163rd STREET CENTER
Northeast 163rd Street and Northeast 15th Avenue
Dade County, Florida

The first shopping mall in Greater Miami was built by New York City-based Food Fair Properties. This company, a retail development subsidiary of Philadelphia's Food Fair supermarket chain, was formed in 1955. Their first endeavor was Greater Miami's 163rd STREET CENTER.

An open-air mall encompassing 525,000 leasable square feet, 163rd STREET CENTER was constructed on a 55 acre parcel, located 9 miles north of center city Miami. The site was in unincorporated Dade County, adjacent to the suburb of North Miami Beach.

163rd STREET CENTER was designed by Fort Lauderdale's Gamble, Pownall & Gilroy firm with input from Raymond Loewy. At its November 1, 1956 grand opening, the complex housed forty-eight stores and services.

In keeping with the times, Miami's first shopping mall made a grand entrance. A pageant saluting Latin American nations and the "Dominion of Canada" was staged, with five thousand invited guests. It was presided by 163rd STREET CENTER President Dr. Kurt Peisner.

Entertainment was provided by Caesar LaMonaca and His Bayfront Park Orchestra. Two local Boy Scouts opened a large replica of the Liberty Bell, from which Mrs. Nadeen Kirkland, the theme girl of 163rd STREET CENTER, emerged.

The primary anchor of the 15 million dollar shopping complex was a 3-level (130,700 square foot), Miami-based Burdine's ("bur-diynz"). The chain's fifth branch, the 163rd STREET store followed locations in Downtown Miami (1898), Miami Beach (1928), West Palm Beach (1941) and Fort Lauderdale (1947).

Charter tenants at 163rd STREET CENTER included Walgreen Drug, M & M Cafeteria, a Food Fair supermarket, 2-level (35,400 square foot) F. W. Woolworth 5 & 10 and 2-level (54,100 square foot) J.C. Penney. A 2-level (80,000 square foot), Miami-based Richards department store was dedicated April 11, 1957.

The shopping complex was situated on a main retail level, with the larger stores having basements. There was also a subterranean freight delivery tunnel. Exterior design incorporated what came to be known as "MiMo" ("my-mow"), or Miami 1950s Modern architecture.

A large open Mall Plaza in front of Burdine's served as the main entrance to the shopping venue. By the late 1950s, this area had become a mini-amusement park, with six kiddie rides. Included were a merry-go-round and sky-copter that lifted riders high in the air as they pulled back on a lever.

A mini-train track (with tunnel) surrounded the kiddie ride area. Urban legends circulated around Dade County, telling of shoppers who had been hit by the choo-choo at 163rd STREET CENTER. These stories were never substantiated. By the early 1960s, the mall also had a go-kart track in its northeast parking lot. This attraction was destroyed by Hurricane Cleo in August of 1964 and was never rebuilt.

On September 23, 1960, the Wometco (Wolfson Meyers Theatres Company) 163rd Street Theatre showed its first feature. The single-screen venue was built as part of a northwest parking lot strip complex. This housed Duke's Restaurant, an S & H Green Stamps Redemption Center and Harmony Music Shop (which had relocated from within the mall proper).

The 163rd Street Patio Theatre, also a single-screen movie house, was added to the back of the original cinema and opened October 29, 1970. The original venue was twinned in the early 1980s, with the three auditoriums promoted, henceforth, as the Wometco Theatres.

In the early years of 163rd STREET CENTER, rival shopping facilities would have included NORTHSIDE CENTER (1960) {6.9 miles southwest, in Dade County}, and SKYLAKE MALL (1969) {2.4 miles northwest, also in Dade County}.

163rd STREET CENTER was expanded in the early 1960s. A 2-level addition was built on the north side of Burdine's. By 1969, a third level had been added. The store now encompassed over 200,000 square feet. A parking garage was included in the late 1960s enlargement of Burdine's .

The northeast corner of the mall was reconfigured in the early 1970s. Pantry Pride -formerly Food Fair- relocated to a new (31,200 square foot) store. A 3-level (244,000 square foot), Miami-based Jordan Marsh of Florida was constructed on a portion of the old supermarket site. This store held its grand opening in February 1971 and included a parking garage, which was built adjacent to its east side.

By this time, the existing Woolworth 5 & dime had been expanded into a 60,400 square foot operation. On the west end of 163rd STREET CENTER, Richards was enlarged with a south side addition and third level. This store now housed approximately 222,200 square feet. A third mall parking garage had also been added on the west side of Richards.

The retail mix of the early '70s shopping hub included a Playboy Store, which carried various Hefner-esque paraphernalia, such as girlie calendars and cocktail bar accessories. The store was behind a smoked, opaque glass storefront and was out of business within a few years. There was also a boutique called Treasure Chest, which had a Chinese motif. The store featured an ominous-looking dragon mosaic in front. On the inside were various items from the Orient, such as incense and jade carvings.

Richards was shuttered in January 1980. Soon after, a mall-wide renovation got underway. As part of this 40 million dollar project, the vacant Richards was sectioned into 3 levels of inline retail spaces, with a 10-bay The Food Court on the top floor. A Spec's Records store on the first floor was so successful that a second level opened on the floor above. Called Spec's Metro, it was cylindrical in layout and fashioned after a subway station. The store's decor included lots of pink neon lighting.

The renovation included enclosing the Central Mall corridor. This was done with a Teflon-coated fiberglass structure, which was referred to locally as "The Dome". The shopping center was rededicated October 17, 1982, with its official name being changed to MALL AT 163rd STREET. The complex now encompassed 1.1 million leasable square feet, with a tenant roster of one hundred and forty-three stores and services.

Almost immediately, the mall encountered a new -and formidable- rival. AVENTURA MALL {3 miles northeast, in Dade County} opened in April 1983. It wasn't long before the effects were being felt at MALL AT 163rd STREET.

AVENTURA MALL snatched the 26-year-old J.C. Penney from MALL AT 163rd STREET. Pantry Pride was shuttered in September 1983, with its space re-opening as a Service Merchandise. The main level of the old Penney's space was divided among six inline tenants. The basement became a Texas-based Oshman's Sporting Goods.

In January 1990, The Food Court was shuttered. Massachusetts-based Marshalls opened a (40,000 square foot) store in the vacated area in November 1990. A smaller culinary complex was dedicated, on the second level of the old Richards, in June 1991.

Jordan Marsh closed for good September 30, 1991. Mervyn's, occupying the first 2 levels of the store, held its grand opening June 7, 1992...but closed in 1995. Woolworth, a staple since the mall's opening in 1956, closed in 1997. Burdines (spelled sans-apostrophe since 1973) shut down July 31, 1999, with a new store officially opening the following day at AVENTURA MALL.

Meanwhile, the cinema and strip complex behind MALL AT 163rd STREET had been shuttered and demolished. A 1-level (117,700 square foot) Home Depot opened, as a freestanding structure, January 5, 1995. Inside the mall, new Radio Shack, Plumb Gold, Snack Shack and Foot Action Superstore locations opened in March 1995.

A partnership of the Toronto Dominion Bank and Chase Manhattan Bank had owned MALL AT 163rd STREET for a number of years. In March 1999, they sold the property to a joint venture of New York City's New Excel Realty Trust and Phoenix, Arizona's Wilton Partners.

MALL AT 163rd STREET had been in varying stages of decline since the late 1980s. A second reworking of the center got underway in mid-2004. One-third of the mall, and the north and east parking garages, were razed. A 26 million dollar refit was done to the remaining mall, which included replacement of elevators, a new escalator, an exterior facelift and construction of two mall entrances.

The northern section of the vacant Burdines building was torn down, returning the structure to its original (circa-1956) size. A 1-level (30,500 square foot) Ross Dress For Less went into the second (or ground) floor in August 2005. Steve & Barry's University Sportswear would briefly inhabit the third.

In other areas of the shopping hub, Anna's Linens (11,900 square feet) and Office Depot (19,100 square feet) opened in August 2005. A 1-level (216,000 square foot) Wal-Mart SuperCenter, built as a freestanding structure in the mall's northeastern periphery, opened September 14 of the same year.

MALL AT 163rd STREET was now a hybrid enclosed mall / power center with approximately 706,900 leasable square feet and seventy-one store spaces. The complex was acquired by Australia's Centro Property Group in April 2007.

In June 2011, the United States holdings of Centro were sold to New York City-based Blackstone Real Estate Partners. They formed a new management entity, known as the Brixmor Property Group, in September.

Sources:

The Miami News
The Miami Daily News
The Miami Herald
The Sun-Sentinel
Impressions of E. Morgan, Miami-Dade resident, 1957-2006
http://nreionline.com (National Real Estate Investor)
www.bizjournals.com
www.cinematreasures.org
New Wal-Mart Now Completed - Mall At 163rd Street Getting Extreme Makeover" Article / March 22, 2006 / http://www.citynmb.com
T & G Contractors


FAIR USE OF 163rd STREET CENTER IMAGES:

The graphics from The Miami News illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The images are of lower resolution than the originals (copies made would be of inferior quality). The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.

BLACK & WHITE PHOTOS:

From the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection / Repository: United States Library Of Congress Prints and Photograph Division, Washington, D.C. / Taken by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., January 1957 / Photographs are in the public domain: no known restrictions on publication / www.loc.gov/rr/print/catalog.html