Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Way Back Westfarms


Usually I'm not overt about the celebration of my own birthday. So I'll allow this comical image of Adventures of Batman & Robin from Sega Genesis convey the mood (although I don't currently wish to see any metropolis in flames)! Crispin Glover should be playing The Joker in an upcoming Batman movie.

So a buddy of mine, Marc Bramhall, extended the courtesy by presenting something of interest to me for my twenty-second birthday; a piece of relevant history. What better way to extend my 22nd year on earth to look back on one of the cultural influences of my lowely Farmington life such as Westfarms?

Scouring eBay one day, Marc stumbled upon this vintage Westfarms post card, presumably predating to sometime in the mid-to-late 1970's around it's conception in 1974. A post card of a mall you say? Well, here's a testament to lost times and how much shopping malls and centers were the pride of American culture when my generation's parents were my tender age. Sadly, you're not going to find these like post cards of malls in any rest stops or [gasp] gift shops. Instead you might find one antiquated stock image of the Hartford skyline with some bad MS-paint job of the city's name written in magenta, a park (not Kinney Park I'd hope), maybe a bridge or something (as usual, clogged with all day and night traffic). All cultural divide aside (and "rising star" kerplunking), booming indoor malls of the 1960s and 1970s are been-there-done-that today; most of which have since submerged into the commonplace of everyday life of my product Gen X'ers. Kids today! They just don't appreciate these climate-controlled centers of past!


Westfarms; circa 1970's

Just look at this image! Oooh, to have a time machine... It's sure nice to see some oddly justified twin-totem polls featuring minature globe lighting the central of the walkways instead of those gaudy kiosks! Many natives who've frequented the mall in the past might take particular note at this time machine shot for minutes trying to inspect every pixel of it and compare it to the place we know today. One of the most alluring aspects, beyond the now-removed fountain are these certainly out-of-this-world store frontages which are all sadly long-gone within the alpha years of the mall. Have times changed or what?!

From the top-left; Susie's, which looks be a women's clothing store is now Cache; a prom-dress merchant, whose recently drawn live-model publicity. Herman's World of Sporting Goods; seen in the left corner, which was likely one of the last sub-anchors, and top of its game before any Sports Authority, or Dick's showed its face. A memorable, quaint sporting goods chain was among the last seen here to leave the mall in the mid-1990's;
shortly before the 1996 Nordstrom wing expansion (and the company's own bankruptcy by this time). The former Herman's has changed its [preferably lacy, stringy] underwear many times but most recently to none other than Victoria's Secret.

Sights-Sounds; neighboring Herman's, likely a record (and 8-tracks!) vendor, seems to have cut into Herman's space since is now part of an expanded Victoria's Secret, relocating from a former downstairs configuration from the '90's. Downstairs to the left is Bakers; presumably another clothing store and next to it, with some time-respective, multi-window display facade since decimated by huge glass panes of Godiva chocolates today.

Thom McAn
; a frequent shoe store chain (along with Kinney Shoes, who was upstairs near G. Fox) around the 1970's throughout the 1990's save since sold their stock to Wal-Mart, once had prosperous storefronts now occupied by Build-a-Bear Workshop. Susan Terry has become likewise upscale twenty-something women's fashion boutique; bebe while Brooks; hiding behind the jagged manual staircase with those curvy showcase windows has since become drywalled over having recently been home to a bevy of stores; seaonsal, Sephora (since relocated), and a ill-fated filler sports memorabilia store.

Those others; Worth's; with a groovin' brown facade and flower-shaped bulb-lighting must've catered to the hip crowds and the nearby The Gift Showcase; both with the swanky script writing have since become many things in it's subdivided form; once a maternity outfit and Polo Company Store but now all home to a generational revival; Abercrombie & Fitch.


Flashforward: Westfarms; September 2006

One of my grandest laments, in particular, is the absence of the fountain today. Those who remember the fountain remember not only it's wonder but also that mysterious gaping hole into nowhere where all the water recycled! Well at least that's what we thought as kids (and a little beyond; the mystery still lives). In 2002, Taubman ceased and removed the original atmospheric 1974-built fountain in favor of more, rather questionable spaced seating and couches for people to carry on mall banter.

The stage, frontage to the since gutted fountain, is present at Connecticut's other Taubman; Stamford Town Center, has become a table-and-couch lounge area which complements the new Starbuck's kiosk. An area which once displayed the ginormous, annual Christmas tree, still does a holiday theme, not quite to the same magnitude.

While the center court hasn't changed drastically beyond
some minor cosmetic enhancements like most leftover Taubman malls still around: the removal of some of the signature Taubman "seating pits" like one seen here to the left which is understandable given the climate and failed socio-experimentation of the seating pit since. Others include newer, brighter center court tiles, plastic-ridged lining over the mid-levels, reflective silverish railings to replace the wood; all of which became a coming millennial template for all their centers no more than a short decade ago. The basic mold of the center is quite the same; generally unchanged, like the terrazzo tiling, and true to the classy earlier design.

Knowing my bend and fascination with '70's-era Taubman malls but specifically the junior one in my hometown; Westfarms. I've seen the mall adapt through the ages throughout my time, not quite as much as friends and family. My father also worked here shortly sometime around the vintage of this postcard (1975), in a department store Silverman's; since occupied by Brookstone and The Discovery Channel Store. Furthermore, my best friends' parents actually met here, dated and later married during a time this mall had a movie theater (now occupied largely by a restaurant; California Pizza Kitchen)! While I've only been here since '85, Westfarms' tenants have changed greatly into the widely preserved mold of the center today; not having stripped too much of its origins.


"A regional retail development to be the most complete marketplace of its kind in New England. Westfarms site spans the boundaries of three outstanding Connecticut communities; West Hartford, Farmington and New Britain."
This card appears to be within a series of two known; one of which has been displayed on Malls of America (and a day before my girlfriend's birthday last year) and taken at an earlier time when the mall had an estranged, short-lived green-clad flooring and features the since removed the iconic "information" tower doning the pinwheel "W" logo which lasted into the 1990's. There are some other noticable differences here; flowers, mini-bulb lit towers, and even a art display on the stage which is closed off by a roping barrier and a walled-off Lord & Taylor wing added in the early 80's.

In the meantime, I'll have to recover a picture of that "rolling ball structure" in it's respective time since it's still here. Here's to hoping one of you keen-eyed, razor-edge memory readers can pinpoint the exact year of this card.

Visit our Flickr set and see why Westfarms couldn't look any classier today.

26 comments:

Bobby said...

Bakers was a shoe store.

Mark said...

Wow, thank you for this story I didn't know Westfarms was that radically changed!

I guess it shows how malls have really changed. It seems before that malls were actually viewed as quiet escapes from the rush of everyday life but now they're more viewed as spending commodities.

If you thought Westfarms was spectacular you've should've seen the Naugatuck Valley back in the day, it was the most oddest malls I've ever been into it was decorated to the hilt! It was all brick inside with exposed timber walls, two huge waterfountains on each side! (one with a functioning waterwheel) it was was like a town square inside and they went even as far as putting actual shingled roofs over the stores! The lighting as oddly as it was was supplied mainly by globe shaped post lights. so when it was dark outside it was dark inside with illumination as you would see on a street. It was crazy. (You could learn more info from my Dec 22 comment I'm not going to repeat the info again)

Westfarms way back when before they had the parking garage could be seen in it's entirety straight from the Parking lot (from the west side of the mall)you had a unobstructed ground entrance into Lord & Taylor and JCPenney also. I could be wrong but wasn't there a black octogonal shaped store front before on the west side? Didn't they also have some sort of large hallway enterance with a half octogon window front from the ground level with hangling lamp chandeliers some where in the area of where the parking garage is now?

or am I wrong?

Steven Swain said...

Goood story. Susie's was a women's causalwear chain owned by Woolworth.

alie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alie said...

bakers was and still is a womens shoe store which also sells accessories. they have one in buclkand wow seeing the mall from the 70s was like going back in time i was born in the early 80s and remember hermans being there when i was a child just for a short while i wonder if anyone else has photos of the mall from way back when

Sam Hatch said...

I had forgotten about those Star Wars-ian totem pole lights, but now I can see why me and my friend used to pretend that Westfarms was in fact Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back! Back in the 70's my grandmother used to work in the Ormond clothing store, so between familial visits and frequent unsanctioned jaunts from my babysitter's house on nearby Beechwood road, I spent a ton of time in that place as a kid. Thanks for the trip back. By the way, was I the only one who fantasized about climbing all the way up to the 'Z' on the alphabet sculpture? Or about what would happen if the giant circle somehow snapped off of the art deco metal sculpture at the other end of the mall and went rolling away a la the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Now I'm over thirty and still find myself wondering if I could safely leap off of the second floor onto one of the mushrooms at The Rainforest Cafe. I guess some people never grow up.

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Sam, we definitely have a connection.

Anonymous said...

When I saw that 1975 picture, wow! I wish I've visted that mall during my childhood. I'm suprised to see marble on the fountain and the stage. That sure makes the mall ahead of its time.

I'm very happy that I am going to school for Architecture. Maybe I can find a way to bring the trends of the past back! Brown floors, globe lights, fountains....

Oh by the way. Happy late birthday.

Anonymous said...

I (barely) remember the opening of West Farms and lived half a mile from it from 1982 to 1995.

Sights & Sounds was this dark little first-run record shop that for some reason had a little display area just inside the door on the left with an Atari 400 and Atari 800 when those existed. About midway back along the right wall they had an Atari VCS (2600) st up and a big stock of games which were oddly mostly Mattel's M-Network brand.

Thom McAn had 3 locations in WFM - one each for women, men and children.

Not sure about the live model thing at Cache mentioned in the article, but the first place I ever saw live mannequins was at Ups-N-Downs at WFM. At the time they were on the lower floor, slightly clockwise of the staircase in the picture.

The mall also had a 2-screen movie theatre until the mid-80s, with a tiny ticket kiosk in the middle of the corridor. Across from the movies was a pretzel shop that's been a shoe-repair-and-key-cutter for a long time now. Moving down the hall was Arthur Treachers, a little wannabe head shop called NewsCenter, and a florist that fascinated me in my youth with a potted plant that would control a light with a dimmer switch when touched.

As far as I can tell, some time around 1985 the mall owners decided that teenagers were a blight and started to jack up the rent on any business that primarily appealed to people under 25. Half the restaurants disappeared, the movie theater, the cheaper book store, the music store, the knife shop that had more teenage browsers than adult buyers purchasers ....

Found this page because I was thinking about how complete the turnover at that mall has been a couple of nights ago.

The things I miss most from that era were two restaurants: The Pie Plate and The Magic Pan. I currently live about half a mile from the site that the last Pie Plate to close occupied. Ooh, and there was Kathy John's, a restaurant with a little penny candy store in the fron of it. From her description, they were identical in almost every way to a place my wife grew up with in south Jersey called Farrels. Same uniforms, same candy store, and same bell that they'd ring whenever someone ordered the sundae-large-enough-for-twelve-people.

T-Lobs said...

wow, I can't believe my eyes to look at this picture... I don't know if anyone will have the patience to read my story about this mall but here goes... my high school years were 76 through 80, we used to skip school to come to this mall, I remember going to see "The Kentucky Fried Movie" here... anyway, in my freshman year, all of my friends were in Jazz band and they played on these steps at christmastime... I went with my friends just to watch the performance, but for some reason, maybe just the whole atmosphere of christmas carols, etc., watching them play gave me the bug for the first time to want to play a musical instrument. I remember watching the trumpet players and thinking, 'okay, that's it. Before my high school days are over, I'm going to be standing up there with the jazz band, playing trumpet like that at christmastime.' I found an old cornet in a friend's closet, got some music books, and taught myself how to read music and play trumpet for the next year. I went in at the start of my sophomore year in high school and the band teacher had no reason not to let me in the band, I could sight read anything he put before me. He did start me in third chair, though, and said I wasn't good enough for the jazz band... anyway, long story, but by my senior year, I was first trumpet in regular band and third in jazz band.
And yes, I did stand on that very stage in my senior year and play christmas carols with the jazz band, just as I envisioned it.

Part two of this tale involves getting drunk after graduation and throwing my trumpet in the lake(along with my 'Most Valuable Speller" award from the spelling team, but that truly is another story...

Orochimaru said...

I remember when this mall was Anime Fan friendly, well, still is in a way. But I am going to take you back to the WestFarms I knew. The place was cool, still is, but they have too much pricey stuff, although there are deals there too and everyone loves a good deal. Well, back to my rant. I remember the fountain, I remember when they had lockers. I remember their movie theater, what is the theater now? Well, I remember the late great G.Fox and Sage Allen. Filenes was okay, but not as spectacular as Fox's. I remember the first pretzel place, that old steakhouse, Kathy John's, A&W, and Arthur Treachers the fish place where a friend of mine worked. I remember Musicland and it's blue walls, Sam Goody, and the oh so great Suncoast, which I was so sad to see pass, since they sold a lot of Anime goodies for me and my little friends. B. Dalton was there, I think, well, I remember another bookstore. I remember the CVS and The Friendly's. What happened to The West Farms of my youth! I guess she decided to grow up.

alie said...

does anyone know where i can get a link or a website that has info on old stores that are no longer around like the history of them

alie said...

i remember cvs, aw, friendlys, stride rite when they were connected to another shoe store and they had a little entrace that only children could fit into, thom mccan, 5-7-9 houllahons, chi chis, g fox sage allen, the pet store then i grew up and in hs got a job in the mall working for hallmark, and i remember when cvs left, and all these jewelry stores were comming in and a bunch of us co workers were thinking is the mall nuts, food places comming and going as fast as they came, some turkey place were ranch one was located now that is gone, nathans, which became a rug place oriental place, framing store and a home to some other fast food places that have come and gone

Anonymous said...

Actually, I remember that pretzel shop being called Frankly Speaking Hot Dog Company (now the key shop and Sbarro). Sbarro also occupies the old Arthur Treachers. Used to love the crepes at Magic Pan (later Uno's, soon to be PF Chang's). Also remember Top of the Mall Restaurant inside Sage-Allen. Think they added Lord & Taylor some time around 1984. Last movie I saw at the theater was Return of the Jedi. I remember the lobby being bright orange. Kathy John's was a sandwich shop not much unlike a Friendly's or AC Peterson. It became Chi-Chi's, then Brew Moon, now CA Pizza Kitchen. Also remember a leather shop called Jekyll's Hide upstairs near where Macy's (original G-Fox) is.

Variety House said...

I swear they had a Merry-Go-Round. Tell me I'm wrong if I'm wrong.

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

If you're talking about the store "Merry-Go-Round", yes it did. I'm sure Cohen Fashion Optical has at least half of its former placement today.

Tom said...

Worth's was a women's clothing store based out of Waterbury. It catered to the 40 something crowd. There was an attempt to attract younger crowds in their "juniors" department but most of the ladies that worked there were in their mid to late thirties. I was the stock boy in 1979 through 1981. I believe the chain of stores went bankrupt in the mid 1980's.

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Relaxshacks said...

I went to that place all the time in the very early 80s and on…. we used to eat at a particular steak house there, and another restaurant that had images of all the Marx brothers on the wall? Anyone remember the name of that place?

Relaxshacks said...

I used to go there all the time from the early 80s onward… we ate at a particular steak house there all the time, with a long entrance hall where you could look through spoked-slats in the place, and my grandmother took us to some restaurant where they had pictures of the Marx brothers all over the wall. Anyone know the name?

Anonymous said...

Wow!! The fountain brings back memories. I grew up near New Haven so a trip to Westfarms was a much looked forward to event. Your right by the way about the large drain in the fountains. I used to joke that it lead to some other dimension! My folks would give us change to toss in and I used the "hole" for target practice as much as funds would allow. I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater here. Rolling disc sculpture and the alphabet eifil tower were always objects to ponder.

Angela G said...

What was the name of the place to buy cookies? Before there was a Mrs fields. They were GOOOOOOD!!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the 1970's at this mall . I remember seeing star wars back in 77 they showed it in stereo .I also remember begging my mom to take me to the pie plate .I am so glad they left the alphabet sculpture and rolling ball up and the glass elevator .Those were all there back in 77 .It was such a treat to eat as a teen at Arthur Treachers .