Carson Pirie Scott opened in Hammond in 1954 as the anchor to the Woodmar Mall, a V-shaped mall at Indianapolis Boulevard and 165th Street that was one of the first designed by the pioneering Austrian architect Victor David Gruen, who went on to design more than 50 shopping malls across the country from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Carson's was expanded from 115,000 square feet with the addition of a third floor a decade later, around the time the mall was enclosed.
The once thriving mall lost ground after the 1.3 million-square-foot River Oaks Center opened in neighboring Calumet City in 1966 and the super-regional Southlake Mall opened in Hobart in 1974. After years of decline, the former home to the Court of Lions, the Court of Turtles, J.J. Newberry, Woodmar Records, Schoop's and red neon signage that lit up the food court had fewer than a dozen remaining businesses.
With issues like a leaky roof and sewage problems, Woodmar Mall was demolished in 2006.
Now the Woodmar Mall's last vestige, the former Carson's department store, may soon become a memory.
The neighboring Hammond SportsPlex, a state-of-the-art $17 million facility for youth sports, has proven to be a big draw since opening in early October. The city already owns the 64-year-old Carson's building, having served as its landlord, and will likely raze it to make way for complementary development, such as hotels and restaurants.
"I would say there's a 98 percent chance of demolition," Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said. "A lot of people miss Carson's, and my wife and I shopped there, but if there's a saving grace, it's that it will help the community go forward."
Carson's closed for good in August as its parent company The Bon-Ton Stores went bankrupt after failing to turn an annual profit since 2010.
Merrillville-based CSG Generation acquired the rights to Carson's and to Bon-Ton's intellectual property and is reopening a brick-and-mortar Carson's in suburban Chicago. But the ownership has not reached out to Hammond about reopening the Woodmar location, and Hammond was not on the initial list of stores CSG Generation planned to reopen.
McDermott is not sure he would be interested anyway.
"It's unfortunate what happened, but we want to look forward, not to the past," he said.
Department store chains across the country have been going bankrupt or closing locations, so it's extremely unlikely another retailer would come in to take a space that large.
"I was trying to buy a nice suit coat the other day and I went to five different stores and none of them had it, so I had to buy it on the internet," he said. "It's becoming harder and harder for stores. Drive down to Highland and you see the empty Dick's Sporting Goods and the empty Borders in a perfectly good shopping center. Retail is going to get worse before it gets better, and a temporary Halloween costume shop in a big-box store isn't going to cut it."
Carson's itself had been looking to downsize and move to the former Walmart nearby before it went bankrupt.
"A three-story building like that was built for the 1950s," McDermott said. "The energy bills are huge, the overhead is huge. It's too big. Even Carson's didn't want to be there anymore."
The future, as McDermott sees it, is the Hammond SportsPlex, a 135,000-square-foot complex with indoor soccer fields, basketball courts, and volleyball courts.
"It's going to be bustling nine months of the year," he said. "The parking lot has been jam-packed."
McDermott envisions development similar to the Oxbow Landing just off the Borman Expressway. Hotels would give visiting families somewhere to stay while the kids played in travel tournaments, while restaurants would give them somewhere to eat between games or celebrate big victories.
"We can build off the momentum of the city investment," he said. "It's now the city's investment that's driving that neighborhood. We can redefine what that Woodmar Mall area is for another 20, 30 years."