After 55 years in business, Crestwood Court in the US city of St Louis started closing its stores in 2006, eventually shutting its doors for good last month. Digital artist Dan Wampler photographed the slowly dilapidating space, managing to make everything from Claire’s to Champs look creepy.
But the scariest thing to me about this dead shopping centre? It’s one that I used to go to.
Back in my day it was called Crestwood Plaza and in my childhood it was probably the best shopping centre in town. It had something for everyone. You could tolerate looking for whatever your mum needed to get at Stix, Baer & Fuller (now Dillards), persuade her to buy you an Outback Red cardigan at The Limited, grab fettuccine alfredo for dinner at the Pasta House Company, head to the arcade to fish some stuffed animals out of a machine with a claw, maybe even catch a movie at the AMC Theatre that had 10 SCREENS. It was living.
I wasn’t the only fan of the place, which is the oldest shopping centre in St Louis. John F. Kennedy gave a speech in the shopping centre’s carpark during his 1960 campaign. It had an ahead-of-its-time food court and massive bi-level parking garage. And during its reign it had no less than four official names, each accompanied by its own redesign: Crestwood Mall, Crestwood Plaza, Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, and now Crestwood Court.
It’s not just the emptiness of these photos that are unnerving. Wampler’s HDR technique, where several different photos are taken at different exposures, adds to the sinister vibe. The whole place feels like the undead are about to come lunging around the corner. (Or maybe that’s just because zombie movies always take place in shopping centres? Why is that?)
The demise of Crestwood Plaza (sorry, it will always be Plaza to me) isn’t as much about Spencer Gifts adding e-commerce. Instead, it’s a greater problem with enclosed, air-conditioned shopping centres everywhere: people actually do like to go outside. Out in Los Angeles, Santa Monica Place actually peeled the roof off of their 1980 shopping centre like a can opener and has seen business boom. Now here’s the irony. Crestwood Plaza was originally an open-air shopping centre that was enclosed in 1984. Maybe if they’d left it that way it would have succeeded: Crestwood Court’s site will be redeveloped as The District at Crestwood, a mixed-use shopping and entertainment complex that will be organised not like a shopping centre but like a main street.
The shopping centre isn’t getting demolished quite yet: Apparently, a lonely LensCrafters, with its own entrance, is still operating on one corner. But when it goes for good, I will be sad about one loss. Check out that pristine ’80s decor, with those geometric shapes and hypersaturated colours. You gotta admit those graphics are pretty sweet. [Dan Wampler Photography]