving Dixie Down: Mall of "Blues Brothers" and Ulrich photos to be Demolished

After starring in film and photo, the continuing Dixie Square Mall saga seems to be reaching a conclusion. According to a Chicago Tribune report, plans have been introduced to demolish the building this March, after the dead mall has stood vacant since 1979.. The Dixie Square Mall holds an interesting place in Illinois history. Located in the town of Harvey, the mall was open for less than fifteen years. When the last store vacated in 1979, the structure was rented for the crash-tastic mall chase scene in The Blues Brothers. It has stayed totally abandoned and decaying since 1981. This icon of capitalistic decay made it the perfect subject for Brian Ulrich's ongoing Copia project, for which he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship last year.

The Dixie Square Mall itself has quite a storied history itself, according to Wikipedia.  1966 was the grand opening, and the two major (anchor) stores, Montgomery Ward and JCPenny sported psychedelic wallpaper and light fixtures.  Groovy.  But by the time the 1970s dawned the mall started to go downhill. 

Violence didn't help the mall's survival, in '72 there was a fatal shooting in a robbery attempt, in '73 a person was shot on mall property in another robbery attempt, and also that year a teenage girl was "lured away from the mall by three other teenage girls, and strangled to death." 

From 1973-76 the mall lost many stores and in 1979 the interior closed.  At that point the property was given to the Harvey-Dixmoor School District which used the space as a temporary school while a new one was built.  Apparently a defunct Turn Style store was used as a gym. The school district used the space for two years. 

1979 was also the year that Blues Brothers shot there and after filming they supposedly left quite a mess (you can't make a chase scene without rampant destruction and it was an awesome chase scene after all).  In 1981 the Harvey-Dixmoor School District sued Universal Pictures for $81,000 for damage to property, though the suit was never resolved.

After the school vacated in 1981 the mall has stood vacant, now only attracting crime rather than customers. 

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Brian Ulrich. "Dixie Square Mall". 2008. 11x14" edition of 15, 48X60" edition of 7. Image courtesy of Brian Ulrich.

This is the context for Ulrich's Dixie Square Mall images, a site of pure failure and a thirty-year-old blot on the landscape (seen above, and in slideshow).  Ulrich shows us the weeds and grass that grow through the asphalt, the site is actively in the process of being reclaimed by nature. The eerie lighting and color is a result of Ulrich's photographic skill and to me indicates a kind of post-human landscape, a harbinger of a future we could inherit.  The mall is at once specific and general, only the title clues the viewer into the building's identity, and from that, only a few viewers will recognize the building as a once thriving site of commerce or associate fond memories of The Blues Brothers with it. Otherwise it blends into our memories of other abandoned buildings, it is simply trash.

Ironically the plans for the area call for a repeat of essentially the original plan: "[Preliminary plans] call for big-box and smaller retail stores and housing over a minimum
of five years, said Thomas Planera, chief counsel for Chicago-based
developer MG Development South LLC."  So Montgomery Ward may be replaced with a Menards, and JCPenny's could be replaced with a Macy's.  Will this plan be anymore successful, thirty years later?

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Brian Ulrich. "Frank's Nursery". 11x14" edition of 15, 40x50" edition of 7. Image courtesy of Brian Ulrich.

Ulrich's images seem to say no.

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  • Nice- i love Brian Ulrich's work, and had the opportunity to see his show at the Nerman Museum: http://notifbutwhen.com/2008/10/nerman-museum-installation-pics/

    Do you know where he's showing next?

  • From Ulrich's (wonderfully up-to-date) site:

    Brian Ulrich and Amy Stein
    Caption Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
    January 28

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