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 was revamped into a production facility for the Tucker Torpedo, which was billed as "the first truly modern automobile". The tenure of the Tucker facility was short-lived. By November 1948, the company had been forced out of business, leaving the factory site idle once again.

The idle industrial complex sprang back to life as a result of the Korean Conflict. It was purchased by Ford in October 1950 and used as an aircraft engine assembly base until August 1959. Abandoned once more, the complex 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 MALL, it was dedicated August 12, 1965, with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley officiating.

The eighty-two store complex was comprised of three parts. The fully-enclosed (834,000 square foot) Grand Mall was anchored by a 2-level (178,000 square foot) J.C. Penney, which had been dedicated on August 1, 1965, and 2-level (219,300 square foot), Chicago-based Wieboldt's. There were also Flagg Brothers Shoes, Bond Clothes, Lerner Shops and an F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10, with Harvest House Cafeteria..

The North Mall, an open-air (352,000 square foot) strip center, ran alongside the north parking lot and included a Jewel supermarket, Ford City Bowling Center and Turnstyle Toys. The General Cinema Corporation Ford City Cinema I & II opened May 27, 1966.

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.

Competing shopping malls in the vicinity 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. It was built onto the south-facing front of the complex and included a 2-level (172,600 square foot) Montgomery Ward. This store was dedicated October 16, 1975.

The North Mall cinema had been expanded into the Ford City Cinema I-II-III in 1973. On July 17, 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.

Chicago-based Equity Group Investments acquired FORD CITY MALL in April 1987. In 1988, a 52 million dollar renovation got underway. The entire complex was given a face lift and the 12-bay Food City Food Court was installed in previously-existing space.

The Wieboldt's chain had gone out of business in July 1987. The FORD CITY store re-opened, as a Chicago-based Carson Pirie Scott, August 5, 1989.

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

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

FORD CITY MALL now encompassed 1,390,000 leasable square feet with one hundred and seventy-three retail spaces. Tenants included Marshalls (in the old North Mall cinema spot) and Old Navy (in the former bowling alley). Sears was shuttered in July 2010 and replaced by a 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.By this time, management of the property had been switched to Chicago's Jones Lang LaSalle.

The redevelopment consisted of the demolition of the vacant Montgomery Ward and several small 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. Details of a more comprehensive remodeling have been released since then. This would rebuild the interior of the complex, relocating its Food Court, gutting and reconfiguring most inline store space as big box retail and adding several new freestanding restaurants.

No construction schedule was provided. In the meantime, new Sephora, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Xsport Fitness and Mattress Firm locations opened for business.

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