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THE SHOPPING MALL MUSEUM
covers malls and shopping centers 
that do not fit into the 1946-1979 
grand opening time frame used on the 
MALL HALL OF FAME.
Moreover, centers around the world
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-PORTABLE LEVITTOWN-
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house on wheels...
such as the one immortalized
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In our mid-mod mall museum website, you will find written content and other ephemera about America's very first shopping malls...from Seattle's NORTHGATE CENTER over to New York City's CROSS COUNTY CENTER and down to Houston's GULFGATE SHOPPING CITY. Moreover, on our site, you will find articles about historic malls in all of the 50 states!

Some may deride the contemporary American shopping mall as a shop till you drop, cathedral of conspicuous consumption; a manifestation of our society's affluenza epidemic. In many ways, such an assessment is accurate. However, this was not always the case. In the early days, the typical mall-type center was markedly different than the modern model. 

In the 1950s and '60s, the shopping mall was an "everything in one place" place. There would be one -or even two- 5 & 10-type stores, a drug store, supermarket, bowling alley, professional concourse of medical offices and -even- a church or chapel. Tenant mixes were geared more toward middle market stores, providing things that people really needed. Also, fashion shows, pageants and public events were held regularly, making the early shopping mall a true community center.

A circa-1963 floor plan of Atlanta's LENOX SQUARE, which was one of the first major shopping malls in the Southeastern United States. In its original incarnation, it featured two large anchor department stores (Atlanta-based Rich's and Davison's, a Macy's subsidiary). Stores and services included an S.S. Kresge 5 & 10, S & W Cafeteria, bowling alley, Lenox Square Theatre and Colonial supermarket. There was even a space-age Gulf filling station in the mall's periphery. As they used to say..."It's All There At Lenox Square".

Trademarks of stores and services that were found in many a post-war shopping mall. The focus then was to provide a wide array of merchandisers under one roof. Tenants ranged from the upmarket "anchor" department store, fashion boutique or menswear shop to the middle market 5 & 10 /  variety store, grocery or cafeteria.



In these three shots, we see typical shopping mall tenants of the 1960s. F.W. Woolworth junior-anchored several malls built in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, including this installation at Tampa's WEST SHORE PLAZA SHOPPING CITY. The Cherry Hill Grill, seen in the second shot, was an adjunct of the Harvest House Cafeteria / Woolworth at New Jersey's CHERRY HILL MALL. Cafeterias and snack bars were a mall fixture before food courts became popular in the 1980s. CHERRY HILL MALL also included the Food Fair supermarket seen in the photo directly above.
Photo 1 from http://mallsofamerica.blogspot.com/
Photo 2 from http://paul-altobelli.com/2006/10/cherry-hill-mall-postcards/
Photo 3 from http://pleasantfamilyshopping.blogspot.com

Things had changed by the 1980s, mall-wise. 5 & 10s and grocery stores had been eschewed in favor of more high-end shoe and apparel stores. The upscale, sit-down restaurant -a fixture of the shopping mall anchor department store of yore- had been put out of business by the many "chain" fast food joints that now filled the typical mall food court.  

Moreover, the community center aspect of a shopping mall had been done away with by lawsuits and court decisions that forbade using a mall as the public forum that it had started out as. By the 1990s, mall operators across the continent were instructing security guards to stop the casual mall visitor from simply taking photographs inside their properties!  

The typical mall was now being derided for its generic looks, sameness and predictability. A center in Maine would invariably have the same stores and fast food eateries as one in Southern California, Kansas City or Seattle. Moreover, the new-style "Anytown USA" mall would look pretty much the same no matter where it was located.

One last impression here...back in the mid-century years, the typical shopping mall was designed utilizing the latest trends in "ultra-modern" architecture. Mall photos from this era show stunning, futuristic and unique design. Unfortunately, such architecture, now referred to as "Mid-century Modern", was pretty much obliterated by renovations and "facelifts".

A lot of this damage was done during the 1980s and '90s when -frankly- newly-built and remodeled shopping malls were truly UGLY in appearance. The rush to embrace so-called "Post-modern" architecture created the generic "Anytown USA" mall derided above. I suppose the one saving grace here is that this type of architecture -with its gaudy-glizty, faux fancy look- is now deemed passe' and is being ripped out and replaced by the more attractive mall architecture of the 21st century.

A contemporary view of Greater Pittsburgh's SOUTH HILLS VILLAGE. As has been the case with nearly every single mid-20th century shopping center, the mall's interior has undergone several renovations over the years. An unwritten law in retail states that any shopping mall must be physically updated at least every 10 years...else it will loose favor with the buying public. So, nearly all of the classic Mid-century Modern design details have been obliterated. Fortunately, renovating exteriors of large anchor department stores was too expensive. Hence, much of their historic architecture was left alone.
Photo from Wikipedia / Jim Henderson

Atlanta's LENOX SQUARE as it is currently configured. Over the years, the complex has grown from an 800,000 square foot structure housing fifty-two stores into one encompassing 1,545,000 square feet and over two hundred and forty tenants! Needless to say, the present-day mall has NO 5 & 10, supermarket, cafeteria or gas station. The owners finally got rid of the cinema in 2003. Nowadays, all that is "there" at Lenox Square is anything but middle-market. Today's roster of toney tenants includes Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Williams-Sonoma, Ralph Lauren, Cartier, Restoration Hardware and Hermes. 

A collection of logos from the typical "Grade A" shopping mall of today. As its classification would imply, this type of shopping hub is populated by exclusive boutiques and stores catering to the more affluent shopper.

Barneys New York, a so-called "luxury department store", originated in Manhattan in 1923. Above, we have the chain's ill-fated NORTHPARK CENTER store, in Dallas, Texas. It opened -with much fanfare- in September 2006 and closed for good in April 2013. 
Photo from Wikipedia / "020808"


Brisbane, California's bebe ["bee bee"] operates three hundred and twelve stores around the globe. The first opened, in Downtown San Francisco, in 1976. This women's apparel retailer has locations in many of America's Grade A malls. However, there are also several "Grade B" mall branches. The shot above was taken in Miami-Dade's AVENTURA MALL.
Photo from Wikipedia / "CoolCaesar"

The typical Grade B mall might have several of the stores depicted above, but it is not uncommon to see a few of these nameplates at a high-end Grade A mall.

The very first Sunglass Hut, a kiosk-type store, was located in Miami-Dade's DADELAND MALL and began business in 1971. Today, the chain, a division of Italy's Luxottica Group, operates over two thousand stores around the world. The NATICK MALL location, outside of Boston, is seen above.
Photo from Wikipedia / John Phelan

The Finish Line chain originated, in 1976, with a franchised Athlete's Foot store in Downtown Indianapolis. In 1981, the first Finish Line locations were established. Today, the Indy-based retailer operates over six hundred and fifty stores. The photo above shows the NORTHSHORE CENTER location, also outside of Boston.
Photo from Wikipedia / John Phelan 

Today, with all of the unwelcoming atmosphere created by so-called "codes of conduct" and camera-grabbing security guards, one might get the impression that they are only welcome in a mall for as long as the charge or debit card is in use. When the spending spree is over, one is -apparently- expected to make tracks. This is in opposition to the old-fashioned concept of a mall, where great lengths were taken to try and keep you in the place for as long as possible, whether you were buying anything or not.

During the 1970s and '80s, America was in a full-throttle shopping mall building boom, with new retail square footage peaking in 1985. However, between 1989 and 1993, shopping center construction starts dropped by seventy percent. By the late 1990s, the notorious "dead mall" syndrome had appeared.

There have been several explanations for this phenomenon, where once-vibrant retail hubs become virtually vacant ghost towns devoid of tenants and shoppers. One of the most obvious reasons for the proliferation of moribund malls in the United States could be attributed to the advent of televised home shopping channels, in 1982, and introduction of online retailing, in 1991. 

However, some of the damage that would have been incurred from online retailing was probably muted by the so-called Dot Com Bust, in the year 2000. Another cause that is sometimes opined for the dead mall syndrome is so-called changes in neighborhood demographics (a euphemistic way to say "there went the neighborhood").

Frankly, as I see it, the primary reason for many of the dead, dying -or redeveloped- malls is simply this...there were too many built in the United States during the 1970s and '80s. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that a medium-sized American city such as Toledo, Ohio could only -realistically- support one large fully-enclosed shopping mall. FOUR opened in the metropolitan area between 1969 and 1980, so it was inevitable that some would eventually fail. Just one -FRANKLIN PARK MALL- remains in business today.

This shopping mall malaise, a hangover from the nation's overbuilding binge, has been repeated in over malled cities and towns from coast to coast over the past two decades.

Along with all of the over development done during the 1970s and '80s, a few other -hitherto unrevealed- dead mall generators might be mentioned. There has been a precipitous drop in our buying power since 1970. The end result was that the typical American did not have as much disposable income as they did during the early years of the nation's suburbanization and shopping mall development.

With less discretionary income, John Q. Public could no longer afford to shop at the typical mall as much, where prices for merchandise were higher due to "common area fees" levied on all tenants. These surcharges paid for mallway maintenance and heating and cooling of the areas. In the 1950s, '60s and early '70s, electric power was plentiful and cheap.

This changed drastically during the mid-1970s, when monthly power bills began to escalate (and never stopped!). This inevitably caused the prices for mall-bought merchandise to rise, while -at the same time- the purchasing power of the general public was shrinking. In essence, the underpinnings of the dead mall syndrome were being established, although they would not manifest themselves for several years.

After some 20 years of over development and market saturation, "Grade C" and "D" shopping malls in America were dead and dying. By the late 1990s, demolition crews -ripping down once-vibrant centers of commerce- were being seen more and more.
Photo from http://www.mikecohen.ca/mikecohen/2010/10/first-photos-of-cavendish-mall-demolition.html / Mike Cohen

As previously mentioned, the standard American mall went through various changes during the 1980s...with a shift toward more upscale tenantry. As some malls began to decline in the 1990s, a new manifestation of retail was emerging. Known as the "lifestyle center", it had first appeared in the spring of 1987, under the auspices of Greater Memphis' SHOPS OF SADDLE CREEK

[http://shoppingmallmuseum.blogspot.com/search/label/America%27s%20First%20Lifestyle%20Center].

The lifestyle center dispensed with the fully-enclosed, weather-protected ("perpetual springtime") mall concept that had been popularized during the 1960s and '70s. Lifestyle centers were open-air, much smaller in scale and fully upscale. The "huge shopping center in the middle of a sea of parking" model from the mid-20th century was now obsolete...or so it was told.

The "new and improved" shopping complex -the lifestyle center- had a substantially smaller footprint than a standard mall and was configured so shoppers could (supposedly) park directly in front of a particular store.  Heaven help it if one had to actually walk any distance while shopping! 

In the brave new -new millennium- world, nobody had the time to walk,  peruse or people watch, as they would have done years before. Now it was rush, rush, rush! In other words, get in the store, buy whatever and hurry off to some other appointment or obligation, all the while driving and chatting -simultaneously- on a cell phone.

Due to its compact footprint and lack of a heated and cooled common area, the lifestyle center cost less to build and operate. It supposedly produced higher sales per square foot figures than the traditional mall...although one wouldn't be able to tell by the prices of the merchandise!

In a contemporary site plan of Memphis' THE SHOPS OF SADDLE CREEK, one sees the typical layout of a lifestyle-type complex. Inline stores are small (in the 1,000 to 7,000 square foot range). The entire -three-structure- complex encompasses only 137,500 leasable square feet.

Minnesota's SHOPPES AT ARBOR LAKES lifestyle center typifies the genre with its lush landscaping, toney tenants and trendy architecture.
Photo from Wikipedia / "MgWiki"

In a nutshell, the quaint and intimate lifestyle center was IN, with the perception being that the gargantuan, impersonal shopping mall was OUT. The word "mall" was even designated a 4-letter word, of sorts. All the while, new lifestyle-type properties poured on the pretense with fancy-sounding monikers, such as shopPES, cenTRE or pointE.  

No, I didn't screw up and post a blank image, lol. Amidst all of the sensation surrounding the lifestyle center fad, one aspect seems to be (purposely) ignored...shoppers are out in the rain or any other inclement weather when going from store to store. Of course, at the standard "obsolete" shopping mall, this is not the case. I had a hunch and did several Google searches to try and find even ONE photo of a snowed-in -or rain-soaked- lifestyle center. There were none to be found...as represented by the non-photo above.

The evolution of the retail industry in the 1980s brought forth yet another new concept in shopping centers; the "power center" or "stretch mall". 280 METRO CENTER, America's first quote-unquote power center, began business -in suburban San Francisco- in 1986.

 [http://shoppingmallmuseum.blogspot.com/search/label/America%27s%20First%20Power%20Center].

Like the lifestyle center, the power center was open-air. The big difference was that the power center was not filled with small, exclusive, boutique-type shoppes and bistros, but with large big box stores and smaller inline tenants.

In essence, our "power plaza" was a discount-oriented hodgepodge of retailers, usually surrounding a large parking area. The power center shopper could -and probably did- drive directly to the front of each store they wanted to shop at and would get in the car -and endure parking lot pandemonium- to drive directly to another store at the other end of the complex. Walking between these destinations, as one would do in a conventional mall, was strictly out!

Stores in suburban San Fran's 280 METRO CENTER surround its central parking area. In essence, the typical mall in a sea of parking was turned inside out. Big box-type stores in the 213,500 square foot complex ranged from 13,000 to 30,000 square feet, with inline stores encompassing between 2,000 and 7,000 square feet. 

A collection of logos for some of the best-known big box stores.

WESTGATE, a power center outside of Cleveland, was built from the remains of a demolished WESTGATE MALL. Stores in the new 618,900 square foot center were dedicated in 2007 and 2008.
Photo from http://www.westgateohio.com

As it turns out, the retail industry's zeal to promote the lifestyle center as the "new and improved" thing, while dismissing the enclosed mall as an "old and rotten" dinosaur, proved a bit presumptuous. In a May 5, 2011 write-up on the RETAIL TRAFFIC website,

[http://retailtrafficmag.com/development/analysis/return_of_the_mall_05052011]

it was revealed that, during our recent recession, the American shopping mall fared much better than would ever have been imagined just a few years ago. In fact, sales per square foot figures for the fully-enclosed, Grade A, destination-type mall surpassed those of the much ballyhooed lifestyle center!

This could remind one of other premature obituaries of yore, such as Mark Twain's famous "The report of my death was an exaggeration" quotation. Obviously, those many dire predictions for the eminent demise of the mall as we know it were not much more than wishful thinking on the part of various lifestyle center developers.

Of course, not every single mall out there is on solid ground...many of the lesser "Grade C" and "D" ones will eventually go under, if they haven't already. But, the high-end destination-type malls are obviously here to stay.



Photos of three of the most profitable shopping malls in the nation, as per US News and World Report. In the first we have New Jersey's WESTFIELD GARDEN STATE PLAZA. The second shot is of Arizona's SCOTTSDALE FASHION SQUARE, with the third photo having been taken inside Hawaii's ALA MOANA CENTER. These destination-type malls opened between 1957 and 1961, and are still going strong over 50 years later! Will the same be able to be said of many lifestyle centers in the year 2045?
Photo 1 from Wikipedia / CC-BY-SA-2.5 - "NightScream"
Photo 2 from Wikipedia / Joseph Plotz
Photo 3 from Magnus Mansky
Sources:

www.encyclopedia.com
http://www.icsc.org/srch/about/impactofshoppingcenters/briefhistory.html
Retail Traffic website
www.answers.com
http://money.usnews.com/money/business-economy/slideshows/americas-most-endangered-malls/8
US News & World Report "America's Most Endangered Malls"
Wikipedia "Home Shopping Network", "Online Retailing" and "Dot Com Bubble" articles


FAIR USE OF RETAIL STORE LOGOS:

The graphics of various retail stores used in this article help illustrate a key moment in retail history that is described in the article. The images are of lower resolution than the originals (copies made would be of inferior quality). The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.
Bradenton's Cortez Plaza


The Tampa Bay Area mall's original -circa-1959- logo.
Graphic from The Sarasota Herald Tribune

An opening day announcement from February 1959. Although promoted here as a (quote-unquote) "air cooled mall", the complex was fully open-air. The insides of the stores were fully air-conditioned and climate-controlled...still a selling point in the late 1950s.
Advert from the Sarasota Herald Tribune


Two views of Center Court and its reflecting pool.
Photos from Library of Congress

A layout of the original shopping plaza. From today's jaded vantage point, it seems almost unbelievable that, in 1959, a rather small, 185,000 square foot mall could be promoted as "mammoth"...or that it was the largest shopping center on the entire west coast of Florida.

An aerial view of CORTEZ PLAZA taken in the early 1960s.
Photo from Malls of America Blogspot


Various views of Center Court and the Belk-Lindsey anchor store.
Photos from Library of Congress

A straight-on view of Center Court and the Belk-Lindsey anchor store.
Photo from Library of Congress


The southwest end of the original mall. Lerner Shops may be seen on the right.
Photo from Library of Congress


The Inter-City National Bank protruded from the southwest end of the mall.
Photo from Library of Congress