When Indoor Suburban Malls Were the Glamorous Future of Shopping

On this Friday, let’s very quickly throw it back to 1956 with this footage from the nation’s first true enclosed mall. Please enjoy the soundtrack.

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This video comes via Kottke, alongside a brief New Yorker history of the mall, which was the first of its kind. All this sounds very familiar to anybody who grew up in the suburbs, but at the time it was revolutionary:

Suburban shopping centers had always been in the open, with stores connected by outdoor passageways. Gruen had the idea of putting the whole complex under one roof, with air-conditioning for the summer and heat for the winter. Almost every other major shopping center had been built on a single level, which made for punishingly long walks. Gruen put stores on two levels, connected by escalators and fed by two-tiered parking. In the middle he put a kind of town square, a “garden court” under a skylight, with a fishpond, enormous sculpted trees, a twenty-one-foot cage filled with bright-colored birds, balconies with hanging plants, and a café.

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It’s fascinating to see this simulacrum as it was created, rather than as what it evolved into in knockoffs across the country, i.e. food courts littered with smushed french fries and packed with teens engaged in the very serious teen tasks of experimenting with their personal identities via retail and doing some off-campus socializing just outside the watchful eyes of parents.

But wait—my colleague Bobby Finger has some late-breaking forensic evidence he’d like to submit. Enhance, please.

Senior Editor, Attic Haunter, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

TheGintheCity
TheGintheCity

I have such a fondness for Southdale. My mom grew up very nearby, and remembers being taken to the opening. We used to visit when I was a kid, and it was so much fancier than the local mall in my hometown; it was always a huge treat to go there for a girls’ day out with mom and grandma. I still go every time I visit family out there. It’s gone down hill a bit (the old Dayton’s was the BEST for shoe-shopping until that company was bought out by Macy’s), but I still prefer it to MofA.