While channel surfing around 4pm the other day, I came across something I'd never expected to see on television: The abandoned hospital in Harvey, Illinois. Harvey is a rusty southern suburb of Chicago, populated primarily by working-class African-Americans. It's known to many abandonment enthusiasts as the home of the Dixie Square Mall, the abandoned mall where a scene in Blues Brothers was filmed in 1979. The mall is still abandoned, sagging in the middle of a cracked, weedy parking lot spotted with signs that allege that the Harvey Police use it as a helipad, and therefore you ought to stay off. Despite this, the mall still gets fairly regular visitors, several of whom claim to have heard or seen wild dogs living there.
The old hospital, though, doesn't get much attention. (In fact, I couldn't find a single image or page about it on the web to link to in this entry.) It sits big and empty and sad in the middle of a fenced-off field of overgrown Queen Anne's Lace on 147th street, where rushing cars pass it by the hundreds. Across the street is an empty, boarded gas station. On one side of it sit several homes and a school. On its other side, seemingly occupying what used to be part of the hospital complex, is the City Public Auto Auction. The Auto Auction was the subject of the half-hour-long infomercial that I saw the other day, the reason for the old hospital making it on Chicago television. Various spokeswomen stood next to cars and proclaimed "City Public Auto Auction! This white 1997 Grand Prix for only fifteen hundred dollars! City Public Auto Auction! City Public Auto Auction! On Sibley Street in Harvey! City Public Auto Auction!" over and over for dozens of cars, and each time the program cut to a new car you could get a slightly different glimpse of the hospital. Always it was just a vague, dark red, dark-windowed form in the background, but occasionally you could see more, the fence or its tall, simple early modernist entry area. These were just little glimpses, but they were enough to make me watch the entire program.
Abandonment is everywhere if you keep your eyes open.
* For the curious, this program was on 4pm Central on Thursday, November 4 on channel 34 in Chicago. I don't know if it'll be on again next Thursday, but if I'm home then I plan to check.
Harvey's Dixie Square Mall on Dead Malls dot Com
The City of Harvey Website gives a more positive look at the city (as you'd expect it to). While this doesn't relate directly to the abandoned hospital and to blight, I think that many of us who are interested in blighted communities could use an occasional reminder that there's more to these places than just abandonment, poverty, and crime--people do live there.