The Stix Baer and Fuller store.
Typical tile pattern on the Stix store, with early demolition damage.
The sunken garden -- click for larger version.
Bow tie tile pattern overlooking the sunken garden.
River Roads Mall
Barely a mile distant from Northland Shopping Center, River Roads likewise stands in the ring of declining postwar suburbs surrounding St. Louis. It stands at the corners of Halls Ferry Road and Jennings Station Road, and consists of a major anchor, a main mall corridor, a small anchor at the opposite end (Food For Less), and an additional anchor to the north (JC Penney.) Dead Malls.com offers an informative history of the mall, especially its decline and closure.
The main anchor store (left) opened as Stix Baer and Fuller. With its white painted brick, distinctive diamond sea green and beige tile, sunken garden, and long-destroyed hanging globe lamps, it bears the distinctive marks of early- to mid-1960s product. Dillards purchased the Stix chain in 1983, and the River Roads location closed a year later, never to reopen. Interior cleanout began in the spring of 2006, though wholesale demolition operations had not yet reached the building as of September 2006.
The main mall corridor contains one level above ground; its interior is lit by high, milky translucent windows. A rather corny village square clock tower puncuates one end of the space, very much at odds with the modern image of the building. On the outside, a number of superficial remodellings, "modernizations", and store alterations has left the mall with a very patchwork appearance.
At the opposite end of the mall, the Food For Less store -- originally a Woolworth's, then a Kroger till 1986 -- has no interior connection to the mall and is in a different architectural style; I find myself wondering if both buildings and the main mall corridor connecting them all went up at once, or separately over time (an aerial view certainly seems to support the latter idea.) Major anchor stores such as Stix commonly sprouted attached malls over time. Food For Less stayed open long after the adjoining mall, and remains in business even as the rest of the mall is being ground to dust.
The JC Penney anchor store on the north came later, most likely the late 1960s or early 70s; it added a much more brutal, purely functional aesthetic to its side of the mall, though it also seems to be when the simple but impressive covered walkway with its powerful steel beams went in.
Several outlot buildings also stand on the vast site, most notably a suburban 1960s interpretation of Colonial Second Empire Drive-Up Bank Style.
Amid changing demographics, rising crime rates, and competition from ever larger and more distant malls, JC Penney moved out in 1995, and the mall was shuttered. After a lengthy vacancy and period of deterioration, demolition began in the summer of 2006.
The Stix store is far and away the greatest loss. It is an elegant building: simple, well articulated, powerfully massed, trimmed with exotic (if somewhat dated) ceramic tile. The tile patterns are hypnotically complex in their endless repetion; their patterns change with the shifting sunlight through the day, and would be reason enough alone to argue for saving the building.
The sunken court on the south side is presided over by a looming massive wall of this glazed tile in a wonderful three-tone bowtie pattern unique to that side of the building, once proudly illuminated by a row of lights, themselves a spatial element in their neat file. The space is the epitome of 1960s elegance.
When demolition is complete, the site will be redeveloped by Pyramid Construction with multiple enterprises including over 200 units of single family housing, fifteen businesses, a seniors' home, and a city hall facility.
Other off-site links:
- Ecology of Absence
- Underground Ozarks: River Roads Mall
- Underground Ozarks: Demolition of River Roads Mall