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Historical browsing at Duck Creek

Historical browsing at Duck Creek

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John Willard

The skies were cloudy, but the Quad-Cities' retailing outlook was never brighter as thousands flocked to the region's newest shopping center.

The date was Aug. 18, 1960. Duck Creek Plaza was celebrating its grand opening.

Forty-two years later, Duck Creek Mall, as it is now known, is poised for re-development. Under plans submitted earlier this month to the Bettendorf City Council, the shopping center would be demolished. It would be replaced with a Home Depot, a new free-standing Walgreens and more than 130,000 square feet of other retail space.

Let's do a little history shopping at what newspapers described at the time as "the area's eagerly-waited multi-million-dollar shopping center."

Duck Creek Mall's grand opening culminated three years of planning and construction by the mall's developers, brothers Martin and Matthew Bucksbaum, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 1956, they helped pioneer the shopping center concept in Iowa when they completed Town & Country Shopping Center in Cedar Rapids. In the early 1970s, they developed NorthPark and SouthPark Malls in the Quad-Cities.

Duck Creek Plaza exemplified the ultimate in retailing comfort and convenience. Developed on a 25-acre site that contained the Trio roller skating rink, the original plans called for 200,000 square feet of retail space anchored by a Younkers Department Store. Younkers occupied 60,000 square feet, with 30 other stores comprising the rest of the space. (Of the mall's original stores, only Walgreens, Fannie May Candies, Bishop Buffet and Kile's Gift Shoppe are open today.)

Architect Brown & Healey, of Cedar Rapids, and landscape architect Mrs. Richard Howerton, of Bettendorf, created an inviting shopping environment. Islands of greenery lent a garden atmosphere, and canopies over the walkways protected shoppers as they walked from store to store. They listened to music played from speakers under the canopies.

 "We didn't want to create a shopping center here like so many throughout the country that lack warmth and pleasant surroundings," Matthew Bucksbaum said at the time. "We wanted a shopping center that was distinct, offering great conveniences in a soothing atmosphere."

His six-year-old daughter, Ann, help cut the ribbon. Also participating in the ceremony were Davenport Mayor Don Petrucelli, Bettendorf Mayor Arnold Kakert, the Bucksbaum brothers and Sally Neville, of Davenport, the reigning Miss Iowa. The Bettendorf High School Band played music.

"The Duck Creek Plaza investment is the finest example of faith in this growing market, and provides hefty taxable values for the community it serves," the Davenport Morning Democrat editorialized the next day.

 Duck Creek Plaza continued to grow. A $1 million addition that brought an enclosed retailing section, an office building and a twin-screen movie theater was completed in 1973.

 The theater, known as the Duck Creek Cinemas, gained notoriety in the late 1970s and early 1980s for its midnight screenings of the cult classic, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Just as entertaining as the movie was the theater's colorful manager, Bill Curtis, who encouraged audience participation.

The 13,000-square-foot theater ended its run in the late 1980s.

 In the spring of 1985, Duck Creek opened a $4 million expansion that put a roof over the entire mall. In addition to shopping in indoor comfort, visitors could choose from 20 new specialty stores that brought the total to 60. The expansion included a new main entrance with walls of reflective glass.

The improvements were celebrated at a 25th anniversary bash held in August 1985. The festivities included burying a time capsule near the main entrance. The capsule contained newspapers, mall information and other items. A ladies day promotion, a children's fashion show and a presentation of "25 Years of Fashion" by the Putnam Museum were among the other activities.

In recent years, Duck Creek Mall has suffered. In July 1999, Von Maur announced it was pulling out after 17 years as an anchor. The mall's other major department store, Younkers, announced in January 2001 that it was closing. Von Maur and Younkers had accounted for a third of the mall's 300,000 square feet.

Duck Creek Mall and its future were the subject of much speculation until Equity Growth Group LLC, the mall's owner since 1998, submitted its redevelopment plans. The Bettendorf City Council is expected to consider the plans next month.

John Willard can be contacted at (563) 383-2314 or


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