In the post-war boom of the 1950s, the American economy was thriving. Suburban areas were expanding as families were growing, and with this expansion came the need for a new kind of shopping experience. This was the era when the shopping mall, as we know it today, began to take shape.
The shopping mall was more than just a collection of stores. It was a place where people could shop for a variety of goods under one roof, away from the elements. But it was also much more than that. These malls were designed as social hubs, places where people could come together, spend time, and, of course, shop.
One of the first and most influential malls of this era was the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota, opened in 1956. Designed by architect Victor Gruen, it was the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall in the United States. With a sprawling two-story design, it housed a unique mix of retail stores, anchored by major department stores.
These malls were a far cry from the bustling city centers. They were filled with a sense of novelty and convenience. For the first time, shoppers could visit multiple stores, enjoy a meal, and even catch a movie, all without having to step outside. Parking was ample and free, a lure for the increasingly car-centric American populace.
The architectural design of these malls was another key feature that made them stand out. With expansive glass windows, elegant fountains, plush seating areas, and plants, the shopping mall was an aesthetic experience in itself. They were often accompanied by an array of dining options, movie theaters, and occasionally, extravagant features like carousels or ice-skating rinks, adding to their allure.
Shopping malls in the 1950s also played a significant role in community building. They were venues for local events, fashion shows, and holiday celebrations, transforming them into community centers where people could engage and socialize.