Virtual tour brings Cinderella City mall back to life

Local architect, software developer delves into Englewood mall's history

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The ruins of the Cinderella City mall two decades ago are partly what inspired Josh Goldstein — then a young child — to become an architect.
 
Now, Goldstein is taking nostalgists down a memory lane that leads right through the halls of the place once hailed as the “largest mall west of the Mississippi.”
 
“It was a place of grandeur,” Goldstein told an audience of dozens packed into The Brew on Broadway, a brewery that sits just a few blocks from where the gargantuan mall once did. “It was a place of community and culture.”
 
Goldstein’s Feb. 25 presentation, “Reconstructing Cinderella City: A 3D Tour Into the Past,” took the crowd through fond memories of decades long gone: the Round the Corner restaurant, Franz Hummel’s deli and Veldkamp’s Flowers all got reactions or applause as Goldstein toured through the virtual world, akin to a video game and projected on a screen.
 
 
The former Englewood High School student recreated the 1.5 million-square-foot mammoth of a mall that was built on Englewood’s former city park, according to the presentation. In 1968, amid much media hype, Cinderella City opened to a crowd of thousands and eventually offered space for 275 stores. In 1974, it raked in just over half of Englewood’s total sales tax revenue, Goldstein said.
 
But competition from new malls like Southwest Plaza led to a decline, and after a late-1990s demolition, the site was redeveloped.
 
Today’s CityCenter Englewood shopping site — which includes city hall and Walmart, and stretches from South Santa Fe Drive to Elati Street between West Hampden and Floyd avenues — rose from the ruin. The Englewood Civic Center is a former Foley’s department store.
 
“I saw Cinderella City getting demolished as a kid, and wanted to know more — what was this place, why is it getting demolished?” Goldstein told the Englewood Herald. “After learning about how grand it once was, I realized there was a story there about changes in architecture (and) tastes.”
 
The opulent and seemingly never-ending mall featured rows of columns supporting the ceiling, planters hanging from ceilings and bright-colored walls. The building offered separate shopping areas in itself: the Blue Mall, Rose Mall, Gold Mall and Shamrock Mall — and Cinder Alley, marketed on an “old England” theme with lamps and artisan shops.
 
Although malls its size are common now, Cinderella City stands out as a part of the community, having played host to events like antique car shows, concerts, trade shows, proms, plays and parades, according to Goldstein’s presentation.
 
It even had an Englewood High School off-campus location with classrooms that students attended, along with areas for business offices, the presentation said.
 
Amid today’s long wave of redevelopment in Englewood, Goldstein said the history is something to hold onto.
 
“I would not like to see the building the library (and city hall) are in get torn down; it’s the last vestige of Cinderella City,” Goldstein told the crowd.
 
Goldstein, who has a master’s degree in architecture and develops software, has also studied Englewood’s former Flood Middle School, which sat at South Broadway and Kenyon Avenue before the Bell Cherry Hills apartment building replaced it. It would have been more expensive to repurpose the school building, Goldstein said, but it’s an option he imagined.
 
“If Englewood cares about its history, I think we should stop throwing our buildings away,” Goldstein said, to applause from the crowd.
 
After a foreclosure sale in August on a part of the current CityCenter site east of city hall set the stage for it to change hands again, Englewood city staff is working to secure a possible deal to revamp the Englewood Civic Center area with a hotel, offices, apartments and smaller retail, according to Dan Poremba, the city’s chief redevelopment officer.
 
“The re-establishment of CityCenter as Englewood’s ‘central place’ would in turn provide Englewood with improved opportunities to attract and retain employers, retailers and residents,” along with generating more tax revenue, Poremba has said.
 
Despite the rumblings of changes, Goldstein said the redevelopment in the early 2000s got some things right — including having an RTD light rail stop — but that the “sea of asphalt parking” and Walmart as the primary anchor store were disappointing. He hopes cities like Englewood can offer development incentives to encourage reuse, not just demolition.
 
Reworking an old building for a new use could also “create favorable press coverage, and could woo the right kinds of developers in the future,” he added.
 
“For a city like Englewood, I fear it’s too late. What’s left to save? They already sold off so many of their historic buildings and schools,” Goldstein said. “It will take a little backbone, and a city like Englewood has to decide what’s more important: cheap, fast construction, or high-quality adaptive reuse that extends the life of a building and keeps the historic character alive for future generations?”

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