RIVER OAKS CENTER
Torrence Avenue / US 6 and River Oaks Drive
City of Calumet City, Illinois

The fifteenth major shopping complex in Chicagoland was developed by a joint venture of the Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna Life Insurance Company and Chicago-based KLC Ventures, under the auspices of Phillip Klutznick. Mr. Klutznick had been instrumental in the creation of the PARK FOREST PLAZA (1949), OLD ORCHARD CENTER (1956) and OAKBROOK CENTER (1962) retail hubs.

RIVER OAKS CENTER, originally an open-air complex, sat on 100 acres, situated 18 miles southeast of The Loop, in suburban Calumet City. The center, designed by Richard Marsh Bennett of Loebl, Schlossman, Bennett & Dart, consisted of a main retail level and basement.

Sears, the first operational store, opened for business September 14, 1966. The mall was officially dedicated September 29, 1966. A Jewel Food-Osco Drug opened September 29, 1966. S.S. Kresge was dedicated November 3 of the same year.

Joseph Nowak, mayor of Calumet City, presided at the mall's official dedication. The 35 million dollar complex encompassed approximately 921,000 leasable square feet and sixty stores and services.

The original anchors were a 3-level (275,000 square foot) Marshall Field & Company, 2-level (66,700 square foot), Hammond, Indiana-based Edward C. Minas Company and 2-level (364,700 square foot) Sears. This store held the distinction of being Sears' largest suburban location until a 416,000 square foot operation opened, at Chicagoland's WOODFIELD MALL, in late 1971.

Charter tenants at RIVER OAKS CENTER included Fabric Mart, Chas A. Stevens ladies' wear, Baskin's men's & ladies' wear, Florsheim Shoes, Evans Furs, Kroch's & Brentano's Books, C.D. Peacock Jewelers, Chandler's Shoes, Fannie May Candies and John M. Smyth Company furniture.

Major shopping centers in the vicinity of RIVER OAKS CENTER included EVERGREEN PLAZA (1952) {10.4 miles northwest, in Evergreen Park}, DIXIE SQUARE MALL (1966-1979) {5.7 miles northwest, in Harvey} and LINCOLN MALL (1973) {10.7 miles southwest, in Matteson}.

The first cinematic venue at RIVER OAKS CENTER, the single-screen River Oaks Dimension-150 Theatre, opened May 30, 1969. The River Oaks 2 Theatre, across Torrence Avenue, opened in 1972 and was expanded into a 3-plex in 1975. In 1980, screens 5 & 6 were added to the River Oaks Theatre 2 & 3 complex.

The original -circa-1969- house had been expanded with a second auditorium in 1978. The venue became known as the River Oaks Theatres 1 & 4. Inside the mall, the River Oaks Theatres 7 & 8 was installed in space previously occupied by the Jewel Food-Osco Drug. This motion picture venue showed its first features October 21, 1983.

On December 16, 1988, the Cineplex Odeon River Oaks Cinemas 1-6 opened in a vacant S.S. Kresge space. The multiplex across Torrence Avenue was shuttered. Theatres 7-8 remained as is. The twin-screen venue in the original (circa-1969) theater became the River Oaks Theatres 9 & 10.

The mall's first anchor store nameplate change had taken place October 6, 1982, when the Edward C. Minas store became the twenty-fifth Carson Pirie Scott location.

A 15 million dollar mall expansion was completed in the mid-1980s. A 2-level (139,000 square foot) J.C. Penney was dedicated October 2, 1985. The store was part of a new forty-store wing added to the northwest corner of the complex.

A 3 million dollar food court, known as the Tower Cafe, was also installed in fully-enclosed space on the mall's lower level. This area had previously been utilized by the John M. Smyth store. The Tower Cafe Food Court was gigantic, with twenty vendors. However, it was not a successful endeavor and closed within a few years.

By 1990, RIVER OAKS CENTER was in decline. It was thought that an enclosing renovation might bring the center back to its previous prominence. A 50 million dollar project was announced in February 1993. Construction got underway in March.

All courts and concourses were roofed, with 80,000 square feet of fill-in retail space created. A 9-bay Food Court on the Main Level replaced the earlier basement facility, the Carson's building was remodeled and forty new stores added. The newly-refurbished complex was unveiled in September 1994. Its GLA had been increased to 1,229,000 square feet, with its retail roster now listing one hundred and forty-six stores and services.

The Chicago-based JMB Group Trust and Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group participated in a joint venture ownership deal involving four Chicagoland malls; RIVER OAKS CENTER, HAWTHORN CENTER (1973) {Vernon Hills}, FOX VALLEY CENTER (1975) {Aurora} and ORLAND SQUARE MALL (1976) {Orland Park}.

In November 1997, this arrangement was restructured, with Simon assuming 100 percent ownership of the RIVER OAKS and ORLAND SQUARE properties. JMB became the sole proprietor of FOX VALLEY CENTER and HAWTHORN CENTER.

The new century brought more changes to RIVER OAKS CENTER. Steve & Barry's University Sportswear came and went and Marshall Field's was "Macy-ated" September 9, 2006. The mall's cinema complexes were shuttered between 2005 and 2008. The original (circa-1969) venue was bulldozed in 2011. The Cinemas 1-6 (Kresge) building was torn down in October 2012, followed by the Theatres 7-8 (Jewel-Osco) structure, in November.

Carson's store shut down in January 2012, with Sears throwing in the proverbial towel in June 2013. The River Oaks Professional Building was demolished in early 2014.

Meanwhile, the Simon Property Group had created a spin-off Real Estate Investment Trust. Known as the Washington Prime Group., it assumed ownership of RIVER OAKS CENTER. The WPG merged with the Glimcher Realty Trust in early 2015.

Sources:

"River Oaks Center" article on Wikipedia
http://www.simon.com (Simon Property Group)
Comment posts by "Kd" and "Rich B"
The Chicago Tribune
http:movie-theatre.org/usa/il/chicago/suburban