We receive countless questions about Dixie Square, hopefully this will answer most of them. Use this information at your own discretion; we are not lawyers, nor are we responsible for your decisions.
Who are you? - 20-something year old explorer with too much time on my hands and too many cameras in my hands, all-at-once.
What is the purpose of GHOST MALL? To explore, document, and preserve the rise, and continuing 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 countless 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 a weekend. Usually the only people out and about at that time are churchgoers, so it'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? - Only twice; for 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 size and unpredictability of its structural integrity, going alone is strongly not-advised.
How many floor levels does the Dixie Square structure contain? - 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 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".
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 quickly changing as of June 2011, and therefore we strongly discourage anyone from going up there, now. On another 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! The human encounters were rather amiable, though the dogs are an extremely-rare occurrence.
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. *Use the above information at your discretion, but do not sue us if we are wrong!*
What happens if the rollers show up? - We had a run-in with a Harvey cop once. Once I explained what was going on, and when he saw the camera, life went on. Moral of the story: don't be an ass to the cop 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 abatement was partially completed by 2006, when John Deneen's work halted. About 80% of the surviving structure still contains asbestos insulation. 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, am not 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, particularly with removal of hazardous asbestos still inside the building.
Can you send me artifacts from the mall? - Sorry, all requests to send junk will be declined, as we've already had someone go batshit-crazy (shit you not--to the point cops were almost involved) because I wouldn't remove and send him the few-remaining letters of the General Nutrition Center signage. What interesting artifacts we grab, however, we promise to make publicly viewable via scans or photographs.
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 hidden in Burt's Shoes until we could come back to rescue it almost a year later. I am planning to restore the neon, and hopefully display it in Waukegan sometime in 2012.
Finally; 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 documentary that was in the works? - We are good friends with Paul McVay and his friends who were involved with the documentary film developed in the middle of the previous decade; however, we are not officially affiliated with it in any way, and have no knowledge of its current or future 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