The World's First Modern Shopping Mall
By James Grahame
You're looking at the grandfather of all modern shopping malls. Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota first opened its doors in 1956. It was designed by Victor Gruen, a commercial architect who emigrated from Austria shortly before WWII. Gruen's aim was to design an environment that would act as the hub of a community by bringing people together to shop, chat at cafes and spend time with friends.
Gruen's mall concept proved tremendously successful and was replicated around the world, although his vision was never fully realized. He originally intended the mall to act as a substitute for the arcades found in old European cities, surrounded by apartment complexes, houses, schools, and social facilities within easy walking distance. However, our love affair with the automobile ensured that malls across America were surrounded by seemingly endless parking lots with convenient access to nearby freeways.
Fast forward fifty years and Southdale Center is now anchored by Macy’s, JC Penney and Marshall’s with over 120 other specialty stores. The open fields surrounding the mall have been replaced by suburban streets that stretch toward Minneapolis as far as the eye can see. Astoundingly, there's another mall just a few yards to the south across West 69th Street. [Dana gently reminded me in the comments that the stupendously large Mall of America is only 10 minutes down the freeway, too. - Ed.]
America now has a glut of retail space that averages out to almost 21 square feet per person and many malls are struggling to attract increasingly reluctant customers. It will be interesting to see what becomes of these massive shrines to the Gods of Capitalism over the next few years.