North Midvale Boulevard and University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin

In 1957, two suburban-style shopping centers were in the initial stages of development in Madison; the so-called UNIVERSITY HILL FARMS CENTER and another project known as WESTGATE CENTER.

The first was an endeavor of the University of Wisconsin, who had formed a non-profit entity, known as Kelab Incorporated, that would own the land that the prospective retail hub would be built on. A second company, the University of Wisconsin Foundation, would own, lease and maintain the actual shopping center structure.

This arrangement was opposed by the privately-owned developer of WESTGATE CENTER. They filed a lawsuit against the University of Wisconsin, citing that their shopping center development scenario resulted in unfair competition to a private builder. However, two Wisconsin courts ruled in favor of the University. The matter was settled once and for all when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Construction on the University's commercial complex, by now known as HILLDALE CENTER, had been delayed during all of the litigation. Meanwhile, building had progressed on the WESTGATE CENTER project. It was officially dedicated in March 1960. With all legal hurdles out of the way, the University of Wisconsin started construction on their retail center in the fall of 1961.

HILLDALE CENTER was situated on 37 acres, located 3.4 miles west of the Wisconsin State House. The open-air shopping hub, designed by Milwaukee's Grasshold, Johnson & Associates, consisted of a main retail level and small basement and encompassed approximately 241,000 leasable square feet.

A grand opening was held October 25, 1962. Anchoring the complex was a 3-level (99,000 square foot), Milwaukee-based Gimbels-Schuster's. There were also Clark's Clothing for Men, Chandler's Shoes, Rennebohm Drug, Morgan's Shoes, Carmen's Quality Fashions, The Emporium, Card & Camera Center, Victor Music, Julie Ann Fabrics, Wolf Kubly & Hirsig Hardware, Bates & Hardy Liquors, Hilldale Bowling lanes, a (20,000 square foot) A & P supermarket and F.W. Woolworth 5 & 10.

The single-screen Hilldale Theatre opened, with a presentation of Twentieth Century-Fox's "The Sound of Music", January 19, 1966. The venue had been built as a northwestern outparcel of the shopping center proper.

In anticipation of the completion of a fully-enclosed mall in the Four Lakes Region, the owners of HILLDALE CENTER began a renovation of their property in 1968. A steel and glass enclosure was added to the east-facing storefronts, making the center into an interior mall. At the same time, the existing anchor store was enlarged into a 160,000 square foot structure, with the completion of a full upper level and southwestern expansion of floor space.

This construction project was finished in the spring of 1969. In July, the official name of the center's primary anchor store was truncated from Gimbels-Schuster's to simply Gimbels. Over the next few years, the enclosing renovation would be continued with the addition of approximately 32,400 square feet of inline store space; this added along the east side of the new mallway. HILLDALE CENTER now encompassed approximately 347,400 leasable square feet.

By the early 1970s, competing shopping centers in Madison were the aforementioned WESTGATE CENTER (1960) {1.6 miles southwest}, WEST TOWNE MALL (1970) {2.7 miles southwest} and EAST TOWNE MALL (1971) {8 miles northeast}.
In 1975, the A & P supermarket chain pulled out of the Wisconsin market. The HILLDALE STORE was acquired by Milwaukee-based Sentry Foods, which was purchased by Madison's Metcalfe's chain in 1979. The official name of the HILLDALE store became Metcalfe's Sentry. The next major store rebranding transpired after the August 1986 shuttering of Gimbels. It re-opened, as a Chicago-based Marshall Field's, in November of 1986.

The mall had been given an interior and exterior update in 1985. The Metcalfe's Sentry store was renovated and expanded, with a 10,500 square foot addition onto the northwest side, in 1990. The enlarged store became the chain's flagship.

A fifth remodeling of the mall was officially dedicated October 26, 1997. This 4.5 million dollar project, adding "prairie style" design elements, brought carpeted corridors, new skylights and renovated restrooms.

By the turn of the century, the University of Wisconsin had decided to exit the retail mall business. They sold HILLDALE CENTER to Palatine, Illinois' Joseph Freed & Associates in May 2004. Within months, a massive renovation and remarketing of the complex was underway.

Phase 1 of the 115 million dollar "tired to trendy" remake entailed the construction of a 75,000 square foot section of Streetscape Shops, which faced the eastern front of the mall. Comprised of a north and south structures, this added stores and services such as Pasqual's Southwestern, Anthropologie, L'Occitane en Provence, The North Face, Anaala Salon & Spa and FlatTop Grill.

Adjacent to the new Streetscape shops were two multilevel parking structures; the Shorewood and Arboretum Garages. Beyond this, stretching along North Midvale Boulevard, was the forty-unit (residential) Hilldale Row. The upscale Streetscape, parking garages and town homes were complete by November 2005.

Phase 2 of the HILLDALE CENTER redo was to include of the construction of a 65,000 square foot Whole Foods Market (on the outparcel theatre pad), 8-story Hotel Indigo and 11-story condo tower. However, Wall Street shenanigans, resulting in a national recession, caused these projects to be abandoned.

One aspect of Phase 2, the 6-screen Sundance 608 Cinema, was installed in existing space at the south end of the mall. It showed its first features May 11, 2007. This replaced the circa-1966 Hilldale Theatre, which had closed December 17, 2006.

The old cinema and adjacent office building were demolished in 2007 in anticipation of the Whole Foods Market that never materialized. The site would sit vacant until Minnesota's Target chain purchased the property and built a 2-level (150,000 square foot) store. It opened for business March 1, 2011.

In retrospect, it is now clear that Joseph Freed & Associates could not have chosen a worse time to undertake such a large and expensive mall renovation. By March 2010, the 436,000 square foot property was in foreclosure, with 50 million dollars owed to Bank of America, 13 million to a BOA subsidiary and over 6 million still due to the University of Wisconsin Foundation (the remaining, unpaid, balance of the 2004 shopping center sale). Moreover, there were thousands of dollars in delinquent property taxes due.

A Dane County, Wisconsin judge ruled in favor of Freed & Associates in March 2010, keeping lenders from seizing the property. Meanwhile, loans were defaulted. A sheriff's sale of the property was scheduled for June 2011, but was postponed.

A lawsuit filed by the University of Wisconsin Foundation was settled in January 2012, with Freed paying the UWF 5.4 million dollars. The mall's financial woes were finally settled in May 2012, when Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts-based WS Capital Partners bought the foreclosed property.

In August 2013, WS Development announced a 15 million dollar mall remodeling project. The north end of the complex, excluding Metcalfe's Market, would be gutted and rebuilt as an open-air shopping promenade. The existing Center Court, Macy's and South Mall structures would remain as is.

Demolition and construction were underway by September 2014. Six North Mall stores opened for business June 2, 2015. By August, fourteen toney tenants were in operation. These included Lucky Brand Jeans, Sur La Table, Kate Spade, Mes Amies and Michael Kors.


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