ROOSEVELT FIELD CENTER
Meadowbrook Parkway and Old Country Road
Nassua County (Town of Hempstead), New York

Long Island's first post-war shopping center, GARDENS OF GREAT NECK CENTER (1951), was followed by a rapid succession of mall-type retail complexes. Three of these, ROOSEVELT FIELD CENTER, GREEN ACRES CENTER and MID-ISLAND SHOPPING PLAZA, opened over the course of a single year...1956. Two more followed soon after. WALT WHITMAN CENTER and SOUTH SHORE MALL were dedicated in 1962 and 1963, respectively.

The land on which Long Island's first shopping mall was built served as the Roosevelt Field airstrip. This was named in honor of Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt (Teddy's son), who had been killed in World War I. The facility was the departure point for "Lucky Lindy's" historic transatlantic flight in 1927. A military airbase also operated there, that was decommissioned in June 1951.

A section of the property was used for the Roosevelt Raceway, an auto-racing track that was converted to harness racing in September 1940. The remainder of the airfield property would be devoted to the gargantuan ROOSEVELT FIELD CENTER. This facility would be developed on a 125-acre site located 24.5 miles east of Times Square. The plot was situated in Nassau County's Town of Hempstead and was adjacent to the Village of Garden City.

Initial plans were announced in August 1950. Ground was broken on April 26, 1955. The prospective shopping hub was being built by New York City's William Zeckendorf, under the auspices of Webb & Knapp. It was designed by Chinese architect Ieoh Ming Pei and the Rudolph Boehler & Rene Brugnoni firm, of New York City.

As originally constructed, the open-air complex encompassed approximately 902,900 leasable square feet. It was comprised of a main Mall Level and service basement, which included a small shopping concourse.

ROOSEVELT FIELD CENTER was officially dedicated on August 29, 1956. Charter stores included Walgreen Drug, Buster Brown Shoes, Howard Clothes, The Corsetorium, Paree Millinery, Singer Sewing Center, Thom McAn Shoes, Ripley's, Buckner's Bridal and a Horn & Hardhart Restaurant.

There were two 5 & 10s; a (37,000 square foot) F.W. Woolworth and (37,000 square foot) S.S. Kresge. Moreover, the mall housed two supermarkets; a (30,000 square foot) Food Fair and (30,000 square foot) Grand Union. Service-type features included the Flight Room public auditorium and an outdoor ice skating rink (this completed in 1958).

A 3-level (343,000 square foot) Macy's was the sole anchor of the 1956 mall. A 3-level (240,300 square foot) Gimbels was added, which began business August 20, 1962. In order to be one up on its primary retail rival, Macy's had a fourth level added in 1963...so that their 461,000 square foot ROOSEVELT FIELD store would be substantially larger than that operated by Gimbels.

With this addition, the retail hub spanned approximately 1,261,200 leasable square feet and housed one hundred and thirteen stores and services. The Century's Roosevelt Field Theatre, a freestanding venue built at the northwest corner of the mall, showed its first feature on August 28, 1962. It was divided into a 3-plex in 1981 and an 8-plex in 1987.

Competing malls in the vicinity of ROOSEVELT FIELD included the aforementioned GREEN ACRES CENTER (1956) {7.4 miles southwest, in Nassau County} and MID-ISLAND SHOPPING PLAZA (1956) {4.6 miles northeast, in Nassau County}. In addition there was SUNRISE MALL (1973) {9.8 miles southeast, also in Nassau County}. 

New York City-based Corporate Property Investors had acquired ROOSEVELT FIELD CENTER in 1966. They embarked on a renovation to enclose the mall in April 1967, which was completed in June 1968. The shopping hub was known, henceforth, as ROOSEVELT FIELD MALL.

The complex was expanded further in the early 1970s. Alexander's 3-level (314,000 square foot) location opened for business October 15, 1971. J.C. Penney, with a 3-level (260,000 square foot) store, began business July 19, 1972. In 1974, a small, Tudor-style section, known as La Petite Mall, opened. This "mall within a mall" was installed in the existing southwest store block. It housed stores and services such as Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream, Hanan Yarn, The Cave Hair Salon and Sanrio.

Another enlargement of ROOSEVELT FIELD MALL was done in stages between 1991 and 1997. In April 1993, a partial Upper Level was completed, which had been built on top of the northern half of the mall. This new section included a 22-bay, zeppelin-motif Food Court. Among sixty new stores and services were J. Crew and Banana Republic.

Alexander's had been shuttered in February 1991. The store was gutted and remodeled into a New York City-based Abraham & Straus, which held its grand opening October 17, 1992. This store was in operation until April 30, 1995. New York City-based Bloomingdale's assumed the store space on November 2nd of the same year.

The second half of the 150 million dollar mall remodeling was completed in two stages. The Upper Level was extended over the mall's southern section. Two parking structures were also built; one replacing an existing garage on the mall's southeast corner.

The upstairs extension was officially dedicated in September 1996, with fifty stores added to the mall directory. These included FAO Schwarz, AX / Armani Exchange, BCBG, Kenneth Cole, Pottery Barn and Modell's Sporting Goods.

A fifth anchor department store was built as the final facet of the 1990s makeover. A 3-level (225,000 square foot) Nordstrom, added to the southeast corner of the complex, opened August 15, 1997. With its completion, the facility spanned approximately 2,228,000 leasable square feet. It was promoted as the nation's fifth-largest shopping mall.  In September 1998, the Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group acquired the assets of Corporate Property Investors, which included ROOSEVELT FIELD MALL.

Gimbels Roosevelt Field had shut down in August 1986 and was followed by a New Jersey-based Stern's, which was in operation between February 1987 and August 2001. After Stern's closed, the structure was divided three ways. Indianapolis-based Galyan's Trading Company renovated a 2-level (105,400 square foot) space and opened for business on October 17, 2003.

A 2-level (65,000 square foot) Bloomingdale's Furniture Gallery was installed in adjacent area. The old Gimbels basement was renovated into a (70,000 square foot) XSport Fitness, which was dedicated in September 2006. Meanwhile, the Galyan's store had been rebranded, by Pittsburgh-based Dick's Sporting Goods, in October 2004.

In September 2013, a comprehensive interior-exterior makeover got underway. In addition to giving the existing structure a thorough update, the 200 million dollar project included construction of a fourth parking garage, Dining District (which replaced the early 1990s-vintage Food Court) and new Southwest Wing. This would include a 2-level (105,400 square foot) Neiman Marcus and approximately 25,800 square feet of inline store space.

These components were dedicated in the following order; the parking garage in November 2014, Dining District in January 2015 and Southwest Wing / Neiman Marcus on February 19, 2016. With all work completed, the shopping hub encompassed approximately 2,377,000 leasable square feet and housed two hundred and eighty-three stores and services under its roof.

Sources:

The New York Times
http://www.nydailynews.com
http://www.airfield-freeman.com
preservenet.cornell.edu/publications/Longstreth Branch Store.do
Nassau County, New York Tax Assessor website
www.cinematreasures.org
http://www.newsday.com
www.city-data.com/forum/long-island/47032-you-know-youre-long-island-when-106.html
http://gardencitypatch.com
https://libn.com (Long Island Business News)
https://www.highbeam.com
http://consumergrouch.com