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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

So Much is Defined by This Four Letter Word

Southdale Center- Edina, Minnesota (1956)
          Upon passing through the crowded halls of another mall, lost in the images of modern shopping trends, I can't help but think there has to be more to the establishment than just one building packed with smaller stores. So much more is defined by the four letter word, "mall", no, its not an acronym, but that's just it, what does it stand for? I resort to referencing episode 16 of Tom Explores Los Angeles, where he takes a look inside the old Hawthorne Plaza outside LA county. As Tom walks the apocalyptic levels once crowded with eager shoppers, he begins to enlighten us with some history on the creation of the modern shopping mall, Southdale in Edina, Minnesota, opening in 1956 and designed by Victor Gruen, an Austrian immigrant that came to America in hopes of further educating himself and starting a career. He got into retail design to further accentuate his socialist idea's into retail architecture, designing a mixed communal space filled with beauty of fountains and foliage, and commerce, where people can come together to socialize and shop.

          As it started from there, like anything created, it will be replicated and redone by other people, that is the boom of retail shopping, as stores left downtown and came to the suburbs when World War II was ceased, families were started and the suburban lifestyle was born, better known as "baby boomers", people left the cities for new suburban developments, thus shopping had to follow where the people went. With the signing of the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956, this made vacations and traveling way more convenient for families. Going from home to there desired vacation spot, stopping for gas and lodging with a mall located near by, made for one stop pleasure, the combination of a gas station, motel, diner, and mall at an exit every few 100 miles was the trend of development in the 60's and beyond, but where it ended up is the most shocking side, the death of the mall.

          These photos below best resemble enclosed shopping malls of the 70's, the high point of the mall, no matter what location in America, each mall, located in a particular market, had at least two national retail anchors, such as JCPenney or Sears, a regional anchor like Marshall Fields, Kaufmann's or Hudson's, and the local anchor like Hornes around Ohio and Wieboldt's in Chicago. No matter what your mall had, it followed this general design. The mall interior, typically pastel or neutral colors, tile and brick flooring, and a lot of wood veneer. Air conditioning is what brought people in during the summer, and heat in the winter.

Holyoke Mall at Ingleside- Holyoke, Massachusetts (1982)

          The heart of the mall, known as the "center court" is the epicenter of the shopping mall, where the fountain was located, all the plants, any attraction, food court near by with seating, and divided the halls that lead to the anchor stores. The architecture was the greatest design attribute that really takes to me as a mallrat, each mall is so different from one another, even when a major property form like Taubman Centers outside Detroit. They have designed and constructed many malls around the Midwest, a common design attribute of there malls is such attention to design with the ceiling and the stairways. Take a look at Woodfield Mall outside Chicago, or Beverly Center outside Los Angeles, the stairways and halls look alike, although the malls themselves are very different based on when they were built, or for what market.


          Traditional anchor stores brought families together, they did, no matter how cheesy that may sound, its were you bought your first suit, or dress, pair of heels for prom, that new bike, or washing machine, even got your hair done at there in house salon, and afterwards, had something to eat at there lunch counter. These stores served at a communal, even ceremonial space for people to come together, to sell, and to spend, you shopped for something you needed, from someone that was looking to sell it. First dates and reunions of friends found open seats at the food court, and the story you tell your kids, when I was a kid, I shopped, I shopped at Wards with my dad, or my first job was a Prange's. Today, there is JCPenney and Sears, no matter how analysis's say they will close, there the last traditional department stores left. Other like Dillard's, Von Maur, and Boscov's serve there select regions.

Northglenn Mall (1971)

Northglenn Mall (1971)
          As scads of malls began to die in the late 80's and all throughout the 90's, it inspired a group of guys to create the original website devoted to the lost of art of malls, Here is a clip featuring some of my friends Peter Blackbird and Brian Florence, as they tell there story on why malls are important  to them, and why this is such an issue in our economic society.

          Next time you take your friends or family to the local mall, stop, and sit, and gaze at what is surrounding you, and think, its more than just a four letter word, from where it started, to for most people, where it ended. There are still several hundred excelling malls in North America, and for the ones that did not make it this long, have been demolished to and redeveloped to reintroduce new retail trends to the area that mall once housed.

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Photos in the post are provided by these links below:


Here is my review of the YouTube channel: Tom Explores Los Angeles

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