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At the Mall: 1959

At the Mall: 1959

May 29, 1959. "Prince George Plaza, Hyattsville, Maryland. Night view." An actual mall (a long, open plaza) when it opened in 1959, the shopping center was enclosed in the 1970s and renamed the Mall at Prince Georges. Large-format safety negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.


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One day before

my first birthday. But in Hugo OK there were no malls or plaza's. Just Eastman's Department Store. I finally saw a mall when we moved to OKC in 68. We went Christmas shopping at the mall. Wow! so many people. And an Asian lady! Who would've thought? In my mind she was Japanese, but really, who knows... She was the first Asian I had ever seen. She could have been born in OK for all I know, but in my 9 y.o. mind she was exotic and strange and beautiful. I tailed her around the store for a few minutes just to look, until brother and cousins dragged me away to find the moms and see if we could spy what we might be getting for Christmas.

I remember it well

In the early 1960's My bff and I would take 2 buses almost every Saturday to get to PG plaza. We shopped and ate lunch at Bob's Big Boy. Once we could drive, we worked at the plaza. My first job was at Hahn's and later we both worked at the gourmet counter at Hechts for the Christmas rush. Many family went to the Hot Shoppes Cafeteria most Sundays after church. Many good memories. And we never wore slacks. We could wear pants to schools and going shopping was more dressy than school. If we rode the bus all the way into DC, we got very dressed up. Silver Spring was also a big shopping destination, with a huge Hecht store.


I love the proprietary Muzak speakers with the diffuser in the roof. Haven't seen those in decades.

Similar Mall, Similar Era

I'm struck by how similar this mall looks to the plaza I grew up near in Vestal, NY during the 1960's. Ours was much smaller but the architecture was almost identical to the one in this photo.

New Name, Same Junk

Now we build these outdoor malls, but call them "Lifestyle Centers"


Virtually identical to the mall at Menlo Park, NJ during the same period. In season, it was a pleasant stroll from the retail "anchor" at one end (Sears, Roebuck and Company) to the other (the regional Macy's affiliate, "Bamberger's"). Visited recently; it's now a Simon property, with trademark wall-to-wall marble and anodized gold trim. Progress!


Our family lived in nearby College Park between 1968 and 1974. PG Mall was like a one-stop center including the large, pre-Home Depot hardware store, Hechinger's, and Brentano's book store (my favorite spot besides the music store).

Mom's, Milk, and Where Power Is in a Democracy

Interesting and useful comment about the on-display fallout shelter at this mall. I'm aware of a couple of other instances of this (there was one in Florida with a [newlywed?] couple that appeared in Life magazine in that time frame and another in a household show in Chicago IIRC), but I didn't know about this particular one. Thanks!

I do research on the history of human interaction with fallout, so also found your comments about drinking stored, powdered milk fascinating. "Bad milk" that moms didn't trust helped end fallout. We remember consumer palaces like this fairly easily through pics like this, as well as in the popularity of "atomic age" fashions of various kinds that Shorpy so brilliantly illustrates for us.

But pics like this also stir other, more problematic memories of that consumer paradise. Thus it's worthwhile to remember all those moms who suddenly stopped buying fresh milk. It got JFK's attention pronto -- he basically pulled the plug on open-air testing in Nevada at that point -- and demonstrated the power of the consumer to affect foreign policy in the midst of a time when fallout -- and the bombs that made it -- created a real sense of powerlessness among many. Sounds like your mom was among the many who took things into her own hands.

5 years old that day

I was celebrating my 5th birthday that day, but on the opposite coast and with a chocolate cake.

But I can easily imagine myself at the PG mall, staring wide-eyed at the open expanse of tile and plate glass.

Demo Bomb Shelter

Just to the right of where the photographer is standing was a retail space that was set up as a fishbowl atomic bomb shelter with an actual volunteer family living inside for a period. There were several apertures through the plate glass windows to view the family, and there was a primitive closed-circuit TV monitor as well. This must have been 1961 or 1962. I was still taking a thermos of powdered milk to school then to avoid the Strontium 90 in fresh milk due to the atmospheric nuclear testing.

We moved into the Americana Plaza apartments just down the road, in 1960. An air raid siren in the parking lot of the shopping center went off every Saturday at noon for testing, and was also tested at random intervals. Us kids would be playing outside and the siren would go off, and we would all be looking at the sweep second hands on our Timex's, because the tests were only supposed to last 60 seconds.

Oh to go shopping there and then.

But I was only a half-baked Bun in May of '59.

Hot Shoppes

I lived in College Park and this mall seemed like something out of Disney to me. The mall was a very cool place with Hot Shoppes cafeteria that served a steamship round of beef, no pizza, no tacos,

PG Plaza

Hah! I live about a mile from there now. PG Plaza has been upgraded significantly in the last few years.

There is an effort to turn the older section of Hyattsville into an arts district and it's been fun to watch the changes. The section of Route One has been turned from used-car dealerships to upscale row housing. Those who remember the old Lustine Chevy dealership would be surprised to see it's now a community center; they kept the rounded-glass-front dealer building and even the Lustine signage.

Pretty nifty.

Great photo! Thanks, Dave!!!

Open, closed, open ...

And on the opposite end of the Beltway, Springfield Mall, which was built enclosed in 1973 (and which had a poor reputation safety-wise already when I was a kid in the 80s and has seemingly only gone downhill from there), is now in the process of being converted to an open-air "town center" style shopping center.

The Plaza

I grew up a couple of miles away and went here often. When I was a kid in the early 1990s, the mall still featured several iconic brands, many of them local, that would soon die or be swallowed by national chains: Hot Shoppes, Woodward & Lothrop, Hecht's, Waxie Maxie's, GC Murphy, People's Drug.

Still Operating

Had family in the area and remember it looking like this. PG Plaza is still there despite going downhill for a number of years and changing demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods. What a shame it lost this much nicer mid-century modern look to its current nondescript mallishness. Hecht's was swallowed by Macy's.

Dress-up Time

Interesting how all the women are in dresses. No slacks here.

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