In 1989 when I drove across the country to shoot in malls with my friend Sebastian our car got broken into shortly after we arrived in San Francisco. Luckily, the night before, while camping on the side of the road on our way down from Oregon, I separated the film I’d shot from the film left to shoot. I’d stuck the shot film deep under the front seat. My upshot film was in a bag that was at my feet. That bag, and a lot of other junk we’d acquired on the road, as well as some blankets and clothes, was gone. They’d smashed a small window on the rear door of our corolla station wagon. It wasn’t a devasting loss, but we were tired, and starting to tire of each others company in the way that 20 years olds do.

Somewhere in the midwest with our blue corolla. Oddly, both of our mother’s had the same blue corolla from the same year. We both learned to drive in this car. This one was Sebastian’s.

We retreated to a house in the redwoods outside the city at friend of Sebastian’s mother. There we replaced the window with a piece of wood and contemplated our next move. We had planned to head down to Los Angeles to see my aunt and get some big malls in the Valley and Orange County. However, after some discussion we decided it was best to go home; straight home. The trip had not been awful, but it was largely uneventful, and we were feeling a bit like astronauts hurtling through space. Despite the vastness of the universe we were transversing the confines of our blue spaceship were claustrophobic and it seemed like the right thing to do. Sebastian was a bit more serious about the haste than I was and except for stopping at a mall outside of Denver, we drove pretty much straight for 40 hours until we hit St. Louis. We took turns driving while the other person slept.

The Chesterfield Mall in 1989

We’d aimed for St. Louis because my college roommate Shawn was from there and that meant that we had a place to stay. Up till that point we had stayed with a couple of friends and relatives, but mostly crashed in the car, the side of the road, or in a couple of campgrounds. We’d stayed in one very low cost motel in Bozeman, but that one wasn’t worth the 20 dollars we’d spent on it. By the time we reached St. Louis we were exhausted and Sebastian agreed to visit for a couple of days. Shortly before getting there we spotted the Columbia mall and grabbed some images there as well. Shawn lived in Ladue, which was a short hop to the sprawling mall in Chesterfield. There was a big lego show up in the main open space and I can tell which shots are from that mall via the ubiquitous logo.

The Chesterfield has a series of circular skylight lit seating areas that had fountains at the time. It has a very open and modern feel to it. This weekend I was visiting a high school friend who lives in the suburb of Chesterfield so I asked if the mall was still there. It is, and it is well maintained but almost all of the stores are closed. When I went on my trip I shot slide film in a Nikon FG-20 with a sigma 35m 3.5 lens. It was a little bit wider than a normal 50mm lens, but it didn’t provide a super wide look at the space. This time I had my iPhone with an extra wide lens that allowed me to capture some of those wide area in all their glory. Unfortunately, the space is empty and on the verge of death. The lens that I used back then makes it hard to tell one mall from another so I had to rely on clues like the floor, the type and position of escalator, or things like the lego show. I am pretty sure that the above images are from that space but I’m not positive about all of them. Here are some that I took this week.

This is the space that the lego show was in.
you can see this seating area in several of the images above. I believe there was a fountain hereat some point as well.
One of the former stores is now a flea market
This was a nice mash up, because it was cameras like this that I sought out at flea markets across the country as we drove across. We hit a lot of thrift stores and junk shops for ourselves. I hated the mall but loved making images in it, so it was interesting to now find the junk shop in the mall.

While this mall was reeling, there was another one in Clayton just 10 miles away that is thriving; the Galleria. I can’t be sure, but I might have also shot at this mall back in 1989. I did a quick pass through and got shots that don’t feel so dissimilar from what I shot in 1989. People make the place.

1 Comment
  • Sara K
    Posted at 21:35h, 24 February Reply

    I feel so fortunate that you chose Chesterfield mall. I spent many years there with my first taste of freedom as a preteen/teen in the 80s and 90s. I very well could have been there that day in 1989. I took that path past the drug store, the pretzel parlor (not pictured) toward KB Toys and the German deli with my family during some of my happier times as a child. The large fountain area with the Lego display is where area elementary students would sing holiday chorus concerts. I think I also saw a picture of yours in the Chesterfield Mall Units store which is not posted here. The Rainbow Shop, which sold Lisa Frank stickers, oil stickers and plastic boxes which they’d personalize with paint markers was across from it. My sister and I loved that store. Thanks for knowing this was a fleeting place for us.

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