Save the Dome and the End of Shoppers’ World

Plans for a mall facelift were first discussed in the local papers beginning in the early 1980s.  But despite various plans and schemes for expansion or overhaul throighout the decade, by the time of the early ’90s recession it seemed that Shoppers’ World’s chance for renewal had come and gone.

In 1992, the mall was sold to the Sears real estate division, Homart Development Company which eventually proposed the “power center” concept which led to the demise of Shoppers’ World. 

As it became clear that the mall’s days as a vibrant retail option had passed, Framingham’s historic-minded citizens began to reflect on the mall’s significance in the town’s development.  Right from the beginning this would raise a puzzling question.  On the one hand, Shoppers’ World had been a revolutionary change in shopping history.  As the first true mall east of the Mississippi, it seemed wrong to unsympathetically tear it down.  On the other hand, the place simply did not seem that historic.  While forty years was a substantial interval by retail standards, Space Age design had a look that was antithetical to historical preservation.  As reporter Robert Preer commented in 1993, “Campaigns to save shopping malls have a certain irony, as many people still lament the plight of the old downtowns and village centers that the upstart malls sent down the path to ruin 30 or 40 years ago.”  While the historians did not give up, they did scale back their efforts.

Attention then turned to simply saving the Jordan Marsh dome.  Those in favor began to work on overdrive.  This included the town’s building commissioner, Lew Colten.  A gregarious man with an eccentric handlebar mustache and a gift for the perfect quote, Colten began a one-man crusade to save the dome.  He assured the public that the dome could easily be disassembled and moved to another part of town.  “We once moved a seven-story brick courthouse 80 feet up a hill in Kentucky. Now that was tough.  This dome, this is easy.”  In fact, Colten put the effort on a higher plane when he told the Boston Globe that “I’m on a mission from God to save the dome.”

But as the date for demolition was nearing and Colten’s talks with possible tenants seemed to intensify, Homart pulled a fast one.  Days before the deadline, they knocked everything down everything in sight in about ten minute’s time.   The destruction was apparently a complete surprise to Colten.  He related his feelings later: “The dome wasn’t there anymore.  It was horrible. I was told specifically that we had until December 15.  They said they would give us a shot at saving this.  So far, they’re doing a damn good job at demolishing history.”

And that was it.  After forty-four years as a mainstay of Framingham life, Shoppers’ World was no more.  Given the pomp and circumstance that heralded its arrival back in October of 1951, its middle-of-the-night demise seemed somewhat anti-climactic. 

Final days at Shoppers’ World.