Tuesday, September 27, 2011
BLUE RIDGE MALL - Memories
There is a wonderful BLOG called LabelScar that allows people to explore closed shopping malls via photos and discussions. There is a page for Blue Ridge Mall, and I wanted to add to the thread there, but for some reason my post was rejected, so I have included my memories below to add to all the observations on LabelScar for Blue Ridge Mall.
Link to Labelscar.
Anyone else with Blue Ridge Mall memories, feel free to post here, or you might enjoy Labelscar. Sorry for any errors I've made.
My Memories of Blue Ridge Mall:
My mom took me to the Grand Opening of Blue Ridge Mall in 1958 in a baby stroller, I was one.
She and a neighbour took their strollers up to spend the day and see what all the hype was
about. Prior to BRM, they had shopped at places like Alton Plaza, the Independence Square, or
Downtown KC. In fact, my mom says it was BRM that "killed" the Indep. Square in terms of being
a shopping mecca. For those not from the area, Independence Missouri has a quaint antique town
square with the old County Courthouse in the center, with streets of quaint buildings and shops
surrounding it. Prior to shopping malls, it contained all the shopping, government offices,
utilities and other destinations for the town, enough to keep it quite lively. This all
changed with the advent of malls. It became a shadow of it's former self, only slowly reviving
in recent times as a historical destination with eclectic shopping and restaurants etc.
Blue Ridge Mall was one of the first large open air shopping malls in the region, located at
the intersection of US 40 Hwy and Interstate 70 and Blue Ridge Boulevard, at a point where
Independence, Raytown and Kansas City Missouri all converge, and a stone's throw from the
Truman Sports Complex, the home of the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs stadiums.
When BRM opened, not only did all the stores facing the huge surrounding parking lots have
plate glass windows and outside doors, but there were numerous "lanes" like Community Lane,
sidewalks that led between stores to the interior of the Mall and the central Promenade. These
Lanes were distinguished with benches and planters with flower beds, and mysterious stairs that
descended down into darkness, chained and gated at the top.
That brings up a major topic of BRM that no one else has discussed which I find really odd,
that is the freight / package pick up tunnel. In the parking lot facing North at the Jones
store end was an iron height beam at the top of a ramp that led down under the mall heading
south. Trucks would enter this tunnel to deliver the goods to the mall's biggest stores. At
the bottom of the ramp, basement level for the mall, were a series of loading docks and doors
and steps. Major stores like Jone's and Penney's and Ward's, Newberry's, Harzfeld's, and the
Concourse level had dock doors or package doors out into this cool dark tunnel. If you bought
say a refrigerator from Ward's, you were given a ticket, and told how to go into the tunnel,
find the Wards dock, park angled, climb the stairs and ring the pickup bell. Someone would
come, take your ticket, and bring your purchase to their dock, help you load it and off you go.
The other end of the tunnel led to a ramp that surfaced / came above ground right next to where
Mont. Wards met the Safeway on the North side. Trucks would exit there and go onto Sterling
Avenue to leave the mall.
The "Concourse" level mentioned elsewhere originally consisted of two tunnels, one on either
side of Harzfeld's basement. One led west and terminated in the bowling alley and there were
public bathrooms at the bottom of the stairs up to the surface that came out where Safeway met
the rest of the Mall on South side. The Bowling was underneath the Safeway, in fact when you
went to get a jug of milk at the far back of Safeway, you could hear the bowling balls hitting
the pins right underneath you! That tunnel I believe had the radio station, the dance academy
and not sure what else. The other tunnel to the east of Harzfeld's branched out and connected
to the loading dock tunnel, next to public bathrooms, and it had Mall Security, the Nursery,
barber shop, shoe repair, small things.
This was before South Court. It was not originally connected to Harzfeld's or Penney's
basement, at least not to the public. The only elevators I remember originally were Harzfeld's
just to their basement, Wards, Jones and then the new J.C. Penney's. The new elevator accessed
from the Promenade did not come until much later after South Court was built.
When Penney's built it's new massive building where the Safeway had been, they wanted three
stories. Also, people were tired of the sloped parking lot toward Sterling, and so, since
Newberry's went out of business and had escalators they decided to make it
North Court with big outside entrance, and old Penney's became South Court with big
outside entrance. Originally there were only stairs going down to lower South Court for the
first couple years, because old Penney's had only had stairs. They did knock a hole thru from
Harzfeld's basement to the new lower South Court so handicapped people could get down there.
Eventually they added very steep escalator down to lower South Court, and built a dedicated
elevator in a niche they cut out of space between Harzfelds and Zales entrances on the
Promenade. So you could still take the elevator if Harzfeld's was closed. They then
cut up the old stores into many smaller stores. Lower South Court had Burstein Applebee's
electronics and records, the Brothers Fish pet store, Don's World of Beef, Andersen's book
store, Putsch's cafeteria and Carousel (fast food), Kim's Orientals, tobacconist, hall to
Harzfeld's, hallway to public bathrooms and loading dock tunnel, etc. etc. Upper South Court
once had a McDonalds!, then a "loose meat sandwich" place, a GNC, a Salon, eventually antiques,
North Court was designated to be a Food and Entertainment area to compete with the bigger newer
malls. So in Lower North Court at bottom of Newberry's escalators they built a four screen
mini theater annex of Blue Ridge Cinema, and people used it's bathrooms, next to it was
SpacePort the futuristic game arcade, and originally the rest was Mall office, hall to loading
dock tunnel, and several fast foods, an early one was SMAK's with its Seal mascot Smakie!
There was also a door to the underground parking garage, north of malls basement level.
The upper North Court had fast food places and a little seating to eat and doors to the above
ground North parking lot. When Penney's had to do major excavation to dig out the bowling alley
for their lower level, the mall decided to add covered parking, so they dug out the whole North
parking lot, from the dock tunnel ramp that descended near Jones on the east, all down the
basement level of the mall all along between the mall and north ring road, then out level to
Sterling and all where Blue Ridge Bowl was and under the southwest parking lot too. They then
put a layer of concrete on concrete stilts above the new "Sterling level" parking to make it
covered. You only went into it from three places.
A ramp down the southwest corner and under, entrance and exit from Sterling with flashing
lights due to alot of accidents at first, and the entry ramp near Jone's. Oh yeah there was
one more ramp down on ring road in northwest corner. So now the exit from the freight / pickup
tunnel came out next to Ward's basement, around the corner of Penney's basement and dock, and
straight out Sterling.
Ward's extended their regular elevator down into the covered parking, and opened a door to
their basement level from the north. So you could park underneath to the north or West and go
in thru Penney's, Ward's, or North Court. There were loooong stairwells to get up to ground
level around Penney's, but kinda dangerous, people used Penney's elevator instead. They had to
put speed bumps outside lower North Court doors to slow traffic down, people were getting hit
coming out the doors.
In the heyday of the mall before all this, during heavy shopping times you could not find a
place to park, you'd go round and round the mall waiting for someone to leave. After they
added underground, people jammed it circling waiting to get a place so it was always full of
fumes in busy times! There was one year, a few years after they built the parking lot up on
stilts, that it shifted a few inches due to weather, and people were afraid to park on top of
it around Penney's, it was buckling and getting huge dips, but it never did collapse.
I rode my bike to the mall, crossing over the "dangerous" oooh! bridge of Blue Ridge Blvd over
40 Hwy to get there! :) And Rexall Crown Drug having wood floors, and nickel paper kites, and
ten cent comics and candy bars and penny candies all types. If you had fifty cents you could
get a sack of candy and two comic books and a kite. :) And the memories of freezing between
stores at Christmas, you had to put your coats on, go to the next store, then everyone would
take their coats off and I had to carry them till we left that store. And the sacks were all
super thin paper, and if you clutched them tight for hours they would tear! Wards sacks were
green. Harzfelds charged for their fancy shopping bags.
There were so many good smells, candy counters, lunch counters, coffee shops, treats. Russel
Stovers candy. Velvet Creme with it's white wire back ice cream chairs. Cake Box sugar cookies
in colored shapes like Hearts or Pumpkins or Turkeys or Santa. The candy nut counter in
basement of Jone's. Popcorn in Rexall. Woolworth's had that Sno Cone cart outside their
door, and wonderful hamburgers. When Fred Harvey's Blue Rooster Cafe was at the east end of
parking lot (really good steaks and seafood and chicken and COFFEE) they also ran a cafeteria
in the north west end of the mall called The Holland House.
A carnival used to regularly set up in the southeast parking lot every few years. I remember
the dinosaurs outside mentioned above, the machine cranked out wax, not plastic, dinosaurs. I
just had my three remaining dinosaurs from that machine smashed in an accident, they were wax.
I remember how weird it was when they enclosed it to get the A/C and Heat, that was the big
deal, and the stores opened their inside entrances WIDE OPEN and how weird that was! No more
fighting with airlock double doors.
For those who don't remember Fred Harvey's, that's the same firm that had the diner and the
fine dining room at Union Station. It sat empty, then was ChiChi's, then Hong Kong buffet,
then torn down.
The old lit up sign on 40 Hwy was magnificent, especially if it was foggy. The letters M A L L
would light up in sequence vertically, and a round cylinder of clear light bulbs on top would
light it's bulbs in sequence around and around to look like a Lighthouse, very cool in fog.
Huge lit up arrow full of yellow bulbs pointing into mall with Blue Ridge in script. Must have
been three stories tall. First the Mall letters would light up, then top lighthouse cylinder
then arrow, then lighthouse bulbs would chase round and round and arrow would blink on and off,
then start all over. This was before I-70 of course, so US40 was the main drag. There was a
Blue Ridge Standard gasoline service station right next to the 40 Hwy entrance. Had the best
mechanics, three bays. I remember waiting on the brand new I-70 West on-ramp next to BRM the
day the stretch of I-70 opened from there to downtown KC. We whizzed to downtown in about 15
minutes driving slow to take in the whole new experience. I marvelled at all the houses that
had been torn down and streets now cut off in dead ends. You were looking right into people's
back yards! How weird!
I remember Santa arriving by helicopter to BRM above the Safeway parking lot and dropping ping
pong balls by the hundreds onto the crowd below. Some ping pong balls won prizes. Oh, those
mysterious stairs that led downward in the "lanes" when it was open air? They went down to the
freight tunnel. And no one has mentioned it, but it was not actually totally open, there was a
corrugated roof over the middle promenade, held up by huge steel ibeams, higher than the level
of the store roofs so air and light came in all around it, but it kept some of the weather off
the center promenade. So open to the air, but a little bit of cover in the middle.
Oh yeah, that connection above ground from Wards to the Auto Center, that was their storage for
tires and such, not open to public. Oh yeah and the Blue Ridge Cinema down 40 to the east was
torn down a couple of years ago. I just read a new arcade is opening in Indep. with some of
the machines from SpacePort, don't remember where.
Happy Joe's had a Super Dooper Double Dipper soda with 7 scoops of ice cream and quart of pop
for two people. They also had 21 scoop sundae if you could eat it all you could have a second
one. And a window with footstool for kids to watch pizzas being made. They were part of a
chain that still has restaurants open elsewhere in the country.
There was a Gold Crown Hallmark next to Jones. Optical store. I remember that some storms
knocked out Woolworth's windows, and cars rammed into Woolworth's and Newberry's, and energy
savings was big, so they decided to brick up almost all the outside plate glass windows to save
energy, and close most the outside access doors to individual stores.
I remember the Security Patrol was a light blue open air WWII type Jeep with awning roof and
single rotating bubble light on top on all the time, and they were always somewhere in the
parking lot watching. Every year we'd go to Zale's to get free I Am Loved buttons. I also remember
many hours spent in the Singer sewing machine and fabric store looking at patterns, McCall, Butterick,
Woolworth's was a godsend if you were young and had only a few dollars to buy Christmas