Evergreen Plaza Shopping Center’s walls started tumbling down last week, when demolition of the largely vacant landmark at 9500 S. Western Ave. began, in order to make way for a new retail development now in the planning stages.
“It’s a sad day but a happy day too. We had to move forward with the project,”” said Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton, who watched as demolition equipment started tearing down the walls of the former Montgomery Ward department store Oct. 7. He and a few of the DeBartolo development team actually put the first few dents in the walls by swinging sledgehammers at the bricks before the heavy machinery moved in.
“Do I need a (union) card to do this?” Sexton joked.
Evergreen Plaza opened in 1952 as an open-air plaza, and was enclosed in 1966, making it one of the first suburban shopping malls. Like many of the people who gathered to watch the demolition start, Sexton grew up in the village and recalled spending a lot of time there growing up.
He described real estate developer Arthur Rubloff as a genius for designing and building the shopping center. During its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, Evergreen Plaza had more than 120 stores, as well as a movie theater, but vacancies led to the main mall being shuttered in 2013.
Carson’s department store, which was an anchor of the shopping center since it opened, has remained open and will remain open throughout the construction process. The existing building will only be razed after the business relocates to a new site within the new development, to be called Evergreen Park Marketplace, which will include 30-40 stores.
Applebee’s restaurant which is also located on the site, will also remain open. Sexton said that because negotiations are ongoing, he could not say exactly which stores would be coming, but some big names are under discussion. He and other village officials said earlier this year that a movie theater will not be included.
“I think it is good for the whole area, not just Evergreen Park. It is big for the Southland, from our neighbors in (Chicago neighborhoods), Ashburn, Mt. Greenwood and Beverly, to Oak Lawn and all the southwest suburbs,” said Sexton.
The redevelopment is expected to take about two years to complete. Jay Adams, a representative of DeBartolo, said the demolition will be done carefully because of asbestos and other hazardous materials must be handled in an environmentally correct manner.
“We’re going to miss it, but we’re looking forward to what is coming next,” said Evergreen Park resident Carol Simpson, who was watching the demolition with her longtime friend, Shirley Hudson. Both said they have many happy memories of shopping at the mall, particularly during the holiday season.
“It’s been closed for a while. New is always good, and it will bring positive changes to the area,” said Simpson.
Hudson noted that she belongs to a group that used to walk the mall for exercise every morning, and still continues to walk outside, weather permitting, since the interior mall was closed.
“Carson’s is very welcoming to us when the weather is bad,” she said.
“I’m sad to see it go. This was always my favorite mall,” said Bianca Jones, as she came out of Carson’s and saw the machinery at work. “If something new is being built, that is good too.”
Shanita Hester-Morgan, who said she shopped at the mall for more than 20 years, was among a group of laborers and tradespeople who came seeking jobs with demolition and construction crews. “I’m so glad that something new is coming here. I am trying to get a job with the demolition company,” she said.
“We’re trying to put the (job-seekers) in touch with the right people, so everyone can benefit,” said Sexton.