1956 was a banner year for the American shopping mall! Major mall-type centers were dedicated from coast-to-coast, with a listing including Baltimore's MONDAWMIN CENTER, Long Island's ROOSEVELT FIELD CENTER, Chicago's OLD ORCHARD CENTER, San Jose's VALLEY FAIR CENTER, Miami's 163rd STREET CENTER and Houston's GULFGATE SHOPPING CITY.
Greater Minneapolis' SOUTHDALE CENTER -the first regional-class, fully-enclosed complex in the nation- was the most noteworthy 1956 opening of all.
Along with the flurry of retail complex dedications came the first shopping mall built in the Washington, DC metropolis; Fairfax County, Virginia's 7 CORNERS CENTER, which opened for business in October. By the close of the decade, the region's second mall -the first in the Maryland Metro- had opened for business. PRINCE GEORGES PLAZA was officially dedicated in March 1959.
A map of the DC region, dated late 1968. The first seven shopping malls in the area are indicated with black squares. Highways and byways are also indicated with the names they were known by at the time. The first segment of the Henry G. Shirley Highway, which was the very first controlled-access expressway in -or around- DC, is indicated in blue.
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The suburbanization of our nation's capital was given much impetus by the construction and completion of its ring road expressway, the Capital Beltway. This 63.8 mile loop was originally built between 1957 and 1964.
A 1.6 mile segment, extending between MD 355 (Wisconsin Avenue) and MD Route 185 (Connecticut Avenue) opened to traffic October 25, 1957. The final section, comprising 24.7 miles and stretching between MD Route 355 (Wisconsin Avenue) and MD Route 4 (Pennsylvania Avenue), was completed August 17, 1964.
With the Beltway now in place, the malling of the District and its environs would get going in earnest. A third shopping venue, Maryland's 1 million square foot WHEATON PLAZA, had welcomed its first patrons in February 1960. The dedication of this shopping facility was followed by one for Virginia's LANDMARK CENTER, which was held in August 1965.
1968 brought the first Beltway-adjacent retail hubs; Maryland's MONTGOMERY MALL and Virginia's TYSONS CORNER CENTER. By the close of the 1970s, the Virginia-Maryland metro featured fifteen shopping malls, with six of these being freeway-friendly.
Looking back, it could be said that the DC region was slow in the development of its first fully-enclosed shopping center. It took until late 1967 for the the first (Maryland's IVERSON MALL) to be completed.
DC had been behind the times. Minneapolis had had an enclosed mall for nearly 11 years. Baltimore had dedicated its first interior mall 9 years before. Dallas went indoors -mall-wise- 8 years previously and Chicagoland's RANDHURST CENTER was nearly 6 years old.