Those upper Midwestern winters can be quite the killer, especially to a southern boy like me. The extreme weather can be as harsh as it is beautiful. And don’t even get me started on the temperatures… Oy, vey. The first time I stepped outside in Minnesota was on a January afternoon. I learned something new that day- nose hairs can freeze. (And perhaps that mine needed a trim.)
Southdale Center Mallmanac ca. 2000. View the full PDF version here.
What better place to be the birthplace of the modern indoor, climate controlled shopping mall as we know it today? Southdale Center in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina is popularly known as the one to fill that role. Sure, indoor urban arcades had been around for decades. But this was the world’s first shopping mall to be built entirely enclosed from the very beginning and to feature competing anchors.
Southdale Center in the late 1990s.
The mall, a design of Victor Gruen, opened in 1956 just to the south of Minneapolis. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of retail history knows the tale as far as its creator goes. Gruen envisioned a self contained village, with retail, residential and office zones in a pedestrian friendly environment. He was heartbroken to see that it developed no further than its retail origins. The expansive asphalt parking lot, originally intended to be available tracts for construction of his vision, remained just that- parking- and his utopic vision of live-work-shop never came to fruition.
Southdale Center in the mid 2000s.
Amazingly, this oldest of US shopping malls has survived and thrived over the decades. Its biggest challenge came in 1992 when the behemoth Mall of America opened in nearby Bloomington. But with the same visionary spirit that brought Southdale into existence in the first place, Southdale was proactive in regards to the new threat. They updated the entire facility and added stores on the third level tailored to the younger demographic called Urban Trendz. They even added a small outdoor element of restaurants and entertainment, years before it became the thing to do at seemingly every other shopping center in the nation. Then they marketed themselves as the mall of the local population while the Mall of America would surely be a huge tourist draw.
Southdale Center as of this writing.
As a result, Southdale, the granddaddy of themall (them all or the mall, however you want to look at it) soldiers on to this day. Not having visited the mall since 2004, I was devastated to hear that the mill has hit hard times. The vacancies are growing and the mall’s current owners seen not to have that proactive spirit that their predecessors had. These are difficult facts to face as I have always thought of it as a great place. It is by far my favorite in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. There’s just something so fabulously old school about these first generation malls. There’s always something new to see, from darkened empty basements to mysterious staircases. In a society where everything, even million square foot shopping fortresses are considered disposable, I hope that what should be venerated as the beginning of an era never meets its demise. Southdale seems to have made its own permanent mark in the retail landscape and hopefully it’ll stay that way.