Monday, April 30, 2007

Eastfield Mall; Springfield, Massachusetts

Continuing what we've decided to proclaim our malls of(f) I-91 series beginning last week with Hampshire Mall, we've decided to present another of the few malls located on or around I-91, weekly in conjunction with procrastination and Spring, a time for rejuvenation! So it's Spring and just about time to unveil another gem located in the state's southern metropolis, Springfield with Eastfield Mall!

Eastfield Mall opened in 1968 and was the earliest indoor shopping mall in the region containing three major anchors, a handful of shops and a twin-screen movie theater. Today, the mall contains three filled anchors; JCPenney Outlet Store, Macy's and Sears, a larger Showcase Cinemas movie theater, food court, chain restaurants, a few junior anchors and claims 85 stores and was purchased in 1997 by its current owners, MDC Retail Properties Group.

Located within the Easternmost region of Springfield, along Boston Road/US-20,
the city's self-proclaimed "Boston Road Shopping District" and on the brink of smalltown Wilbraham, the area consists of a retail and related business corridor who found its identity within the fallout of an eventual collapsed business bleeding out of central Springfield. Eastfield Mall began large and in-charge, serving most the suburban portions of Springfield offering three prime anchors; (Albert) Steiger's, Forbes & Wallace, and Sears; who remains authentically vestigial to this day.


Like many of these smaller shopping malls who never pursued become mammoth status, Eastfield Mall accepted its fate to the changing market of the malls and interstate vitality located well off major Interstates: I-91, I-291, and I-90 (Mass Pike), along US-20. Almost damned to become enemies to future malls, Eastfield continues to do well despite it having fallen on hard times, managed to rebound, and stays closely in-touch with the community and flourishes today with much thanks to the extraction of the downtown marketplace, trickling onto and around Eastfield territory.

To get an idea where all of Springfield-area malls stand today, let's look at a brief history of the area.

A few years after Eastfield Mall established, another mall, Baystate West came about in 1970 as a downtown mall in the heart of the city whose frontage faces millions of motorists along Interstate 91 and grandiose retail showplace (or, what was commonplace definition for mall then) for the city. During the decade, more malls began to pop up shortly after; Enfield Square opened in 1971 with its corridor-length mall right over the Massachusetts border in Enfield, Connecticut with like prestigious anchors Hartford-based G. Fox and Steiger's. In many regards, Springfield, the city, shared (mal)success and has followed dreadfully with neighborly city Hartford, and its own troubles with maintaining the vitality in its own failed city mall built after this one, The Civic Center Mall.

Unfortunately, Baystate West, once a prominent indoor shopping mall, has since collapsed due to its prime anchors becoming bankrupt or other mall developers stealing the thunder of Springfield's since declined industry by pulling in power players, reconfigured and became diminished to just a handful of stores, a food court, fine restaurants, and mostly office space under the new name: Tower Square.

No doubt the elegant Baystate West trumped or largely challenged Eastfield Mall, which was once a palace of wonder, and a pride of its day right on the city limits of West Springfield (later known as the host of The Big E), but both shared the same challenge in 1975, when major anchor and Springfield-originated Forbes & Wallace shuttered all its locations when they became bankrupt, leaving many empty spaces at all the malls in the area including one newly-established locations at a 1974-built smaller enclosed Fairfield Mall in Chicopee (which could be considered the legendary darling small indoor mall for us northeasterners with its once rainbow-era lifetime Caldor and Bradlees anchors in its latest days), just miles away. Eventually, spaces were filled at both malls quickly, causing for a steadfast rebound all around.

By the mid 1970s, the greater Springfield region became, understatedly, overmalled in what contested for a survival of the fittest situation of our time! So why not just blame The Pyramid Companies' for building Holyoke Mall?!

When it comes to tentant selection, Eastfield Mall is relatively bland and homogenized like most malls, but doesn't entirely feel like it because of the humble looks of it. Surpassing the somewhat nearby, underdeveloped Enfield Square in Connecticut (whose website creates a facade of image), a megaton nearby Holyoke Mall at Ingleside, who came in 1979 and quickly determined the shape of all the region's nearby malls soaking up the landscape, pulling in people from hours away with it's unstoppable, growing volume, appeal and continual success to this day.


Over at Eastfield Mall, there are fewer interesting, unique stores surviving here that you won't find over at Holyoke Mall, but like the Holyoke Mall, as the days go on, not many more. Those who appear to be hanging in there like Batteries Included; an indie Radio Shack type, and sadly, a recently departed gem of a comic book/collector store are becoming liquidated with the heavily conformist merchants at most of the malls, bleeding onto these centers squeezed by heftily performing rivals along the I-91 corridor and around areas.

These stores, many of which left or didn't fit into Holyoke Mall and its recent metamorphosis of seeking to focus onto upper-class tenant homogeny, make Eastfield a charming atmosphere apart the usual bombast of Holyoke Mall. However, don't write it off just yet. To us enthusiasts, Eastfield Mall should be considered special apart from the mediocrity-driven, supplemental tenants, most of which can be found at all the other malls around 91.

So, I'll admit, I'd rather do my shopping over at a generally better center like Holyoke Mall, but when it comes to long-phased architectural vestiges and interesting touches here and there, Eastfield Mall has a lot still in tact to appreciate, not that Holyoke Mall doesn't but come on, this was a 60's mall!


STEIGER'S; 1968-1994, became FILENE'S; 1994-2006, became MACY'S; 2006-CURRENT
EASTFIELD MALL CINEMAS; 1968-mid-1980s; replaced for FOOD COURT
SHOWCASE CINEMAS; 2000-CURRENT; replaced parking lot


If there's any reason to pine over Eastfield Mall, it's all about this old-fashioned, stucco-faced and brick constructed Sears who looks in part much like a fellow obsession over at The Mall at Whitney Field (formerly Searstown Mall), not having changed too much more than the generational signage out front. Apart from a vintage store; one-level (excluding basement) interior with high ceilings department stores used to be all about and a staircase to the basement, which is eerily like stepping right back in time even just to go to the bathrooms.

There's also some shuttered entrance around back of the store in some dank corner, seemingly sealed off and forgotten with a faded sign. Could it have been a former entrance? Showroom window? Merchandise pick-up? A cafe, perhaps?

Steiger's; since become Macy's has its own interesting court and surrounding area. While tiling has seen the brunt of the later renovation, gaudy drapes still mask themselves over skylight glass panes above. Next to the entrance, you'll find some spiffy old-fashioned showcase display protrusions.

Forbes & Wallace; currently (and since closure) a JCPenney Outlet Store. An Outlet Store?! I thought all JCPenney were outlets! Jokes and bias aside, Eastfield Mall has the only one of its kind (that I've ever heard of at least), in something of a rich, vintage husk from the earlier anchor with a humped scaffolding over the sidewalk. Interestingly enough, the mall's amazingly flourished court doesn't don the "Outlet" identity; perhaps a bygone trend later phased, now simply calling it JCPenney mallside.

While two of those three original anchors are gone, like many shopping malls shaped by the various department store Pac-Mans adhering to a long-gone May (and Federated for that matter) Companies, their building origins are still mostly there, not having succumbed to cookie-cutter designs of today beyond some minor facade touch-ups and usual paint coats.

It's believed Eastfield Mall has undergone two significant renovation periods; one profound one in the mid-1980's and one minimalist one in the later 1990's, presumably in 1997 when the mall signed on with the new ownership. Ultimately, the mall appears to have a spackle of times stained all about.

And Huey Lewis and the News said it best; It's hip to be square!

Decor, in and out, remains to hearken back at Eastfield Mall whether it be original or later eras, including a decidedly 1980's-inspired set featuring neons galore. Throughout, the mall adheres to a square-theme along it's humble, little-altered-with-time "L-shaped" layout which has been toyed very little with over the years. Containing variously placed and sized square-shaped courts with vertical paned skylights, presumably from the 1960's mold, with later added neon square hoverings along the lower-ceilings of tight, often dimly-contrasted corridors and an array of ramps and steps which could remind Connecticut natives of one Crystal Mall in Waterford.


The central atrium is something of a small-time marvel, or at least shows it was.

Today, the court retains itself, however altered quite a bit cosmetically over the times with a square-shaped concourse containing a grandiose fan-blade drape arrangement which covers the entirety of the central's heights, creating a nice interrogation room-style contrast upon those peak sunlight hours whereby it showers skylight. Bizarre, simple but stripped display was likely the product of the mid-80's liquidation and entry to a blandness-uninspired renovation which scaled down the showcase from a once festive gazebo court as seen in a wayback photo from 1970, which Malls of America hosted a while back. Once including a larger fountain and a jungle-centric look evident from the historic image, was later decimated during a later renovation to a relatively small sprouting fountain feature(ette) in the center, followed by the addition of a food court behind it, added during the 1980's period renovation.


Following that renovation around the 80's, which sought to remove many overdue yesteryear trends; including those darker colors, wood-paneling, the gazebo itself, marquee bulb lights, and various ramps across the central, any vestige of a fountain display has been shelved ever so recently and is rarely if at all operative today. The concourse has sadly been scaled back and is now largely absent apart cafe-style seating, and meager porta-planters, mainly used for community events.

In addition, the basic "L-shaped" layout hasn't changed much over the years with the [typical] addition of adding a food court in the 80's, replacing an aging two-screen movie theater right at the L-split, adjacent the concourse.

During a millennial rebound, the mall sought to reinstate the theater concept that took command of most centers in the 60s and 70s it had birthed with by adding a 16-screen Showcase Cinema to the mall's rear, replacing much underused parking area in 2000 further setting Eastfield apart from nearby Holyoke Mall, who does not contain a theater and keeping it competitive with a rather distant Enfield Square, who also has a [smaller] theater. The mall also adopted junior anchor clothier, Old Navy, who drove out of Holyoke Mall by the rebound period as well as Steve & Berry's.

In spite of times changing, there's plenty to look back on today like the JCPenney court area which adheres to a quaint, park-esque setting of mass foliage, vintage stone frontage, and more of those hanging square lights. So much, in that you can barely get a nice view of the entrance without being blinded by the landscaping. The corridors also contain lined planters along the ramps and stairs, maintaining that quint feeling of man's inability to deny nature, albeit faux nature. A nice contrast, especially in such malls today who seek to strip almost every vestige of water features and fake plants for uncomfortable steel bench seating and portable planters, Eastfield Mall isn't entirely lobotomized yet.

The last few times we visited, we couldn't secure any interior photos with my conventional, subcompact digital camera for fear of being hurled out of the mall. As you may or may not know, this mall takes its written anti-photography policy seriously and has an overstock of looming security and police officers to make sure you don't! Actually, they've been drafted in response to Springfield's known riff-raf also to coincide with the YEP (Youth Escort Policy) rule whereby minors must be accompanied by adults after specific hours on weeknights to tone down the usual unruly teen crowds at malls but also in the area.

Luckilly, upon a recent visit to Eastfield this past week, we managed to score a congratulatory gob of images in a largely underpatrolled interior enough to capture the essence of a mall I've been dying to document for some time now. On another, rather funny note, anyone whose been here a few times will know of the security SUV who stakes out, flashing-lights wildly next to the mall's undeniably rad (neon-crazed) road pylon.

Make sure you visit their homely, unique, slightly outdated website where you can see an older Showcase Cinema logo and past anchor Filene's still on the roster apart from some of their other quirks like their inability to settle with one corny tagline and celebrity appearances from town and out-of-town!

Furthermore, if any locals or those with historic perspective regarding Eastfield Mall would like to chime in and shed some light on questions we have, like specific renovation dates, what this place was like then, or anything, let us know!


Anonymous said...

I love your detailed look at this mall and others like it.

When I was there taking pictures for a blog entry, I didn't encounter any trouble, although I fully expected to. Maybe it was my semi-stealth in taking photos that helped. Malls are, more or less, private property, so it's one of those funny things.

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

Ah yes, I've seen your pictures on Flickr, Heather. Actually, it was your concourse shot that compelled me to do a procrasinated photoshoot I attempted last year. So you didn't get harassed either? You couldn't have gone on a weekend...

Last year, I asked chief of security if I could take some shots of the concourse and without pause he said no. Ah well, teaches me not to ask in the future (which I generally don't because I know the answer already).

I swung by Holyoke Mall right after this and got many, many photos of the mall. I almost got caught on foot in the parking lot and could've swarn they were watching me. That mall is insane with security patrollers.

Nice entry. I find your readers' comment on the page to have much truth about Holyoke Mall. Well, at least about the food court...

Anonymous said...

No harassment and I kept a swift foot as well, with the camera in my bag except when I was actually shooting, and I just tried to do it all as fast as possible to avoid problems, looking around for security... and yes now that I think of it, it probably was on a weekday. It was school vacation week here, so the place had a lot of families and a festive atmosphere. I did not ask security guards for permission... indeed that would have yielded a "negatory."

About the Holyoke Mall, that was my own comment on my blog... I find the place very frightening, more so than most malls frighten and intimidate me. The route around the mall functions as a sort of hostile moat with cars instead of man-eating alligators. Parking is a nightmare, let alone turning in and out of parking lots. I had a car accident there once just trying to back out of a parking space. A college student zooming by after dark without her headlights on smashed into the rear of my car. The parking area there fosters this sort of thing.

I think that's what I hate most about malls - the parking. And then of course the unpleasant walk through the parking lot, where you fear for your life. Having children (more than I can hold the hands of) has exacerbated this problem for me.

Eastfield Mall is a breeze in comparison - especially the food court. Much more humane.

Anonymous said...

This mall is definitely 60's everything from the brick walkways to open atrium type atmosphere in front of the main anchors.

This is almost exactly what the Naugatuck Valley Mall looked like.

same type of bricks,planters,anchor fronts,and walkways.

It seems reddish brown was a popular color back then.

Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

I'm not going to assume much anymore. As some of you know, I've been wrong in the past in judgment. What I am sure about is that this mall is plenty original apart from a few touch ups like paint jobs but the center is very 60s. I felt the same way when I strolled some areas of Mall at Whitney Field in Leominster, MA - the corridor next to Sears just feels old, and original.

I'm also not too sure about those brick tiles, which I kind of avoided mentioning in the article. They could've been brought in upon a renovation because I fail to see how tiles could last all those years of wear and tear and look alright, albeit aged.

If you look at that vintage 70s photo of Eastfield, you'll notice the decor is entirely alternate, leading me to believe the tiles were replaced upon later renovation, at best, in the 80s? I cannot escape conjecture... I need someone around here who actually remembers first hand.

It just seems to me Eastfield Mall has something left over from a changing breed of malls and also something of a streetcape/sidewalk appeal as well.

Anonymous said...

I clearly recognize that brick look, Naugatuck Valley Mall had that shiny brick tile look to it also in many parts. This would suggest that THOSE tiles were probably relatively new also,and in that they were not actual real bricks.

They're like sheets of artificial bricks that were probably easy to maintain,take note that Bristol Center mall (built also in 1969) ALSO had that type of floor,however that floor looked aged and not shiny.

THE ONLY PARTS of the Naugatuck Valley Mall having complete actual brick walkways was the front entrance in the old location of the News Rack, that small area had brick that partially was discolored and was either yellow or some grey color (possibly was the original brick used) another area was near the fountains with the waterwheels in front of Sears and G.Fox that had hard red brick in somewhat in a wide circular pattern surrounding the fountains. The fountain walls were brick and the front of Sears was real brick,but basically the rest of the mall had shiny brick tiles.

I would have little doubt that most of the brick tiles in this mall and the old Waterbury one weren't original,however they're may be a possibility that this mall had a different type of brick tiles that were later replaced by the current set of tiles you see in the pictures. Take note in the 70's photo if you look closely at the shiny floor on the bottom left hand corner you can make out somewhat a brick-like pattern. that floor however is different from the current tile pattern so in essence it is similar but not identical.

I don't think it's far fetched to say that the Naugatuck Valley Mall received a minor face lift in the late 70's and 80's since during those times Waterbury wasn't in a deep recession as it was in the early 90s.

Nevertheless brick tiles aren't fashionable in malls these days,so it's rare to see them.

I remember those brick tiles clearly, where at some points the floor is so reflective that you can't make out the brick pattern.

(one mall that DIDN'T have that shininess in it's floor was the Farmington Valley Mall that place was dark,dark,dark)

Anonymous said...

I love the freestanding enterance is it's so cool looking and unique!

I hope this plaxe doesn'y get bland-ized.

Whats with making everything so boring nowadays? I mean sure....yeah it' freaking BORING!

If outdatedness is unique and new is boring well, OUTDATEDNESS ALL THE WAY!!!!!!

MIKE said...

I was informed just yesterday June 25 of the death of a retail giant. Julius Kasinitz passed away in New York City at the age of 79 in early March 2007. Julie was a former Caldor Vice President of Store Operations in the early expansion years. He was an old time merchant who came to Caldor from S. Klein. He brought along a number of his former Klein's favorites with him to Caldor. Julie presided over the major expansion of Caldor and was a master of store openings as well as a great teacher of the human working experience. I was privileged to be hired by him in 1973 and I was saddened to see him leave Caldor to close down a number of other retailers, among them Two Guys and Almay's. It was an honor for me and countless others who directly reported to him to have experienced his wisdom and his incredible humanity.

David BI Retail said...

The day the mall opened I was there for the ribbon cutting etc. Was a tad young, but I still remember the excitement ... also the complete lack of other buildings nearby. The only one was the Pondarosa Steak house down the street towards the Friendly plant. I think the next place to open was Marshall's.
The basement of Sears was the Northeast division credit department which had moved there from Northampton. I think it was there until the early 80's, then centralized to Chicago. That was the boarded up entrance you have a picture for.
The original bookstore that was in there was also a big deal ... it was the largest one in the Valley for quite a while

Anonymous said...

Nick, the original Eastfield Mall had polished concrete floors and a combination of the wood railings and cobbled stone planter walls as seen in the fountain court shot you provided.

The brick floors and other finishes you see now were largely from a reno in the mid 80's.

An important piece of history to know here is that EM was the ceation of the Rouse Company and one of the very first such malls in the country. It was lovely and elegant, as was the original Baystate West.

BTW great blog, I read Heather's quite often.

Paul Sheehan, AIA

Anonymous said...

1st stumbled upon your entry for the EastBrook Mall CT, then decided to google Eastfield Mall.
Had alot of fond memories of going there as a kid in 1974-1977 with my parents. One day decided to take a drive back. (we lived in Tolland then)
WOW, I knew it must have changed but it was so sad. I remember sit down restaurants, most notably the "Flaming Pit" where we almost always ate while there. Lot's of fond memories. Wish there were pictures of the mall in it's heydey to bring back even more memories!

Anonymous said...

Ah, the Eastfield Mall. I spent my days in 6th grade watching them build it out the window. You can see my classroom from the parking lot. Just a few notes though, Steigers became G Fox before changing it's name twice again now to Macy's. Bring back Steigers and Forbes and Wallace. JC Penney just reopened as an outlet store last year I think. It was just a JC Penney for years. And finally The Mall Barber was an orignial to the mall and was in the same location until the Mall Management made it move to an alley way down the far hall. Go Ciro.

Anonymous said...

I went there in the 70’s-80’s with my folks. I then worked at Steiger’s from 1983-1984 during college. We’d go on Friday nights to eat at the Flaming Pit and then shop. Coming out of Sears on the right was a pet store and then McCrory’s (now Old Navy). On the left was a drug store and from the outside door you had to go down a few steps to get into it. GNC was next to it? There was an Orange Julius stand in the center. I remember a tie store, various shoe stores, a Lerner’s on the left. The sunken seating area and water fountain outside of Steiger’s. In the center area where the other water fountain/gazebo were, there were bird cages and I remember this Myna bird who would mimic us. This was before the food court went in, which I saw a few years ago. I sort of remember Forbes & Wallace, then becoming a JC Penney. I believe it was a Walden Book Store to the right and a woman’s clothing store to the left. I thought it was cool that where there was a ramp in the middle, there were also stairs on either side. I seem to remember the brick look and the mall was sort of dark colored. At Christmas, the fountain by Steiger’s would be closed and a fake Christmas tree on top of it, I think the seating area was also closed. Santa sat up in the gazebo and I’d have to go up the ramp to see him. Easter Bunny probably sat there too.
I do remember Sears since that was my dad’s favorite store. Coming in from the far right of the mall was hardware. Then it was large appliances and I remember a little restaurant in the back. There was an entrance to the right (rear of store) and after that was the TV dept which led to the mall. On the left was housewares and bedding. I don’t remember what was to the left of the mall entrance. When you turned left there, there was a beauty salon and then lingerie to the right. Going around on the right was woman’s clothes and turned into kid’s clothes. I think coats and shoes were on the left side. Taking the final left was men’s clothes on the right and left and that led back to hardware. I remember the bathrooms were in the basement as well as parts dept in later years. As far as I’m concerned a mall is for shopping in their stores and if I can reminisce because the mall “looks old” then good for me and my memories.

SheepDog said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MichaelJ said...

Lynn has an excellent memory. I spent a lot of time in that Mall as a child in the 70's and 80's and remember it very well. I'm not sure about a small restaurant in Sears, but can add that at the far right entrance was the outdoor/garden center. They also had a big ramp into the basement for the shipping dock.

There was a glass "connector" about 50' long from Sears to the Mall proper. Near there on the right was Mall Barber, they've been there forever.

At the Steigers/Macy's court was a bar hidden away behind a doorway: the Sip'N'Bull.

As a school student we sang around Christmas every year at that central court, up on the walkways around the fountain. Photos were most certainly allowed then. There was a big community room down the hall by the Mall offices, now the back entrance to the Food Court. We'd prep there.

I always found it ironic that they tore down the old cinemas (and the old Dream Machine arcade location) to put in the Food Court, then later put new cinemas in.

The Walden Books in the big open court at the JC Penney end was indeed huge and awesome.

Anyone remember Chess King and their ├╝ber-80's clothing???

The "scaffolding" over the entrances that you mention used to have four-sided vinyl/canvas "walls" up above with a giant "e" painted on them, the mall logo at the time.

One thing - you mention Holyoke Mall not having cinemas? It certainly did when it was built, because I remember going. They were down in that bottom floor food court, or just outside it accessed from the bottom of the garage.

The McCrory's had its own entrance from outside, and had a classic diner-style luncheonette, with a counter and a bunch of booths. Grilled cheese and fries, please!

In fact, for food before the food court there was that, McDonald's, Friendlys. I don't remember the Flaming Pit, but suspect it was in the Steiger's court and was the front of the Sip-n-Bull?

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work. general health

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The shuttered entrance around back of Sears was the former entrance to their small restaurant where I worked. They also had a popcorn and warm pretzel stand at the front door which is now the tool/lawnmower area. Sears was the first store built before the mall and am wondering about your dates. I went to a two year college after working at Sears and graduated in 1968. I spent some time working at Sears before it opened but the store was fully functioning when I left in 1966. I also remember the ice cream parlor, Fanny Farmer candy store and the Matador Lounge.