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!