FORD CITY MALL
South Cicero Avenue and 76th Street
City of Chicago, Illinois

Chicagoland's third fully-enclosed shopping mall was originally part of the world's largest industrial manufacturing complex. Built in 1942 and 1943, the Dodge Chicago Plant, a.k.a. "Hitler's Headache", was used for the production of World War II-vintage aircraft engines. The facility occupied a 363 acre site, located 13 miles southwest of The Loop.

Following the end of hostilities in 1945, the huge plant sat vacant. It was acquired by Preston Tucker in February 1947. A portion of the gigantic complex became a production facility for the Tucker Torpedo, which was billed as "the first truly modern automobile". The tenure of the Tucker facility was short. By November 1948, the company had been forced out of business, leaving the factory site idle once again.

It sprang back to life as a result of the Korean Conflict. The factory was purchased by Ford in October 1950 and used as an aircraft engine assembly base until August 1959. Abandoned once more, the facility was purchased by developer Harry F. Chaddick, and a group of Chicago-based investors, in October 1961.

A section on the southern end of Building Number 4 was demolished, dividing the structure into two separate buildings. The northern section continued to be an industrial plant. The southern was fashioned into a suburban-style shopping center. Dubbed FORD CITY CENTER, it was dedicated August 12, 1965, with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley officiating.

The eighty-two store complex was comprised of three parts. The 834,000 square foot Grand Mall was fully-enclosed and anchored by a 1-level (178,000 square foot) J.C. Penney, which had been dedicated on August 1, 1965, and 1-level (219,300 square foot), Chicago-based Wieboldt's.

Charter inline stores included Flagg Brothers Shoes, Bond Clothes, Lerner Shops, a National Tea Company ("National Food") supermarket and F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10. The Grand Mall contained two "Islands"; one featured a monkey cage, while the other had a bird aviary.

The North Mall, a 352,000 square foot strip center, ran alongside the north parking lot. This structure, dedicated in May 1966, housed the Ford City Bowling Center, a 1-level (110,000 square foot) Turn Style discount mart and General Cinema Corporation Ford City Cinema I & II.

A subterranean concourse, known as Peacock Alley, was installed in what had been the basement of the Building 4 factory. It ran between the Grand Mall and North Mall and served as a climate-controlled conduit between the two main mall structures. Along its hallway were stores such as Nickleodeon Pizza, Tricks -N- Toys and Gingiss Formalwear.

Shopping malls in the vicinity of FORD CITY included EVERGREEN PLAZA (1952) {3.5 miles southeast, in Evergreen Park}, NORTH RIVERSIDE PARK MALL (1975) {7 miles southeast, in Cook County} and CHICAGO RIDGE MALL (1981) {3.3 miles southwest, in Oak Lawn}.

An expansion of FORD CITY MALL was undertaken in late 1974. Built on the south-facing front of the complex, it included a 2-level (172,600 square foot) Montgomery Ward. This store was dedicated October 16, 1975.

In September 1978, the North Mall Turn Style store was rebranded by Missouri's Venture discount chain. The North Mall cinema had been expanded into the Ford City Cinema I-II-III in 1973. In July 1981, Ford City East, a second triplex theater, was dedicated. This complex was located .5 mile east of FORD CITY MALL, in a strip shopping plaza. It was expanded into a 5-screen venue in 1983.

The Chicago-based Equity Properties & Development Company acquired FORD CITY MALL in March 1987. In January 1988, a 52 million dollar renovation got underway. The entire complex was given a face lift, store spaces were reconfigured and the 10-bay Food City Food Court was built in previously-existing space. Moreover, new signage, water features, flooring and skylights were installed.

Peacock Alley, which had become populated by "head shops" and local mom & pop-type stores, was renovated, retenanted and renamed The Connection. By this time, the Venture space in the North Mall was vacant. It re-opened, as a (94,000 square foot) Sears, on April 5, 1989.

The Wieboldt's chain had gone out of business in July 1987. The FORD CITY location was divided into thirty-one stores. A (156,000 square foot) section was fashioned into a Chicago-based Carson Pirie Scott (a.k.a. "Carson's"). This store welcomed its first shoppers on August 5, 1989.

The renovation of FORD CITY MALL wrapped up in October 1989. The facility now encompassed approximately 1,390,000 leasable square feet with one hundred and seventy-three retail spaces. Plans for a new Southwest Wing, which was to be anchored by Marshall Field's, had been abandoned.

However, the General Cinema Corporation Ford City 14 multiplex was built, as a freestanding structure, in the southeast parking area. This venue made its debut August 1, 1990, with the Ford City I-II-III and Ford City East theaters being shuttered.

By the 21st century, tenants in the North Mall section included Marshalls (in the old twin cinema spot) and Old Navy (in the former bowling alley). Sears was shuttered in July 2010 and replaced by Conway Fashion Discount.

There had been talk of extending the Chicago Transit Authority's "L Train" system to FORD CITY MALL for some years. However, the 2.2 route mile Midway-to-Ford City Orange Line extension project was put on indefinite hold in 2011.

Meanwhile, in February 2008, Chattanooga-based CBL & Associates Properties were enlisted to manage FORD CITY MALL. They were to oversee a renovation that was slated to begin in late 2009. The project was delayed, but did get underway in early 2011. Chicago's Jones Lang LaSalle were now managing the shopping center.

The redevelopment included of the demolition of the vacant Montgomery Ward and two outparcel structures, a repositioning and retenanting of the shopping center and various parking lot improvements. With all modifications completed, FORD CITY MALL encompassed 1,217,400 leasable square feet.

In December 2012, Equity Group Investments relinquished ownership of the shopping hub to New York City's iStar Financial. They installed the Chicago-based Mid-America Real Estate Group as its management entity, with Dallas' SRS Real Estate Partners enlisted to lease the property.

In mid-2013, a face lift renovation was announced, which was to have commenced in mid-2014. This would have rebuilt the interior of the complex, relocated its Food Court, reconfigured most inline store space as big box retail and added several freestanding restaurants.

No construction schedule was provided. In the meantime, new Chipotle Mexican Grill, Xsport Fitness and Mattress Firm locations opened for business. By early 2018, an interior face lift was underway. A (23,000 square foot) H & M was installed in existing mall space. This store opened in the fall of 2018.

Sources:

"From The Dodge Chicago Plant to Ford City Mall: The History of a Defense Plant to a Shopping Center" - Frank G. Werner
www.chiefengineer.org / "Ford City Complex Has A Past Most Don't Remember"
Malls Of America Blogspot / Keith Milford, webmaster / Post by "Gator"
ggp.com (General Growth Properties)
Cook County, Illinois Tax Assessor website
"Ford City" and "Preston Tucker" articles on Wikipedia
Comment post By Frank
www.chicagobusiness.com
www.midamerica.com