[PHOTO ESSAY] Charlestowne mall: once booming, now abandoned

What happened to one of the biggest shopping centers in DuPage county?

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Photo by Dhanveer Gill

The mall has been abandoned since 2017 and is often nicknamed “The Quad.”

A car commercial is not the first thing that people think of when Charlestowne Mall comes to mind; instead, a once lively and popular shopping center is often far more memorable in the minds of the residents of St. Charles and West Chicago.

But that is precisely what the once-booming mall has been used for. In 2022, Toyota filmed an advertisement for their GR86 line of sports cars within the mall, complete with drifting around the former anchor stores such as Kohl’s and Carson’s. Since 2017, the mall has been empty, save for the likes of Von Maur and the movie theatre.

Photo by Dhanveer Gill

Charlestowne Mall itself opened in the early 1990s by the New York-based Wilmorite Properties, and it featured a JCPenny and Sears. It very quickly became a popular spot within the city of St. Charles, as it was just off Route 64 and was easily accessible. The mall continued to expand into the late 1990s and early 2000s, with Von Maur and Eddie Bauer opening stores to serve St. Charles residents.

Despite the efforts of city officials, vandals have often broken into the mall. This specific hole on the mall’s east anchor store has been boarded to prevent further entry, but thousands of shards of broken glass litter the surrounding pavement and bushes of the mall.

Photo by Dhanveer Gill

However, this is where the decline started. In 2002, the Geneva Commons opened up, granting steep competition which drove numerous stores out of business in the area. At the same time, Wilmorite Properties sold several of its shopping malls in 2005, including Charlestowne Mall, which was sold to Midland Loan Services.

The very foundation and supports of the buildings have begun to rust out due to the constant exposure to the elements without deep cleaning. This specific location is on the north side of the building, underneath the steps by the raised entrance. Above these rusted-out support beams are the steps that lead up to the terrace where the second-floor entrance is located.

Photo by Dhanveer Gill

Management of the property was transferred to several different entities following the exit of Carson’s, with plans to revitalize the shopping center drafted but ultimately never realized. The city of St. Charles conducted a $35,000 study to determine the best option for the property, but no conclusive results were produced. Additionally, Sears, one of the biggest remaining stores, closed their St. Charles location in early 2011.

“The City’s vision is for a developer to transform the mall site into a mixed-use property with homes, retail shops, restaurants, and entertainment options,” St. Charles Mayor Lora Vitek said via email when asked about the future of the area.

The signage for Carson Pirie Scott remains attached to the east and north sides of the mall in spite of the company’s bankruptcy and closure of all physical stores. Signs like these highlight the truly abandoned nature of the complex: a sign like this may still be worth a few thousand dollars, but was ultimately forgotten.

Photo by Muaz Ali

Since then, more stores left the property, such as Carson’s in 2017. That same year, the entire mall was closed in early December. Further plans to renovate Charlestowne Mall were created, although the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic halted such efforts.

Despite the dilapidated appearance of the exterior of the mall, the interior seems to be in good shape due to the lack of human presence within. Many food stalls are still signed and present and some cleaning equipment remains in place. Access to the interior has been cut off by the city and by the possessing company, so the only photographs taken were from the glass doors on the north side of the building.

In the background, some steps can be seen that lead down to the first floor, where Toyota filmed the commercial for their GR86 sports car.

Photo by Muaz Ali

The city has proposed ideas to transform the area into a new residential zoning. Currently, the mall is owned by Urban Street Group who are considering yet another renovation, but it is unclear if the mall will ever open again. The city has proposed ideas to transform the area into a new residential zoning.

“We have ideas, our council has ideas. What we told (UrbanStreet representatives) is if you don’t think it’s doable, we want to know why. They’re in constant communication with staff,” Vitek said in an interview earlier this year with the Daily Herald.

Vandals have broken more glass on the top of the steps on the north side of the Quad in order to gain entry, although this is not the only source of broken glass on the property. There are broken glass bottles and debris everywhere, to the point where even cleaning up the mall itself will take a great deal of effort.

Photo by Dhanveer Gill

Despite the appearance of the underside of the building and the overgrown foliage, the front of the still stands proudly against the sky, though careful inspection will reveal that the two-story carousel, once a fixture in the window above, is gone: it was sold in 2015 to Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. The skylights pictured here have remained surprisingly clean due to natural rainfall.

The north face of the mall tells the most interesting story of the property: the architecture remains timeless despite the dozens of boards covering steps and windows and the dozens of out-of-date event advertisements.

Photo by Dhanveer Gill

Cinema 18 is one of two remaining businesses that operate in Charlestowne Mall, with the other being Von Maur. It is especially known for its good deals on tickets for brand-new movies, although it is obvious that the theatre itself has seen better days. Cinema 18, Von Maur, Starbucks and Cooper’s Hawk would all like to remain on the property, which complicates the issue of whether to demolish the mall.

Photo by Dhanveer Gill

Bees and wasps have begun their infestations of several electrical units around the property. This is one of many different units that have been controlled by these pests on the north face of the mall, adding to the abandoned nature of the area.

And that is likely how it will remain: abandoned. The only notable development in the past three years was the filming of the aforementioned Toyota commercial, but perhaps in the future, the once-vibrant shopping center will serve the residents of St. Charles and West Chicago once again.