NORTHLAND CENTER
West Florissant Avenue and Lucas & Hunt Road
City of Jennings, Missouri

The first major suburban shopping center in eastern Missouri was developed by G.F. Nooney & Company, of St. Louis. The firm of Russell Mullgardt, Schwartz & Van Hoef were its designers. NORTHLAND CENTER was not a shopping mall, per se, but is being inducted into the Mall Hall Of Fame due to its stature as an early "regional-class" shopping complex.

Open-air in format, NORTHLAND CENTER was built on a 67 acre plot, located 7 miles northwest of the downtown area, in the "North County" suburb of Jennings. Originally encompassing 525,100 leasable square feet, the facility opened for business on August 19, 1955.

It was, in essence, a strip shopping center...but an elaborate and unique one. It was anchored by a 4-level (337,000 square foot), St. Louis-based Famous-Barr, from which its North Mall and South Mall store blocks extended.

The NORTHLAND Famous-Barr was the department store chain's first shopping center location and its third branch store. It was almost as large as the downtown flagship and was substantially larger than any of the suburban stores that followed. Its interior was done in grand style, with fine wood paneling and floors of marble.

Offering "everything from shoes to shaves", NORTHLAND CENTER would eventually house forty-three stores and services. These included Heitman's Barber Shop, Mode O'Day Frock Shop, Duane's Shoes, Harper's Smart Shops, Western Auto, Darling Shops, Edith's Tots To Teens, Worths, a Slenderella Figure Salon and Pope's Cafeteria.

There were two 2-level inline stores; Sonnenfeld's apparel and an S.S. Kresge 5 & 10. All retail space in the original shopping hub was air-conditioned. In 1955, this was still considered quite a luxury. There was also ample parking provided on upper and lower level lots.

A (21,500 square foot) Rapp's supermarket was a western outparcel. It was later rebranded as a Bettendorff-Rapp and then as a Schnucks. Between the late 1950s and early 1970s, the mall site was developed further with various structures. The 3-level Northland Office Building and 32-lane Northland Bowl were completed in 1959. Famous-Barr also built a freestanding Tire Center.

Brod-Dugan Paints & Wallpaper relocated from an in-mall store to a northeast outparcel structure. Adjacent to this was the General Cinema Corporation Northland Cinema, which was dedicated on November 23, 1966. With these additions, NORTHLAND CENTER housed approximately 568,700 leasable square feet and contained fifty stores and services.

The first competitor in the area was RIVER ROADS CENTER (1962) {1.5 miles east, also in Jennings}. Next, came NORTHWEST PLAZA (1966) {6 miles west, in St. Ann} and JAMESTOWN MALL (1973) {6 miles north, in St. Louis County}.

Even with so many retail rivals, NORTHLAND prospered. The situation began to change by the late 1980s. By the early 1990s, the once-fabulous Famous-Barr was a derelict, dilapidated shadow of its former self.

Nearly all of the original tenants had long since vacated the shopping center. A great deal of space was now leased by mom & pop-type retailers, but national chains, such as Foxmoor Casuals, General Nutrition Center and J.G. McCrory, were operating NORTHLAND stores.

Once a regional-class shopping venue, NORTHLAND CENTER was now more on the level of an over-sized, community-class shopping hub. Its nearest interstate highway connection, over 1 mile south, left it fairly inaccessible by the local populace.

On June 11, 1994, Famous-Barr pulled up stakes; a blow from which the 39-year-old facility could not recover. In January 2000, a joint venture was formed between the St. Louis Economic Group, City of Jennings and St. Louis-based Sansone Group. The ailing complex was now being viewed as obsolete. No consideration was given to its importance as an historic structure, well worthy of restoration.

So, another of America's unique, architecturally-significant, mid-20th century retail centers had outlived its (perceived) usefulness. It was old enough to be historically significant but not old enough to benefit from any mandated preservation effort.

The Northland Cinema, which had closed in 1999, became the first structure to fall to a wrecking ball, in June 2002. In April 2005, demolition commenced on the main NORTHLAND CENTER structure. The job was complete by October of the same year.

Replacing the 1950s shopping hub would be a 270,000 square foot power center. Known as BUZZ WESTFALL PLAZA ON THE BOULEVARD, it would be anchored by a 1-level (126,900 square foot) Target and (63,500 square foot) Schnucks supermarket.

Target opened its doors October 3, 2006, followed by Schnucks, on October 10 of the same year. As an interesting turn of events, the BUZZ WESTFALL PLAZA Target pulled up stakes and closed for good August 20, 2016.

Sources:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
www.builtstlouis.net/northland
www.tobyweiss.com
www.jenningshistory.org
www.cinematreasures.org
"The Final Sale - The decision to Close the Famous-Barr Northland Store" / Saint Louis University John Cook School Of Business, Emerson Center for Business Ethics / International Journal of Case Studies and Research / Volume 5, Number 1, 1997 / Jim Fisher, Dr. Mark J. Arnold and John T. Rueue
www.stltoday.com