March 22, 1954: The Birth of the Mall

Northland Shopping Mall Southfield MI by William L Bird

Northland Shopping Mall Southfield MI by William L Bird

The Detroit Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Detroit tells the story of the Northland Shopping Center in Southfield, potentially the world’s first mall:

Northland Center, located in Southfield, Michigan was the world’s largest shopping center, and first regional shopping center, when it opened on March 22, 1954. For many, its construction heralded the beginning of the end for downtown Detroit’s shopping district, and the beginning of suburban shopping malls.

Designed by architect Victor Gruen and constructed at a cost of $25 million, Northland Center’s opening, widely publicized in the national media, was said to signal the future of shopping in postwar America. The Center had a Hudson’s department store as its anchor with, at time of opening, an additional 80 spaces for tenants, all surrounded by an 8,344-space parking lot. Northland Center also featured a bank, post office, auditoriums, artwork, fountains and extensive landscaping, design features that were soon incorporated by other developers across the country.

The artwork included six sculptures commissioned by Hudson’s, perhaps the most well-known being Marshall Fredericks’ Boy and the Bear. Among other commissioned works were Moby Dick by Joseph Anthony McDonnell, and Lily Saarinen’s water sculpture/fountain, Noah.

In 1975, Northland Center was enclosed as a mall, and a food court was added to the complex in 1991. Despite these additions, Northland suffered a natural decline as it aged. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, major tenants vacated their operations, as did several of the anchor stores. The volume of shoppers dropped from its peak of 18 million annually to half of that. The property had various owners until the last in 2014 who defaulted on his mortgage.

Read on for more. 

William shared this photo from the Hiawatha Postcard Co of Ypsilanti. You can see more in his awesome Northland Shopping Mall gallery on Flickr.

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4 thoughts on “March 22, 1954: The Birth of the Mall

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