The White Plains Mall
White Plains, NY
White Plains, NY
Urban exploring is the appreciation of architecture after the end of its life cycle.
But why don't we look more deeply while a space undergoes its death throes?
Why do we turn away and look for a cleaner place, a more photogenic place, a more effervescent place, a place with better Yelp reviews? Why do we yearn to meld with a well lit, warm city full of sparkling voices just a bit too far to be understood?
Why do we --if we're White, unlikely to be arrested for trespassing, and the twisted type-- look for places devoid of society's perceived elite? Why are we inexorably drawn to the urban decay marked by graffiti and marred by fellow urban explorers more than rats, bats or cockroaches? It's 2020. Urban Decay is l i t e r a l l y a trademarked brand of makeup that flourished in the post-grunge era. ("Unsubscribe from beauty telling you to be pretty. Be PRETTY DIFFERENT").
I tried to find the source of our disinterest in negligence.
Its same recipe behind all the big and little things we ever see and note and know.
A need for stimulation. Inattention to all but the remarkable. Thrill seeking. Selfishness and disorganization. Not much more than a little ill will. Sometimes, wanton victimization. Cannibalism for parts. Cannibalism for nothing. Carelessness.
Architectural spilled milk.
In the late 1960s, the city of White Plains applauded the construction of the White Plains Mall. Now, fifty years later, it applauds its deconstruction. Both of these changes have been made in the name of Urban Renewal - a many-tentacled grind towards someone’s ideal of a perfect city.
White Plains' Urban Renewal Agency accepted HUD payments to relocate the largely Italian, Jewish and African American neighborhood already existing on the mall site parcel, a smaller version of the displacements that built Central Park and the Cross Bronx Expressway in the metropolis to the south. According to the White Plains records, approximately 1,000 households benefitted from the relocation, through moving bonuses and social services, while the realtors and property owners who listed available alternative housing went on to receive finders fees from the Urban Renewal Agency.
Neighbors were incensed. Racial strife painted the backdrop as it did nearly everywhere in the late 60's. School bussing was already in place to mitigate the segregation that still plagued White Plains. This situation culminated in a standoff between high school students and police within 3 years of the mall’s constructions.
Understandably, the mall-related relocations felt like another tentacle of stark inequality.
But the mall really pleased city officials. Its completion merited a parade and an abundance of press.
The highly visible, well-funded architectural projects built on the back of underfunded schools and inadequate social infrastructure that characterized White Plains in the 1960s reads like NYC now — a playbook of ‘everything looks perfect from far away.’ And just a decade later, a larger mall with a higher construction price tag and flashier anchor stores arose just a block away — The Galleria. The White Plains Mall became obsolete in an instant. Now, other shopping centers eclipse both the White Plains Mall and the Galleria — City Center, just a few blocks away, The Westchester, a few blocks further, Ridge Hill in the nearby city of Yonkers, and the Palisades Mall, across the Hudson River from White Plains. Each more lavish and upscale than the last. Walmart was the elephant in the room until Amazon became that elephant — and the White Plains Walmart closed 2 years ago.
The White Plains Mall was left behind to decay.
Its deconstruction plays out over slow years, in a series of Building Department violations and endlessly delayed court sessions, while the property owners who are based over the Hudson River in Spring Valley have nothing to say on the matter of the mall’s unbelievable condition, documented in the photos below.
Why does the mall look like this?
Why are the dripping holes in the ceiling and the bullet holes in the windows unremediated while the Ritz Carlton sits caddy corner to the WP Mall . . . like a wealthy bystander to an impoverished person’s slow death and merciless decomposition?
Why was there a decrepit speedboat — the Mark Twain —parked on the mall’s roof? For a year?
Why have sparrows been mummifying between the windowpanes for years on end?
Is urban renewal an illusion? Are any plans to “revitalize” a city center automatically ill-conceived? Are the property owners alone to blame? Should shopkeepers facing ever-rising rents, a lack of building maintenance, and a dwindling customer base be held responsible for not making payments and not bringing in a consistent consumer base? Would a hip, Instragram-ready brand have saved the mall? A few years ago, The Galleria beefed up its social media presence with a PR team and added a piano for visitors play before they shopped til they dropped. Is a lack of social media presence the issue?
Now, mid-COVID, without any substantive answers as to why the WP Mall's status quo is so grotesque— the question instead is when will the mall be torn down? It's closed by governor's orders. Will it every reopen?
Meanwhile, which matters more? A look into the mall and its myriad problems? Or the view from within the mall's deadening spiral out onto the living city?
Here are my photos of the mall: a few of its storeowners (most of whom are hesitant to talk to anyone on the record regarding their plight), a glimmering of its clientele, and, primarily, its stupefying urban decay.