A dusty pay phone hangs from its metal cord amongst the massive heap of destruction surrounding it. As I stood centered within this impressive, eerily quiet structure, all I could wonder was “where has all of the life gone?”
In 1976 the world’s largest shopping mall would open its doors for the first time to shoppers from around the country. Cars packed the mall’s parking lot from front to back in every direction, at parts even stretching to lots across the street while hurried shoppers took part rushing around the beauty of a brand new piece to the puzzle of the “American Dream.” 33 years later, either the cat would end up stealing this piece or someone would spill water on it.
2,000,000 square feet made up this once monumental shopping center where they would come to hold concerts, holiday events and much more. Teens would hang out, men proposed to their future, and in certain cases, current wives, children played alongside fountains; the scenery was bright and beautiful. Edward J. DeBartolo, the man who dreamt this mall into reality with help from his younger brother and architect Frank DeBartolo, had first envisioned the space as a “city within a city,” which is pretty much what it had become. With 200 shops, a 3-screen theatre and 5,000 employees it was arguably enough human life alongside man-made creation to be considered a miniature city or village.
For years the mall was a bustling shopper’s paradise providing practically anything you could need. Christmas time was loud, festive and wonderful as people passed each other in the long echoing hall, sounds of people moving along the catwalk chatting would reverberate with sounds of Christmas tunes harmonically filling the air and blending together in traditional “mall ambience.” Life was so beautiful and happy. The original 3-screen theatre was opened at the same time as the mall, becoming a second-run theatre in 1991 and finally closing in 1993. Upon the theatre’s closure, a wall was built to hide the main stairs, which had originally led to concession stands. A former store by the name of “Diamond’s Men’s Store” had taken the space and converted it to storage, and by the early 2000s, had extended their glass display out front, overlapping where the theatre entrance once was; this left the theatre forever hidden, left behind in the darkness, invisible to many who had passed by never to know that it once existed. This theatre was replaced in 1999 by a 12-screen “Magic Johnson Cinema” taking its place in the original meant-to-be location of the never-built Halle’s anchor due to falling business. However, this theatre only remained active until being sold by Loew’s in 2007, becoming the “O Theatre” – boasting the slogan “O what a bargain!” O Theatre was short-lived, closing in late 2008 and taking their phone number and website offline.
The titanic superstructure that once drew crowds of multiple tens of thousands now began dwindling more and more as years passed. After the 2001 closure of a main anchor, JCPenney, things began to head south for Randall Park Mall. By 2003, over half of the mall sat vacant, now including the former Dillard’s, followed by Macy’s shuttering their store in February of 2008. The area surrounding the mall became a dirty and desolate place, some pieces almost like a ghost town. People became less interested in hanging around as crime rates were on the rise. Besides, when you can do everything on the Internet, who really needs to go outside, right?
On February 26, 2009, the mall’s final traditional anchor store would close its gates for good. Sears was closed with a final day of business on Sunday, June 14, 2009. By May of 2009, any power to the mall was completely cut, leaving it a gloomy, silent, barren zone while an unearthly aura of post-human life stretched from one end of the long hall to the other. Five years later, March of 2014, it was announced that this structure would be demolished for an industrial park. Demolition began December of 2014, and I was lucky enough to be able to photograph the final collapse of this beautiful building, capturing a memory that will soon be swept away forever.
Roaming each dusty corridor, I tried to picture the halls full of life; I attempted to hear music bouncing throughout the wide-open spaces. I heard nothing, I saw nobody. One of the only few audible noises remaining was that, which came from a distant opening where pieces of destruction clanged against each other, knocking into walls. I could hear the screeching howl of wind as it passed broken glass with a mad rush above my head. Floors were flooded, while in ground seating spaces were filled with frozen water. The entire place has been turned upside down, converted to a madhouse of ruin; the downfall of a once great American dream. As I sat beside planters once full of growing green life, now full of crippling death, I could feel wind picking up as it raced down the hallway over my shoulders from behind. Shutters of former department stores clanged in a baleful movement, shaking like thunder, rattling me as I sat still. I walked each desolate hall, and as I walked, thousands of shattered glass fragments crunched beneath my feet, slipping and sliding across the grungy tile floor.
Following stairs up to the second story, I found myself staring out over what used to be most of Dillard’s. Now gazing off into a golden sunset, I stood at a crumbling edge trying to see into the past. It looked as though a bomb had gone off as the store seemingly dropped into oblivion. As I watched the sun fade further into the horizon, I listened to the sound of passing cars on a nearby road. It was like I knew life was all around me but I couldn’t find any, almost as if I was truly stuck in a world of post-apocalypse, simply generating a suppressed memory bringing the illusion of life to a false reality, longing for interaction and communication that has been gone for so long. Where has all of the life gone?