We receive countless questions about Dixie Square, hopefully this will answer most of them. We assume no liability for anything and this F.A.Q. section should not be interpreted as legal advice or a "how-to" for committing any possible crimes.
UPDATED 2/24/14; I originally wrote this when the mall was still standing, however for the sake of posterity I am leaving the questions in their original tense. I have made some minor edits, though.
Who are you? - 20-something year old photographer and history nerd.
What is the purpose of GHOST MALL? To explore, document, and preserve the rise and fall of the Dixie Square Shopping Center.
What is Dixie Square's address? - 15201 Dixie Highway Harvey, Illinois
What equipment do you use/recommend for exploring? - A flashlight will be your best friend, as there are many parts of the mall that are in total darkness. Thick-soled shoes or boots are highly-recommended due to the amount of debris and other fun crap to step on (had a close-call wearing Chucks, once--bad idea).
Photography-wise, I am currently shooting with a Nikon D3100 and various lenses for my primary camera, and I use a Cannon FS-200 for video. The Polaroids were taken using an SX-70 Alpha 1.
How do you enter Dixie Square? - You figure it out... there are numerous ways in.
What is the best time to go? - On most of the trips inside, we've entered just after dawn and have gone on weekends. Usually the only people out and about at that time are churchgoers, so there's a lesser chance of being spotted. The typical visit lasts about 5-8 hours inside; though, on rare occasion I've gone on shorter visits in the mid-late afternoon without trouble.
Where do you park? - On earlier trips we would park on 151st street, but recently I've found it safer to park behind the juvenile center on Dixie Highway (in what was Penneys parking lot).
Do you go alone? - I did twice (against my own previous advisement not to), on half of the 7th, and the entire 10th trip. While the 10th visit went smooth, I had a run-in with dogs on the earlier run. Due to the mall's size, neighborhood setting, and questionable structural integrity: it's still not recommended.
How many floors does the Dixie Square structure have? - Penneys, and the former Montgomery Ward department stores were both two stories, the latter of which only used one floor for selling merchandise. Neither of which had a basement. Penneys also contains a "penthouse" on the roof, which houses the HVAC machinery. The mall, and Turn Style are single-storied, however many stores in Block C have a mezzanine with offices or service corridors above a stock room. Turn Style also has a sub-floor containing offices and access to the roof. The Mall Offices, located just behind City Life, also consist of a basement and a "sub-floor" layout.
Speaking of Penneys second floor, is it safe to explore? - Until recently, anything on the escalator-side of the gaping hole in the middle of the store was considered "safe" to some degree. However, this is quickly changing as of June 2011, and therefore we strongly discourage anyone from going up there, now. On a related note, climbing the escalators may be considered suicidal these days.
Any "encounters" with others inside the mall? - Yes, on nearly every visit! We've seen or shot the shit with everyone from locals, to lunatic scrappers to a pack of wild dogs! Fortunately, we never had any kind of incidents in our run-ins.
Isn't it trespassing? - Yes, however an interesting tidbit in the Illinois' trespassing laws are as follows, and we believe Dixie Square may meet such criteria:
"720 ILCS 5/21‑3) (from Ch. 38, par. 21‑3)
Sec. 21‑3. Criminal trespass to real property.
(a) Except as provided in subsection (a‑5), whoever:
(1) knowingly and without lawful authority enters or
remains within or on a building; or
(2) enters upon the land of another, after receiving,
prior to such entry, notice from the owner or occupant that such entry is forbidden; or (3) remains upon the land of another, after receiving
notice from the owner or occupant to depart; or
(3.5) presents false documents or falsely represents
his or her identity orally to the owner or occupant of a building or land in order to obtain permission from the owner or occupant to enter or remain in the building or on the land; commits a Class B misdemeanor."
But the real interesting info is this exclusion:
(d) A person shall be exempt from prosecution under this Section if he beautifies unoccupied and abandoned residential and industrial properties located within any municipality. For the purpose of this subsection, "unoccupied and abandoned residential and industrial property" means any real estate (1) in which the taxes have not been paid for a period of at least 2 years; and (2) which has been left unoccupied and abandoned for a period of at least one year; and "beautifies" means to landscape, clean up litter, or to repair dilapidated conditions on or to board up windows and doors.
Now, we aren't lawyers, but if we read this correct: if the taxes are unpaid on the property, exploring Dixie Square could be 100% A-OK as long as you clean up some trash along the way.
What happens if rollers show up? - I got frisked by Harvey PD the one time I drove my car onto the site of Woolworth. Once I explained what was going on, and when he saw the camera, we went about our business. Moral of the story: don't be an idiot and chances are they'll let you go. Harvey has bigger problems to deal with.
Does Dixie Square still contain asbestos? Are you going to get cancer? - Asbestos insulation abatement was partially completed by 2006, when John Deneen's work halted. About 80% of the surviving structure still has it. Unfortunately, the amount of exposure required to feel any major health effects is unknown, though it is believed that it requires prolonged or direct exposure (such as working for years in an asbestos environment). I personally never really worried about it.
Who currently owns the property? - As of 2010, newspapers have reported "MG Development" is planning the redevelopment. Whether or not that firm is the actual owner of the property is not yet determined. The South Suburban Mayors and Merchants Association appears to be overseeing the demolition efforts.
Why is Dixie Square still standing more than 30 years since its closure? - Several factors are believed in the reason Dixie still stands. Harvey, unfortunately, is plagued with a high crime rate, which detracts potential developers. The developers that have had contracts to redevelop the land have also proven to be deadbeats; with the first major progress in razing the mall not occurring until approximately 25 years after its closure (and the developer subsequently running out of funds). Another factor is the cost of the job itself, particularly regarding removal of hazardous materials such as asbestos and mold.
Can you send me artifacts from the mall? - Sorry, not gonna happen. Too many nutters - besides, you're just as capable of looting the place as I am.
What happened to the Thom McAn, City Life, and Burt's Shoes signs?
City Life was rescued by a good friend of mine sometime in 2008, lit with neon, and sold to an art collector on the west coast who recently passed away. Its whereabouts and future are currently not known.
I removed Thom McAn from its facade in March of 2009 as it was collapsing, and hid it in Burt's Shoes until we could come back with a large-enough vehicle to rescue it almost a year later. I am planning to restore the neon, and hopefully display it in Waukegan sometime soon...
Burt's Shoes was (miraculously, given its massive size) rescued in 2010 by the same friend who rescued City Life, and is currently part of his studio in Virginia.
What happened to the time capsule? Supposedly a 50-year time capsule was buried in the vicinity of the entryway between Montgomery Ward and what later became the City Life nightclub. Unfortunately it was never recovered - it's believed to have been lost in the 2005/2006 demolition.What happened to the documentary that was in the works? - We are good friends with Paul McVay and those who were involved with the film, however we have no official affiliation with them and can't provide any intel on its status.
How can I help the GHOST MALL project? - We are always open to information or contributions for this site, be it electronically, or physically! We are particularly searching for flyers, postcards, old video footage, newspaper clippings, and photographs. Anything you would be willing to contribute, please feel free to about it! Or, you can post them to our forums!
I want to use a piece of content from this site, what do I do? - Contact me