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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE TOY DEPARTMENT, 1913

Southdale Center: 1956

Southdale Center: 1956

1956. Edina, Minnesota. "Interior Garden Court with stairway to upper level in Southdale Regional Shopping Center, the first enclosed shopping mall." Color transparency by Grey Villet, Life magazine photo archive. View full size.

Southdale in the 1950s

I grew up just a few blocks from Southdale. I was about 3 years old when it was built. My mom and I would walk there about once a week. Dayton's and Woolworth's were fabulous! The fish pond was fun, but seemed to sport dead fish frequently (wondered if they weren't poisoned from the coins being dropped in there). Christmastime was unbelievable! The tallest trees, the biggest bulbs, and Santa ... oh, Santa!!

The line to see him, and the crowds were amazing! There was the Courtside Cafe, and oh so many shops! I shopped there for all my Christmas gifts, and worked there in my teen years. We didn't hang out there too much as to the crowds. We hung out more at Bridgeman's ice Cream Shop and Nelson's FireSide Pizza both in Richfield. They used to host fireworks in the parking lot for the Fourth of July. They didn't have too many, but, still it was fascinating.

Many kids learned how to drive in the east parking lot. With all the curlicue and ribbon styled roadways within the parking lot, it was an exciting way to practice steering those big '56 Chevys! The parking lot markers of foxes, bears and lions were interesting, too. I would love to see a picture of Christmastime at Southdale from the 1950s. Thanks for all your posts -- they've been fun to read!

Southdale Memories

Boy this pic brings back memories. My family moved to Mpls in 1956 when I was about 3, so my earliest memories date from about 1960 or so. I later worked as a dishwasher and soda jerk at the Walgreen's on the upper level facing 66th street. They had a soda grill, as did most drug stores of that era, and the Woolworth's had a cafe as well. My first exposure to Chinese food was at the tiny little Half Moon restaurant, although I think initially I would order hamburgers, which were on the menu for fussy American kids. Behind the escalators in the picture was an "outdoor" restaurant. There was a Fanny Farmer on the second floor to the left. Southdale was THE place to hang out when you were a kid or teenager, especially the arcade in the basement.

Parakeets, new shoes and cheeseburgers in paradise

In my family, Southdale circa 1960 was much more than a mall. My mother called it "The Cities," because it was as far as she was willing to drive on those "crazy" city highways. 35W was out of the question, but 494 to France Ave exit was tolerable (unless we hit RUSH HOUR). We lived on a farm, about an hour away, and before Southdale, the only outings were to school, church and occasional food shopping at the Red Owl, the Meat Market and the Variety Store with the cranky storekeeper who always thought we were stealing stuff.

But Southdale, Wow! I was 5 years old, the youngest of four children, and twice a year, we would make the great journey to "Emerald City." Dayton's was Mom's favorite store, and for a farm wife, my mother had impeccable taste. Donaldson's came in second, and then Jack & Jill -- a small boutique with pricey, well-tailored children's clothing. Lunch was always at Woolworths, and our order was always the same. "HamburgerFrenchfriesMalt" (spoken so fast and with such excitement it sounded like ONE word); I remember the clattering of plates, the whir of the blender, the bar stools at the counter. Waiting for the food, we could check out the parakeets & goldfish.

My oldest sister convinced my mother to purchase a parakeet, cage, & and all the accoutrements. We had that bird for years, and when he died we headed back for a second. This time, the bird died in his little paper travel carton before we even got home -- and since we only went to "The Cities" twice a year, my mother decided to freeze it along with the receipt until our next trip six months later. How strange to present a frozen parakeet back to the store for a refund. While the clerk was surprised to see the frozen parakeet, she did offer us another bird in exchange.

A few years later, Southdale became a whole new adventure when my best friend's aunt drove just the two of us, and I bought my first long-playing album at Musicland, Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence." After that, my friend convinced me we should be drinking coffee and gossiping, or at least pretending to gossip, since none of our friends were old enough to be scandalous. Then we smoked Chesterfield Kings in random Southdale "Ladies" rooms and we both felt like we were going to throw up.

Southdale! Never stopped to think about it, but Southdale was, and will always be, among my fondest childhood memories. "The Cities."

Milwaukee "Mall"

It appears you are referring to what today is known as the Grand Avenue Mall, sadly in decline since its rebirth in the early-1980s. I shuttled various documents to and from the construction site on a regular basis at that time.

But prior to its conversion, the oldest of the buildings comprising the GA Mall was known as the Plankinton Arcade. Yes, there are references that mention it being considered a "shopping center", its construction being 1915. As to it being enclosed, yes; as to it being climate-controlled, maybe if the windows were opened in the Beer City's humid summer to catch a delightful lake breeze and hope the winds didn't shift to the stockyards in the Valley.

In Milwaukee the first shopping mall, albeit outdoor, was Southgate, located off the corner of South 27th Street (US Highway 41) and Morgan Avenue, and opened in 1951. At about the time in the early-1970s Northridge (now demolished) and Southridge were constructed Southgate was converted to an enclosed mall, but is now long gone, recently the site of another superlative, that of the first Super Wal-Mart in Milwaukee County.

This metro area's first enclosed shopping mall as I recall was Brookfield Square in 1968, still in existence today and from all appearances doing well.

Mall Zoo

I heard there once was a zoo in the basement of the mall. Does anyone know about this?

Oh My Goodness

First job? Busing tables at The Brothers. There was an open-air restaurant in the courtyard; Dayton's had the "fancy" restaurant. In the basement there was a shoe repair place and then a games arcade. Man, I loved growing up at Southdale.

Come on down!

I was 13 years old when Southdale opened. I saw Bob Barker host a TV game show there. I got his autograph on the steps leading down to the basement where the zoo and shoe repair shop was. This TV show was very exciting to me -- it made an impression. I became a New York-LA TV director. My friends and I also put firecrackers in the planters hanging down from the send [?] floor.

Skipping School in the late 70's

Oh yes, it looked very similar to the version in this picture in 1979-80. I was part of the "burnout" crowd in high school. I skipped class constantly in my 10th grade year and spent the rest of high school in summer school so9 I could graduate. We would take a bus to Southdale and I'd cash my hard earned McDonald's paycheck at a bank somewhere near the York steakhouse, which was the big hangout at the time. We sit in a booth in the back near the doors, smoking all afternoon. There was an arcade in the basement near the post office area and across from the County Seat. There was also a Musicland down there. Once and a while we'd eat at the Dayton's restaurant upstairs or the Woolworth lunch counter. I also recall from earlier trips in the 70's with Mom and my sister a restuarant/Deli called The Brothers and Red Owl as well as a Snyder's, where I went to a big going out of business sale around 1975. Another favorite (maybe this is still there?) was Spencer Gifts. The Southdale Theater (where I saw "Purple Rain") was across the street with the great bowling alley next door. Those were also major high school hangouts. Great memories. I can't go there anymore without nostalgia for the birdcages and goldfish pond, and that wonderful art deco style.

You Are Here

I was 6 or so when Southdale opened. Back then the Dayton's department store had a sporting-goods department. My mom got shot in the back of the head with a BB gun by a clerk demonstrating the gun!

When we would go shopping and bring my grandma along, she would sit by the birdcage and chain-smoke unfiltered Camels while we shopped. She loved to people-watch. Yup, great memories! Woolworth's was my favorite store when I was little! Two floors of "neat junk."

Another photo of the mall

Shopping Malls

It depends on how tight the specialty is to consider this the "first shopping mall" in the US. If you are looking at the subset of first enclosed, suburban, multi-level, postwar shopping mall, then yeah, it is the first. But if you want the first enclosed shopping mall then no. Northgate Mall was built quite a few years earlier as were a few others:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northgate_Mall_(Seattle)

[A mall, in the original sense of the word, is something like a fairway or greenspace. The pedestrian walkway or mall running down the middle of Northgate Shopping Center between two rows of stores was mostly open to the sky, so this was not a "shopping mall" as we know it today. - Dave]

Surely not!

This photo doesn't look dated at ALL. You know the saying, "Everything old is new again"? Well, decorating trends are very similar to what's being shown here.

I grew up with this mall

I was five when Southdale opened. It didn't have a JC Penney at that time. It did have a little play area in the basement with a maze for kids. The basement also had a shoe repair place that is still there, though it is now on the second floor.

Southdale also had Gager's Hobby and Handicraft store (on the opposite side of the open area from Woolworth's) where I could get chemicals for my chemistry set. I have no idea what kids do for chemistry sets these days. Do they even sell them? There was also our favorite, the Toy Fair, that sold nothing but toys. It was to the right of where the camera was.

They also had a grocery store called Red Owl. It would have been off to the left of the camera and down a hall. The grocery store didn't last too long, probably because people who just wanted groceries didn't really want the hassles of a big mall.

Thanks for sharing this photo. I had told my wife about the bird cage there, and now she has finally gotten to see it.

More coverage of this picture

Kottke has a piece on this, including another link to a relevant Economist article.

I was struck by this picture when it came through the RSS feed the other day. Lovely to read these comments and articles on it too.

Growing up in the UK in Cambridge, shopping malls were something of an oddity. I think the nearest real one was in Peterborough, at least 40 minutes race north. Cambridge now has two, I think (more's the pity because beautiful subsidised Georgian and Victorian housing was destroyed to build them, and Cambridge doesn't handle large numbers of people driving into town anyway). Both are relatively modern compared with this one so I never even considered shopping in a place like this. I wonder what the original mallrats would have looked like.

Correction

This is not the first enclosed mall. The first was (and still is) in Milwaukee. Built just after the Civil War. It is on Wisconsin Ave. I haven't more information at my fingertips. I am no historian, but was amazed to find this here. It is very attractive, too.

[Covered markets and shopping arcades go back hundreds if not thousands of years. Southdale was the first enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center of the modern era. In other words, the first shopping mall. - Dave]

The Terrazzo Jungle

Great piece in The New Yorker a few years back about Victor Gruen and his how his vision for malls was undone by a change in tax regulations regarding depreciation of capital assets. Great, if somewhat depressing, reading.

"Victor Gruen invented the shopping mall in order to make America more like Vienna. He ended up making Vienna more like America."

Classy Early Malls

Indoor malls were first developed in colder climates for obvious practical reasons. Over the years, mall design shifted from a focus on shopper experience and comfort (coat check rooms, lockers, sufficient restrooms ... even items of local historical interest) to maximizing the revenue of businesses (row after row of mini-vendor carts along what had heretofore been pedestrian walkways). On balance, I'll take the early generation mall ... or better yet, the restored downtown shopping district.

[The synthesized version of "restored downtown shopping district" is the current hot concept in retailing -- the faux-urban "lifestyle center." A shopping mall turned inside out. - Dave]

Memories

This really brings back memories. I was 10 years old when Southdale opened. I actually took part in some of the opening ceremonies. A friend and I hitch-hiked out to the mall and in the parking lot somehow we got picked to participate in a contest. Four of us kids were picked to catch passes from two pro quarterbacks. My friend and I caught passes from Otto Graham and the other kids caught passes from Tobin Rote. Whichever team caught the most passes would be treated to malted milks paid for by the winning quarterback. My team won but all four of us were treated to malts. Otto and Tobin us into Southdale and we all crammed into a booth and listened to them talk shop about the upcoming season. Quite a memory. I still live in the area and often thought I should contact Southdale to see if they might have any pictures of the event.

Takes me back

I was born in 1964 and spent my early childhood going to this mall with my mother. She used to push me around in a stroller. The tall cage on the left was filled with canaries and parakeets. I was mesmerized by this. We would always stop at Fanny Farmer (just past Woolworth's) to get a treat of jelly fruit slices and continue around the corner on the left side to the pet store near the exit. There was a magnificent parrot that lived in a cage right out front of the store that I used to talk to. I think he might have known more words than me at the time! There was an FTD florist near the same spot, and I loved the fragrance of the fresh flowers that wafted into that part of the mall. It smelled like springtime, even in the middle of a dreary and cold Minnesota winter day. Dayton's and Donaldson's were the anchor stores; one on each end. I believe Donaldson's would have been directly behind the camera and Dayton's would have been straight ahead, on the far end (or vice versa). The shimmery gold floor-to-ceiling mobile type structures on the right, past the escalators, fascinated me too. They were so glamorous and HUGE! The lighting hadn't been changed yet, this is exactly what it looked like in the late '60's, although, later on when I returned there in my teens, there had been many changes and additions and a lot of these features had been removed. Going to this mall for a small child in Edina was possibly the equivalent of going to Disneyland for a child growing up in L.A. Thank you, Shorpy, for this special memory!

Still bustling

Southdale Center is, incredibly, still quite bustling. It's the more sane alternative to the nearby Mall of America. It has upscale shops but is still approachable, is small enough to navigate but has many of the options most people want. I hope this little gem doesn't go anywhere!

P.S. - Minnesota in the cold months is ALSO bustling! Don't discount the ice skating, nearby skiing and snowboarding, local arts and theater, and the hardiness of its residents, who are always willing to put on a thick pair of mittens and go out and live life to its fullest (and coldest)!

Plus ça change...

I think these slice-of-life pictures are my favorites. And, it's amazing how little malls have changed over 50 years.

Such fond memories of eating at the Woolworth's lunch counter in the 1970s and '80s.

James? James Lileks?

Mr. Lileks, have you taken over Shorpy, you naughty blogger?

First thing I thought of when I saw the (awesome) picture, and then I saw it was in Minnesota, his stomping grounds.

The Apple Store

The Apple store would be behind and to the left of the camera. The upper level bridge is still there, so crossing from the left and continuing to the right would take you to Penney's.

Woolworth's

I bet there is a great diner inside that Woolworth's with lots of tasty things like meat loaf, stuffed bell peppers, and root beer floats. Yum.

Victor Gruen and "indoor town centers"

Southdale was designed by Victor Gruen, often considered the "father of the shopping mall." It's interesting that this picture depicts what Gruen wanted malls to be -- an indoor town center where people would be comfortable just hanging out as they would in a downtown park -- even if they weren't buying anything -- but nowadays I can't imagine anyone other than teenagers actually spending time just "hanging out" in a mall.

Fading Malls

From the 1950's through the early 2000's, didn't shopping malls have a great run? They're all subtly turning into ghost malls. There's another one near the Twin Cities called Har Mar (yes, like Har Mar Superstar) that's practically a marble desert with a dwindling Barnes & Noble being its biggest draw.

There's also another popular local: The Mall of America. The Death Star. The Sprawl of America. The Mall of Gomorrah.

Because what the hell else is there to do in Minnesota? Especially when it's colder than a witch's tit outside?

[Some malls. Even many malls. But not all malls. - Dave]

My highschool hangout

Mostly because a friend of mine worked at the Babbages that was there for a while, and because it was a pretty short drive from home. Of course, it looked nothing like this then (highschool was late 80's to early 90's), but you can still make out the similarities.

I can't quite get my bearings in this picture - where's the Apple Store? It looks like to the right might be the hallway down to where JC Penney is (is it still there? I don't frequent Southdale too much anymore). If I remember right, that would make this picture looking toward the Apple Store (which was a B. Dalton before that).

At least the ceiling is the same (what parts they haven't expanded/remodeled, that is).

Rockwellian

Something about this photo is almost like a Norman Rockwell painting. The soft colors and muted details help, but what I notice are the little vignettes scattered about the mall — the dignified older man in the gray suit, the woman looking at a book with her son, the lady rummaging through her shopping buggy. The presence of a Woolworth's is just the sort of touch I would expect from Rockwell had he painted this scene. This photo is an excellent find!

Changes

There's a lot less brown paneling now, and the escalators have been turned so they both face toward the camera.

Not Obsolete yet!

This one is still open.

The disposable mall

After having worked on several shopping malls, and knowing how much work goes into the construction of them, I am amazed how fast they are considered obsolete! This one would fail by today's standards, even though it was truly a work of art.

 
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