History of Berwyn’s Cermak Plaza

Who would ever think of something as simple as a shopping center being famous? Well Cermak Plaza certainly is! Cermak Plaza has helped put Berwyn on the map because of its unique architecture and former art installations. We want to give you an inside look into Cermak Plaza’s beginnings in the 1950s, to what it looks like today.

Special thanks to Pleasant Family Shopping and this site for the excellent information and pictures.

(Click on pictures to get a closer look.)

jcpenney cermak plaza 1957 pleasantfamilyshopping
  • Cermak Plaza started its construction in 1954 when the Old Gage Farm was sold to New York based National Plazas Inc.
  • However, from its start construction was halted because a group of residents near the would-be plaza sued National Plazas Inc., citing increased traffic to the area as a serious concern of theirs.
  • In 1956 Cermak Plaza finally opened after the legal battle was dropped. JC Penney, Walgreens, F.W. Woolworth, Jewel Food Store and G.C. Murphy were some of the first stores built.
  • When the Plaza opened in 1956 they had an elaborate opening ceremony that featured Santa Claus, who had eight live reindeer in tow, and Frank Yankovic – the famous Polka performer.
  • In 1957 Sears Roebuck opened their store on the East side of the Plaza, creating the current “L” shape.
  • In 1958 the soon-to-be iconic “Cermak Plaza” signs were installed. The Chicago Tribune ran an article at the time that stated that there would be a dedication ceremony for the signs. The signs have come to be quite a significant part of Cermak Plaza and it’s interesting to note how little the signs have changed over the years.
  • Cermak Plaza’s owner, David W. Bermant, was an eccentric shopping center manager who owned 14 shopping centers. He had the goal of elevating Cermak Plaza from just your average shopping center into a unique shopping experience that also featured numerous pieces of art.
  • Cermak Plaza ended up being a home to many unique art installations over the years because of the efforts of Bermant.
  • In 1989 Cermak Plaza’s most notable piece of art was completed. Dustin Shuler’s Spindle, which consisted of eight vintage cars skewered on a 50 foot pole, became the defining feature of the plaza.
  • In 2008, the Spindle was torn down because the installation was in notable disrepair.
  • One of the biggest movies of 1992, Wayne’s World, featured the Spindle in the famous driving scene. While the characters were busy jamming out to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody the Spindle can be seen as they pass by.
big stuff 14
  • This is another sculpture of Shuler’s called the Pinto Pelt. The Pelt was the shell of a Ford Pinto mounted on the Optometrist’s office on the Southern side of the plaza.
  • The addition of these sculptures at the time split residents and visitors up over whether or not these installations best represented Berwyn, causing much debate.
  • Not all of the art at Cermak Plaza were static or caused criticism though. George Rhoads modern art installation,  Windamajig, was reliant on the wind to bring life to the structure.
  • As can be said for this work, “No Wind — No Movement — No Sculpture.”
  • This theme is used again by a different and more modern part of Cermak Plaza today, which we focus on later in this post.
  • In 1980 Bermant commissioned an installation specifically for the plaza. This sculpture, Big Bil-Bored, perhaps caused the most debate of all the displayed works of art.
  • Big Bil-Bored stood three stories tall and consisted of a mish-mosh of vintage appliances. In this picture you can barely make out the vintage toasters and televisions.
  • One resident said of the sculpture, “It’s a hunk of junk, a monstrosity.”
  • Eventually the structure was taken down and replaced with this, for a period of time.
  • One structure that lasted many years while being virtually universally loved was the Good Time Clock. This was an interactive art installation that children in particular were very fond of due to its visually-appealing nature.
  • The creator of Good Time Clock stated, “People generally have a cheerful response and children stand for hours looking at [it].”
  • The Clock now resides in the David Bermant Foundation, a foundation dedicated to remembering Bermant’s work, in New York City.
  • In 1984, when the previous Yankee Doodle Dandy restaurant closed, McDonald’s wanted to open their own restaurant in the then empty space in the Cermak Plaza.
  • Bermant wanted to do something unique for his shopping center however, and he challenged McDonald’s to come up with a creative design for their new Berwyn location.
  • This “floating McDonald’s” design was only one of two unique McDonald’s restaurants in the whole United States.
  • When the new location opened Newsweek ran an article about the unique features of this new McDonald’s.
  • As you can see from the pictures here the location was made to look as though the building itself and its roof were floating.
  • In the picture below you can see just how far off the ground this building looked to be.
  • However in more recent years McDonald’s has since filled in the “floating spaces” with bricks to reduce the floating effect.
  • Today the space has been completely torn down and a new McDonald’s design is currently in construction. The new location will probably be rebuilt to look very similar to all the newly designed McDonald’s locations in Berwyn.
  • For years Cermak Plaza’s stores on the Southern side were repeatedly given minor face-lifts and new ornamental details.
  • In the distance in the picture to the right you can see the small “towers” that were placed a different points along the roof of the strip.
  • At the very edge of the picture there is also the remains of the Service Merchandise, which laid unoccupied for over ten years until the plaza received a huge and much-needed revitalization.
  • Today the plaza has been completely modernized. The eaves of the plaza show a distinct modern twist.
  • The Plaza has also gone Green with the help of the wind turbines that are placed intermittently in the parking lot. These turbines produce energy for the plaza and occasionally return energy to the grid.
  • These turbines can also be seen as a contributing part of Cermak Plaza’s art scene, with some possible references being made to Rhoad’s Windamajig.
  • One thing that has always remained consistent about Cermak Plaza has been the signs. Visitors and residents alike have always had fondness for Cermak Plaza’s distinct signage. The signs have been replaced several times over the years but have always retained that same ’60s style.
  • We’re happy for the changes that have been made to the plaza over the past 60 years and we look forward to what the future will bring to our unique and constantly evolving shopping center!

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