Jeramey Jannene

See Inside Northridge Mall Before It’s Demolished

Milwaukee may have never had a bigger collection of broken glass and phallic graffiti.

By - May 15th, 2024 04:46 pm
Vandalized interior of Northridge Mall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Vandalized interior of Northridge Mall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

In advance of bidding to demolish it, dozens of demolition specialists got an up-close look at Northridge Mall Tuesday.

The City of Milwaukee hosted a pre-bid walkthrough of the long-vacant complex, drawing interested bidders from as far away as Pennsylvania. Donning helmets and other protective gear, the demolition contractors saw the extensive damage vandals have done to the complex, the locations of asbestos needing abatement and three tower structures the city would like to preserve.

While dodging broken glass, the contractors could also see remnants of fires from recent years, see how the movie theaters are flooded and check out the overwhelming amount of graffiti, much of it phallic or vulgar. Environmental contractors and city officials, including Redevelopment Authority project manager Benji Timm, Department of Neighborhood Services supervisor Chris Kraco and alderwoman Larresa Taylor were on hand to answer questions.

The city fought a nearly five-year public battle for control or demolition of the mall, finally seizing it via property tax foreclosure in January. A predecessor of China-based U.S. Black Spruce Enterprise Group purchased the property for $6 million in 2008, five years after the mall closed. But Black Spruce never advanced its plans for an Asian marketplace beyond conceptual drawings.

In 2017, Black Spruce did allow YouTube personality Casey Neistat to film a Winter Wonderland holiday gift giveaway. In Neistat’s video, the mall appears ready to reopen as soon as the temporary set was taken down. But the set was never fully taken down, and the mall, without Black Spruce’s intervention, became a hotbed for trespassing and vandalism. Based on a cluster of emptied fire extinguishers, the remnants of Neistat’s set were among the first things burned in a series of small fires.

The mall structure has spent the past few years being ripped apart, first by vandals and now by Mother Nature. Fire relief efforts and bullets have blown holes in the roof and skylights, creating areas where rain falls inside. A smell of mold is in the air, but the concrete and steel structure from 1972 still appears solid (and often covered in asbestos).

The drywall covering most of the food court stalls has been ripped away, revealing the shells of spaces once filled by national brands. Throughout the mall, graffiti artists have renamed many of the storefronts while also bypassing whatever security barriers were found. Back hallways were not spared, nor was a maintenance shop. Calendars on the walls in the back-of-house areas indicate 2001 was the last year of regular activity, though a 2008 phone book could be spotted amid an overturned file cabinet.

A demolition contractor is to be selected this summer. Demolition work is to be completed by August 2025. A redevelopment plan, intended to better utilize the 58-acre property near N. 76th Street and W. Brown Deer Road, is being created concurrently by the Department of City Development. The city is using a $15 million grant from the state’s American Rescue Plan Act grant to fund the work. The demolition project includes preserving the Menard’s store, built after the mall closed on the site of a former Sears department store, and carefully working not to disturb the masonry wall that divides the mall from the store.

While demolition is about to begin on the 800,000-square-foot mall complex, it’s already wrapping up on an attached department store the city has long owned. The former Boston Store structure is now gone, wiped away by HM Brandt. Representatives of the company were among the more than 60 people who explored the structure Tuesday.


Casey Neistat Video

Property Map

Map of ownership of area around Northridge Mall. Image prepared by Department of City Development.

Map of ownership of area around Northridge Mall. Image prepared by Department of City Development.

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Categories: Real Estate

6 thoughts on “See Inside Northridge Mall Before It’s Demolished”

  1. MILWOMAN says:

    Incredible subtitle. A++

  2. Keith Prochnow says:

    Fascinatting. Great work, Jeramey.

  3. SiddyMonty says:

    I hope they try to sell the saleable fixtures, etc. When NML building came down, they recycled the materials. It was interesting to watch.

  4. DAGDAG says:

    Don’t get me wrong. I love the articles, and especially the photos (I used to work there decades ago). But calling vandals graffiti “artists” is like saying public urination is someone’s way of watering the flowers.

  5. TosaGramps1315 says:

    WOW. I hope you were fully vaccinated before entering that dump, and clothed in the appropriate gear to prevent inhaling whatever has been festering inside that place for decades!

  6. Franklin Furter says:

    While the attempts to rename some of the storefronts is kind of funny, the cursory curse words and ubiquitous penises brings the graffiti back down to the level one would expect.

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