May 24, 2006Dead MallsMissouriPosted by Caldor
Im not really sure I knew of the dead mall phenomenon until 1998 or 1999, which seems to be when the first generation of these retail elephants started to drop. That was also around the time that I lived in the midwest, and my blogging pal Prangeway and I would troll around a seven-state area looking at all kinds of malls and shopping centers. At the time, we were technically more interested in finding thegood mallsyou know, the ones with 5 anchors and 200 stores and all the cool places to shop. We found something entirely different than what wed expected, and those trips really opened our eyes to the phenomenon of dying malls, making us realize that many of these centers (and perhaps the enclosed mall in general) is in the twilight of its life. It was a far more dramatic revelation than any Abercrombie-kid packed malls could offer.
As a result of a ridiculously wrong turn, we found this gem, tucked away in the suburbs north of St. Louis. Somewhat hilariously, we parked outside of a wig store that had occupied one of the store shells at the time, hoping to cut through the wig store (seen here, in much worse shape than in 1999) into the then-long-dead River Roads Mall. I cant believe we actually expected it to beopenit pretty much looked like this when we were there seven years ago.
1988 photo of Woolworths store inside of River Roads Mall:
I guess River Roads Mall bit it sometime in the mid-1990s, and has long been scheduled to be redeveloped into a mixed-use complex with a heavy residential component. If it ever gets off the ground, itll hopefully help the area a bit. It seemed like it had fallen into pretty severe decline (at least in 1999). Apparently demolition began very recently, and this blog has some greatRiver Roads Mall demolition photosup from just this past week.
I didnt carry a camera back then, but I found these dramatic photos of River Roads Mall online. Theyre really cool because its quite a rarity to find interior shots of a mall thats been closed up for so long. They were taken in 2004 by Michael Allen for his website,Ecology of Absence, which chronicles all kinds of structural dead things (including tons of non-retail stuff) and is well worth checking out if youre curious about urban decay, especially in the St. Louis area. Also check outToby Weissfantastic site, which includes a lot of great, black and white, artsy shots of forlorn retail establishments, and really captures the sadness in the buildings. There are alsomore pictureswhere these came from. And as usual, for more history from people who have some familiarity with the place, check outdead malls.
Despite the sadly advanced state of decay thats evident in these shots, it seemed that one point in time this mall mightve had some really snazzy mid-60s decor: check out that blue-tiled wall just barely visible at the left side of the photo above, or the groovy, greenish blue exterior of that one anchor store (the former Stix Bar Fuller.)
Former Stix Bar Fuller, in October 1988:
Thank you for the interest in River Roads Mall, and for sharing the photos.
One correction: The photos on Ecology of Absence are mine, not Toby Weiss.
Gosh. This is terrible. This is like Beneath the Planet of the Apes-underground-New York terrible.
I expect to find the shrine to the atom bomb up in this hea place. But alas, it ended with a whimper.
Is this the sign of a society in decline?
What would Dr Zaius think of our new lifestyle centers? Towne Centres?
It looks like the mall has come full circle. I remember as a kid when the mall was first built that the skylights leaked for years. During a rainstorm there were 10 20 buckets stretching from Vickies Gifts (between Woolworths and the S&H Greenstamps redemption store) down to Stix.
It its last days, the same problems happened, but because of 25 years of decay.
WHEW! River Roads that mall was one dangerous spot in the mid to late 80s. People ignorantly and rudely referred to it as N**ger Roads Mall (no surprise as St. Louis is still a city with great racist undertones). What once had been a wonderful mall had become a mall notorious for muggings, auto thefts, and later, murder. Dillards pulled out in the mid 80s, the very large JCPenney was downgraded to one of the first JC Penney Outlet Stores at the same time. The bad reputation only got worse when Woolworth closed in 1991 (in what would be the first, massive round of store closings for the chain) and left a large junior anchor spot that occupied 75% of one side of a wing of the mall unoccupied up until the time the mall was locked down. River Roads could have been saved with some ingenuity even as late as the mid to late 1990s by trying to attract chains like AJ Wright and apparel chains like Rainbow but this didnt happen due to the mall owner being a known retail slumlord. River Roads spent its last 12 years as a festering eyesore and to be honest, its current demolition is the best thing anybody could do for it because the structure had been so neglected that it was well beyond saving at this point. When I last drove by, small trees could be seen growing on the roof of the 3 story building that formerly housed Dillards. Sleep well River Roads, our dear old friend.
There is really something about this place. I know it met a bad end, but there is something really striking and sinister about this sinister that it looked like it had from day one. It reminds me of my own lost Cobb Center that met its fate in 1998 after struggling since 1973a sinister looking and sad little mall that started dying very early on similar to this one. One thing Im dying to know about River Roads Mall is that one-story building with the big arched windows that appeared to be attached to that truly wicked Stix building. What was the function of that? Was that some sort of a grand main entrance to the Stix store or what?
@Georgia Retail Memories, I would like to correct the information that someone told you. It was not called the Steamboat Room Restaurant. There was a Steamboad Room Restaurant in the mall but that was a dining room for the old Stix Baer and Fuller department store that was bought out by Dillards. We ate there on many occasions, lastly in about 1975. P. S. Steamboat Room connected to Woolworths. It, too, was a nice place to eat in its day. I have a lot of fond memories of that mall. Too bad it had to die such a painful death.
@Georgia Retail Memories, If you are referring to the building that was at the base of the green & gray art deco wall of the Stix building that was The Pavilion Restaurant. Somewhat elegant for a suburban mall restaurant in the 60s it hosted Rotary Club and various other civic meetings for many years..
Correction: there is something really striking and sinister abou tthis mall that it looked like it had from day one. Ill also add another sinister on the Cobb Center sentence. I should have proofread and not used the word sinister so much, but its a pretty good description of the most outlandish of the 60s and 70s malls and a feel I got in the ones I knew from my childhood in the early 80s.
Hey Georgia Retail Memories: The building next to the old Stix Baer and Fuller was a reastaurant called The Steamboat Room. A paddlewheel steamboat was the logo associated with River Roads Mall. I ate at The Steamboat Room once as a small child and dont remember much about it BUT I dont recall it being two stories. I think it was one strory and that the cieling raised in the center to give the place kind of a Roman Arcade feeling inside. Hope this helps.
Drove by the old River Roads Mall today large portions, including the old JC Penney & Styx, Baer, and Fuller have been torn down, but piles of debris, and a good portion of the mall still are standing left totally vacant. The Food 4 Less grocery store is the only thing still operating in the middle of what looks like a warzone.
It looks as though demolition has ceased; large piles of debris remain, but no construction equiptment to be seen, The parking lot has potholes over a foot deep near the grocery store. Looks about as bad as the old Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, IL. Dont know what happened to redevelopment plans,
I grew up in Jennings in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The pictures of the mall choked me up. I loved this mall growing up and spent most of my days there. It makes me sad to see what it and Jennings has become. This was a safe city up until the 80s and then it went downhill from there. I will always treasure my memories of these malls and the place I call home. Hopefully someday this world will turn around and it will be safe to walk and drive the streets again.
Does anyone remember the toystore next to Dillards that had the monorail that ran through the top of the store?
@Kelley, hi just wanted to ask you a quick queion would your madin name be smith and did you live across the stree from riverroads in a subdvision off of halls ferry rd couress
I am 43 and I do remember that toy store monorail. I think it may have been seasonal? In any case it was called the Gumdrop Express.
Another vivid River Roads memory was the puppet show at easter time. There was one about a grumpy rotten egg who somehow became transformed into a bright pink, glittery happy egg. For many years my grandma (who took me to the shows) would, at my prodding, impersonate the day glo tree stumps who sang Down by the Riverside.
This brings back such great memories. I do remember the toy store with the monorail. I think it was part of Stix, and it was seasonal. I remember the puppet show, too. Havent thought of that in many years.
I, too, spent many days at River Roads. I ate my first soft pretzel at the counter at Woolworths. Remember the pizza there? I worked at the Life Uniform Shop through high school and college.
@Kelley, Jennings is still a bit of a slum in the south but I walk the streets and people are generally friendly.
Stix was the one who ran the Bubblegum Express monorail. It had other names and was redecorated several times but I remember that name the best. I remember looking down at the jewelry counters as we moved around the store. I hope someone finds some pictures because some people wont even believe a store had a monorail on their ceiling.
@stevels, Yeah it was the Gumdrop Express like Todd said. I remember the singing plastic figures now too.
@Kelley, lived in STL in the mid 80s to Summer 1990, my ex worked at the wig store there, the owner was a Korean woman. Even then you would the stores gradually closing one by one. We had to drive from Skinker and Delmar straight North to get to the store, that was a real obstacle course!
@Kelley, Hi. I have very fond memories of riding the monorail attached to the ceiling of that store. especially at Christmas. Its like no one seems to remember that. I loved riding the bus with my grandma to the mall and eating lunch at the Woolworths.
@Kelley, I lived in Illinois and my parents used to cross the river and shop at Northland and River Roads. I vividly remember the ceiling tram at Stix Barr & Fuller ( I had to have been between 4 yrs and 6 yrs old because I truly dont think anyone over 6 would fit) Their was a wooden staircase that was behind wire that lead up to the boarding area. There were 3 or 4 inclosed cars that were connected by accordion crawl throughs. Each car had little seats at each window to look through and when the tram went overhead all the parents below would look up and wave. I looked so forward to going and riding the tram and getting HUGE warm pretzels and the little hot bags of cashews from the Woolworths snack counter. I wouldnt trade my childhood with any kid today.
Wow, this really brings back memories. Also like Kelley, Im a child of Jennings from the 60s and 70s. River Roads was THE place to go when I was a kid/young teenager, before I was able to drive. Lots of great memories of eating at the Steamboat Room and screwing around at the video game place off of the side entrance. On Sundays, when the malls used to be closed, we would shoot model rockets from the JCPenney parking lot. Great times.
Part of the downward spiral was RiverRoads was a transportation hub for the Bi-State bus system that would link North and East St. Louis residents to the mall. Great for the mall, business wise, for a while, but it ended up brining in some gang elements that caused problems. Its sad to see these old pictures, but I guess nothing is suppose to last forever.
@Jeff B, More buried memories My dad and I nailed some runner lines in that parking lot and ran the alcohol powered miniature funny cars there. We did the rockets over at the Fairview school football field.
As far as I know the buses didnt link to East St Louis and you could blame the demise of the mall on people who had to run to St. Charles because they spotted one African American in their stores.
Well if u lived there through the 70-80 like i had, graduated from Jennings High, and slowly watch year after year friends getting mugged, homes robbed and unable to go to River Roads at night without a large group of friends, you would want to move also. Jennings was nearly 50% black middle class during 80s, and many of my friends whom first to leave were black, moved further north into Florrisant. The bus line didnt help, but for my family it was North Twin Drive In, thugs from all over St Louis white and black came there to watch midnight movies. Hit the mall then the movies usually jumping my parents fence to do so, free movies. But in all the whole experience i wouldnt change a thing, GO WARRIORS.
@ MU Alum: Wasnt the (sinister) building outside Stix a restaurant called The Pavilion? It was in a strange locationnot easily accessible from anywhere.
The Steamboat Room was Woolworths restaurant in the mall. I used to eat there a lot as a kid.
Does anyone remember what other few retailers were in the tiny lower mall area near the Pavilion? I remember only a barber shop.
@Brad Leonard, We ate at the Steamboat Room every Sunday evening and we even had the same waitress. Juanita knew about what my mom and dad would want to order.
Heres a couple answers that might help . . . the mysterious archways by the Dillards were decorative. Behind the arches was the Pavillion Restuarant (also part of Dillards). At one point Dillards also had a bakery department kittycorner from the restaurant on the way out of the side doors. Arches seemed to be an architectural theme for department stores in the 1960s Famous Barr also used them extensively in its domes (Northwest Plaza, South County, and West County (and maybe WestRoads)).. I do remember the monorail in the toy store next to Dillards. Actually, Dillards, at the time (1960s), was Stix, Baer, and Fuller. The toy store was part of Stix. Regarding the stores in the small basement annex of the mall near Dillards, there was once a Yarn Barn, the office of my dentist, Dr. Scott (and before him, his father), and a small art gallery. At the base of the steps there was a fountain (with blue tile I think) that you could throw coins in. I understand that when the Mall opened in the 1950s there was an outdoor seating area and fountains in the lower level courtyard (outside the annex) where concerts were held and people met on summer eveings. This was a bit before my time so I dont remember it firsthand. Not far from the Mall there was also a Zayre discount store, Howard Johnsons, and Katz Drugstore. Ive also heard that RiverRoads was the first indoor mall in Missouri (the first outdoor mall being Country Club Plaza in Kansas City).
@Barb F, I think Zayers had another name at first.
@stevels, Zayers was previously Zephyrs
Zayre was the original store name not Zephyrs. I watched it being built and it was my first job while attending Flo ,
My family owned and opeated Plattners Modern Man for over 20 years at River Roads. Also, our corportate office was in the lower level of the mall. We were among the last tenants. I have fond memories of working at River Roads.
I left St Louis in 1985 to move to San Diego and I have the most fondest memories of River Roads Mall. My mother worked at The Pavillion restaurant for 14 years. I would take the bus from Spanish Lake to meet her and we would then go to the doctors. I remember it being THE place to go to for shopping before Jamestown Mall opened. I remember all the stores there: the record shops, the bakery in Stix dept. store. The monorail in the toy store. I believe there was a Harvest House resaurant and a Walgreens where we would get lime freezes to drink. There are so many memories of sitting on Santas knee and puppet shows in the mall. They are some of my favorite memories. It is so sad that an area can be in such decline that structures have to disapear. I have always wanted to go back to River Roads just to reminice when I visit St Louis but I guess now I will only have the memories. SAD SAD SAD
@Tony, Everytime a new mall opens an old one dies. They opened the Mills and now Northwest Plaza went into bankruptcy.
It is interesting how a Mall can bring back so many happy memories for people. Whenever I meet northsiders and they are of a certain age, it is always fun to talk about Riverroads. Was the Plattners store in the annex that opened for JC Penney? I remember the Harvest House cafeteria, too was it somehow owned by the Woolworth company? I kind of remember the lineup on the east end Vickis cardshop, Woolworths, the Woolworths steamboat restaurant, Harvest House, (and, a really long time ago, I think there was some kind of a little sausage/deli store near the Harvest House). And of course the Walgreens and its Wags restaurant. I always liked the food Woolworths served at its snack bar at the entrance to the store. There was one very nice lady who seemed to have worked there for years. I loved that pizza they made and those grilled hot dogs. Woolworths was were I first had a frozen Coke a real novelty then. They also made these little donuts for a while and sold them in a little case next to the snack bar greasy little things, but they were good. Ill have to get my camera out sometime and go up there and see whats left. I think they started taking it down but never finished.
I Grew Up and lived at:[ 8866,St.Cyr st]..
only a few Blocks up the street From This Mall.
during the mid-late 70s,.
I Remember When I and my Friends (*as Kids)
Use to go up and shop and Hang out there at the woolworths,
There was a Really cool TOY store at one end,
and I Still Remember very Clearly that ole Clocktower
standing in the Center of the Walk in Area,..
My Grade School [ *Northview ] Overlooked the mall
from just Up Atop the west end HILLside,
I havent back to Jennings Mo.
I Moved out to Los Angeles Ca, in 1990
Ironically, I Actually was looking Up Something else
on GOOGLE,..~(*when I Came Across THIS Post)~
about where I Use to go to High school
in the early 80s – 80-85 ),
which was Demolished about a Year or so
I FEEL LIKE EVERY PART OF MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
Reply to: Kelley said, on November 28th, 2007 at 2:35 pm
Does anyone remember the toystore next to Dillards that had the monorail that ran through the top of the store?
Reply Post from:Chris.
I Bet We lived near Each other back then,
I Remember that Ole shop, and the Monorail Too,
and the STEAMBOAT ROOM Restraunt,
I Agree Kelley,
I Felt like Breaking Up too, over this,
So many Memories All gone now,..
Just ran across this website. As a longtime shopper and later employee in RiverRoads, I was devastated at its demise. I, too, explored this vast playground starting in late 2003 after a mall roof fire was on the local news. I figured the firemen made it easy to get in, as careless as they are with chopping holes through everything in their way. Sure enough, it was a breeze going in the mall entrance doors by Stix. My brother and I managed to get into every nook and cranny, including the office of the shopping center on the malls lower level, and much to our surprise, all records, files, etc. were intact simply abandoned for lack of anyone wanting them or caring about them. That is, until I came along! I now have enough memorabilia to start a RiverRoads museum that would rival the Titanic exhibit!
I have the original contracts dated 1959 whereby Stix agreed to be the main anchor and had veto power over any store elsewhere in the entire mall a list of prospective tenants was listed for Stix to say yay or nay to. I also have the large sheet blueprints to Stix! I also have several volumes of the builders specs of constructing the building.
I will always have a warm place in my heart for Woolworths, perhaps it was that snack bar that I still dream about at night! Perhaps it is the infamous Steamboat room restaurant of which, on our last visit inside the mall in Jan., 2007 just before demolition workers destroyed that section, I sawed off a nice section of the unforgettable wood white railing, steamboat motif, outside the restaurant facing the mall.
I also have, from the main office of the mall, many 8 x 10 photos and other items.
I will write more later if anyone is interested, such as our discovery in the basement credit dept of Stix (no, not a bag of money!) and what it took to get into the barricaded bowling alley.
By the way, the demolition workers were first class hoosier jerks! Very unfriendly and disrespectful to history!
@Bob, Wheres your website? Our entire Fairview and Jennings High FB group would be interested.
Who sawed off the railing at the Steamboat Room ? And I guess Im proud of it !
I would be very interested in a Riverroads Museum and in hearing about how you got in to the bowling alley
I think a RiverRoads Museum would rival the Titanic Exhibit! We could even set up a Steamboat Room and serve food! (turkey club, please)As far as the bowling alley, well, it wasnt easy! Apparently at some point in time the stairwell leading down to the bowling alley had been permanently barricaded with a plywood wall, very well constructing about halfway down the stairs on the first landing. We were unprepared on our first visit to tackle this.
On our second visit we brought tools. My brother (I better give him credit here!) and I used crowbars to break through the very well built wall and break open a small area that we could get through. This took much time! Then we got down to the glass doors entrance only to find the doors closed and locked! these were the only retail doors in the entire mall locked just our luck! We were going to smash out the glass except for the fact that there was chicken wire between the sheets of glass, and we did not have goggles to protect our eyes from flying shreds of glass.
It wasnt until a couple years later (2006) that upon a visit everything was open thanks to the demolition morons. They had run power down there to begin their work. It was like a Twilight Zone walk back in time deteriorated, but still the once magnificent SPENCERS LANES was recognizable. The wood lanes were still there, with a few pins (I have one of those as well!) and balls. The great 60s look cocktail lounge still had those mod lamps hanging down from the ceiling we couldnt break one off for fear of pulling down the entire ceiling.
If anyone recalls, along the far side of the lanes at the back, there was an entrance that lead into the malls lower level and connected.
In the bowling alley office there was little of consequence, a little paperwork from its final days that I could not pinpoint what year.
Bob You are a hero. I, too, explored the innerworkings of the mall a few years ago, but with much trepidation. I stayed close to the opening so I felt relatively safe, but I was a bit overcome by the mildew smell and was terified of seeing a rat. I am really thinking about going back to explore a little more (I understand some of the mall is still standing) and to take a few more photos. Is there anything special youd recommend exploring? (And, did you see any rats?!) Hope I dont get arrested for tresspassing!
Wow! Whod have thought that the old RR mall would elicit so many comments. I worked at J C Penney from about 1964-1970. I have fond memories of the fried chicken and pizza from Woolworths and the burgers at Walgreens. I also ate at the Pavillion and once in a while at the bowling alley.
The Penney store had only one escalator that always ran up. When Mr. Penney visited the store, they reversed it so he could ride down. Before the expansion, Penneys had taken over the store next door which was called the annex where we sold seasonal items. You had to go through a labyrinth in the basement to get there from the main store.
Does anyone remember the Saturday morning KXOK radio shows with Johnny Rabbitt from the mall in front of Stix? They really drew a crowd.
Its sad to see the decline in the neighborhood and in the mall. The nearby Northland Shopping Center, an older strip center with Famous Barr as the anchor, has also fallen into disrepair. I havent been to Jennings in a long time, but I believe its still standing although mostly empty.
@Mike, Northland is now the Buzz Westfall center (although people still just call it Northland) and is complete rebuild strip mall with Shnucks and Target the hub stores. Theres a Sonic, a 5/3 rds bank and GenX. Occupancy is 95% with the Starbucks leaving fast.
Barb F. Hate to tell you this, but it is ALL gone! Just a memory sad to say because of the poor planning by Jennings City leaders who went into this project without concrete plans or a solid developer. The latest developer has just gone broke and the huge cavernous crater that greets all along Jennings and Halls Ferry Roads will be a far worse eyesore than a boarded up historic mall.
The last of the mall came down late last summer. I wasnt worried about rats when I ventured in because rats will only hang around if theres a food source none at all inside abandoned River Roads. I never saw any, and we were in the far deep corners of all floors! Stix basement floor was interesting, especially the credit dept. area and main offices we even found the walk-in main bank vault of Stix, door open!
I have many more mementos than Im willing to admit at this point in time since the demolition people were such jerks Im glad they went broke! We had large, high-powered lanterns/spotlights when we went in and gloves. Virtually all store fixtures were gone I wonder if there was a liquidation sale in the 90s of those items?
I was amazed at how much was left in Stix. For instance, we found the main key room with wall racks of labeled keys for every part of Stix. I now own the key to the main front entrance of Stix River Roads! The restaurant, Pavillion and outer coffeee shop, still had all fixtures counter, stools, kitchen equipment, etc. That surprised me. We were tempted to cook lunch for oursleves in there and sit at the counter and eat! What would the police have thought if they walked in on that?? Theyd be calling for the men in the little white coats!
Please email the mayor of jennings on the city website and tell him what a botched project this has been, that River Roads never should have been torn down.
Bob I will gladly email. Now this may sound nutty, but I may still go by and take a final look at that crater (and pay my last respects). What a gold mine you hit exploring that Stix building! Id love it! Who would have thought theyd leave all those files behind? Any interesting photos in the files? My favorite store was Woolworths. I did a google image search and was so surprised at the number of people who posted photos of the mall in its decline. I had planned to write a freelance story on its history to coincide with its final dismantling, but, alas, I never thought theyd actually get around to tearing it down. I am, however, pleased to report that on my last visit (and timid exploration), I did swipe the PUSH plates from the entrance doors (on the Kroger side). Im so glad I did!
I spent just about everyday of my early life at RRs. I walked across New Halls Ferry through the mall(about 7:30AM) and down Berkay to Jennings Elementary. I was in 5th grade 1964. Could you imagine allowing a child to do that in the present. River Roadwhat Great Memories Krogers, Woolworthwed go downstairs and they had a toy/hobbie shop down there, Walgreensburgers and cherry cokes, The Steamboat Room, Harvest House Cafeteria, Downs mens store, Wolfs another mens store, Union Jack, Spencers Bowling AlleywowStix, The Pavilion..on and onThe toystore with the monarail at Christmasthe memoriesThis was a crossroads..where the kids from Northwest City, Jennings, Riverview, Rosary met. During the holiday season the parking lot which surrounded the entire shopping center..would be jammed packed!..even on my street BluegrassRiver Roads thank you for the memories..There was a specialness to grow up in North CountyJennings was a wonderful placeit was 1969I ran across the dark RR parking lot at 11:30PMto head home after a stop at Cuzies Pizzariaour parents didnt have to worry. Thats the kind of neig