As a result of the initial malling of America during the 1950s and early '60s, a great deal of commerce and trade had migrated from the center city to shopping centers in newly-created suburbs. This exodus left several downtown areas abandoned, dead or dying.

One idea put forth to try and save the withering urban core was the enclosed, downtown shopping mall. It was thought that the only way to compete with new suburbs was to adapt the shopping mall to a central city setting.

Years of talks, studies and plans followed, with the first downtown shopping mall opening in April 1962. Rochester, New York's MIDTOWN PLAZA was built when two city streets were closed, excavated and rebuilt as a climate-controlled concourse. It seemed like a good idea at the time and several cities jumped on the "urban renewal mall" bandwagon.


A map showing the City City Centres that will be covered in this write-up.
Click on image for a larger view

The eight centers indicated above are but a small sampling of all that were built in the United States. A list of other projects would include the following;

CONSTITUTION PLAZA RETAIL COURT [1964], Hartford, CT
MALL AT NEW ROCHELLE [1968-1997], New Rochelle, NY
LANCASTER SQUARE [1971], Lancaster, PA
DOWNTOWN PLAZA [1972], Sacramento, CA
CENTRAL CITY MALL [1972], San Bernardino, CA
ROCKVILLE MALL [1972-1995], Rockville, MD
TRENTON COMMONS [1973-2004], Trenton, NJ
WORLD TRADE CENTER CONCOURSE [1973-2001], New York, NY
AMIGOLAND MALL [1974-2001], Brownsville, TX
PORT PLAZA [1977-2010], Green Bay, WI
PLAZA PASADENA [1981-1999], Pasadena, CA
LONG BEACH PLAZA [1982-2000], Long Beach, CA
CHARLESTON TOWN CENTER [1983], Charleston, WV
5TH AVENUE MALL [1987], Anchorage, AK
COLUMBUS CITY CENTER [1989-2009], Columbus, OH

Article on The Mall Hall of Fame

The success of the center city mall was short-lived. By the 1980s, most cities that had invested mega-millions of "revenue sharing" dollars into downtown redevelopment projects were wanting to rip down their -now- struggling downtown malls.

The suburban shopping mall had captured the fancy of the American populace and nothing could save the urban centers that had been decimated in the name of progress.

Unfortunately, even the glory days of the shopping mall were numbered. Builders over-developed, area demographics around certain shopping centers changed, fickle consumers decided that they no longer had the time to invest in "a day at the mall", huge mega-retailers turned the entire retail industry upside down.....and then there was the internet and all of the shop-at-home scenarios that it presented.

By the mid-1990s, a suburban shopping center "dead mall" syndrome was underway, with "Class B" and "Class C" enclosed malls from coast to coast being either demolished entirely or "demalled" into open-air lifestyle or power centers. The more high-end, "destination" malls were not adversely affected.

The decline and fall of the non-destination-type mall, as we knew it, is being given additional momentum by several factors. These include the Great Recession, it's repercussions, the resulting bankruptcy of several prominent retail chains and online shopping.

Another very important factor that is killing off the lower echelon malls, that is rarely -if ever- mentioned, is the fact that the standard of living for the average American has fallen drastically since the 1970s. "John Q. Public" can no longer afford to shop at a mall, as could back in the '50s, '60s and early '70s.

Whether or not the middle market shopping mall, either central city or suburban, will survive is anyone's guess. But...enough of all the present-day gloom and doom. Let us now return to the mid-20th century and the rapid rise and fall of the center city mall.