James W. Rouse (1914-1996), a major mid-century mover and shaker, was instrumental in the creation of the American shopping mall...a concept that was copied around the world.
Photo from Maryland Historical Society Library

James Rouse helped to change America's mid-20th century landscape. After World War II, the nation was experiencing a massive population shift from the inner city to outlying suburbs. This was brought on by new mega-housing developments, which had no specific downtown areas.

Mr. Rouse, along with developers Edward J. DeBartolo and A. Alfred Taubman -and architects Victor Gruen, John Graham, Junior and Lathrop Doulass- devised the shopping mall to fill this void and make suburban life more convenient.

A HUMBLE BEGINNING

James Rouse was born and raised in Maryland. After briefly attending the University of Virginia, he graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in law. With a business partner, he formed the Moss-Rouse Company, a mortgage banking concern, in 1939.

Serving in the Navy Air Force during World War II, Rouse returned to the mortgage business and quickly expanded services from financing single-family dwellings to funding the construction of apartment complexes and strip shopping centers.

THE JAMES W. ROUSE COMPANY

In 1954, he bought out his partner and reorganized the business under the heading of the James W. Rouse Company. A subsidiary, Community Research & Development, evolved in 1956; its forte being commercial real estate development.

By this time, Rouse's first shopping mall was under construction in the northwestern environs of Baltimore City. Rouse toyed with the idea of building the 2-level shopping center as a fully-enclosed structure but, according to him, "lost his nerve". Architect Victor Gruen beat him to the punch, so to say, by designing America's first regional-class, interior mall. It opened, in Edina, Minnesota, on October 8, 1956.

6 days later, Rouse's first mall, the open-air MONDAWMIN CENTER, was officially dedicated. Community Research & Development's first shopping complex, HARUNDALE MALL, opened October 1, 1958, in Greater Baltimore's Anne Arundel County. This time around, a fully-enclosed complex was constructed.

Mr. Rouse's business interest, which was renamed The Rouse Company in 1966, would develop several shopping malls across the eastern half of the United States during the 1960s and '70s.