Thursday, August 3, 2017

Southdale Center, Edina (Minneapolis), MN

     Some of the malls I love to cover the most are the historic ones with crazy histories. This would very well include Minneapolis' Southdale Center. While very confusing, Southdale is in fact America's first fully enclosed shopping, and has had quite a wacky history ever since. Fortunately, the first mall could be one of the last to close. In this post, I will hope to look at the history of the mall with photos and one looong explanation.
         And speaking of those historic photos, I present a HISTORIC PHOTO SPREAD of the mall's first days:

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Pinterest photo of an original anchor, Red Owl Food Stores
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Malls of America photo of the Dayton's store.
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Pinterest photo of the mall decked out for Christmas.
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Malls of America photo of the original mall, all anchors visible. In the bottom right is the original logo.

     In many ways, architect Victor Gruen's first mall and MSP "dale" was quite revolutionary. The mall was two stories, which wouldn't become common until at least the 70's. Parking and meeting your friends was easy with the animal-designated parking lots. The anchors of the mall also marked the start of the spreading out of hometown department stores. You could also include the fact that the mall was enclosed as revolutionary.

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Examples of the animal lots in the Southdale area. Above are Fox and Rabbit lots.

SpoonFlower graphic of the parking lot critters. While this says Brookdale Center, all Gruen "Dales" had the same animals.

     Victor Gruen's most famous project had its roots in the "car-centric" year of 1952. The head of the Dayton's store and Gruen decided that Minnesota had quite a short shopping season of 126 days. To avoid moving to warmer, greener pastures, the enclosed, climate-controlled mall was born. And behold, Southdale opened up the doors on October 8, 1956, with a gala attended by 75,000 shoppers. The fangled, new development was planned to be the heart of Edina's city center. A medical center, park, houses, schools, and a lake. The mall was an instant hit, and more. Over the following weekend, a whopping 188,000 people came to the modern marvel. The $20 million dollar center had Dayton's, Donaldson's, Red Owl, and a Woolworth five-and-dime supporting it at opening. But what was most spectacular about the mall was the central "Garden Court", complete with a bird aviary, a common mark of the era's malls. 

A Mall Hall of Fame site plan of the original mall. All animal lots are visible.
     Despite being very beautiful as malls go, the center originally faced criticism. Another well-known architect in Frank Lloyd Wright said, "[the] garden court has all the evils of the village street and none of its charm." FLW also thought Gruen should have left "downtown, downtown."

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Here's a Gruen Associates photo with Dayton's and Woolworth on display.
     The then-72-store mall filled up quickly and kept doing so. Other notable tenants include Buttrey's, Kinney Shoes, and The Sidewalk Café. The Sidewalk Café was an outdoor-themed restaurant in the center court, despite Southdale being fully enclosed. A Walgreen's was also included as an original tenant. Dayton's became a destination quickly, and a fourth floor was completed in 1963. One of Gruen's plans, a medical center, was completed in 1965 as "Southdale Medical Center." This is still very well in existence.

Over five days in 1957, Bob Barker hosted his "Truth or Consequences" game show live from Southdale. More than 20,000 people showed up.
In 1957, Bob Barker's Truth or Consequences show was done at Southdale. A whopping 20,000 filled the Garden Court to witness the 5-day event. Business Insider
     In 1966, Minnesota's first twin movie theatre opened; The General Cinema Corporation operation became a triplet in 1975, and became four-screens in 1980. The theatre was closed August 1990, and demolished shortly after. Another theatre would open 11 years later, connected to mall proper.
     Fearing competition from nearby Knollwood Mall, Eden Prairie Center, and Edina Galleria, Southdale would undergo its first expansion in 1970. This would do its job, as Edina Galleria would upscale, Knollwood would die, and Eden Prairie would temporarily die. EPC was improved by suburban growth out its way, and is doing well today. In 1972, the expansion was completed, adding a Northeast Wing complete with a 4-story, 247,000 foot JCPenney. In the late 1970's, Mass-based Marshalls took up a space in the basement. In 1987, the mall had to solve its first big problem. Donaldson's was planning to close all of its stores, leaving the mall with one anchor hole. Instead, Donaldson's merged with Carson Pirie Scott, and Donald's turned into its purchaser.

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A Flickr photo of shuttered stores at Southdale. This will become a big deal soon.
     With these new rivals, now including the opening of multi-mega Mall of America. The owners knew something needed to be done. In 1989, the Dayton's was pushed back, doubling the size of the Garden Court. another mallway was constructed. On the third floor of the new mallway was a new food court. Multiple parking garages were constructed to address less parking because of the enlarged mall. The old Dayton's became sixty inline stores, that started opening in July 1991. Carson's became California's Mervyn's chain in 1995.

Mall Hall of Fame 1992 view of the mall.
     The expansion was initially successful. On June 30, 1997, a deal closed, leading Southdale to be purchased by O'Connor Group for $125 million. With rising concerns over Mall of America and Eden Prairie Center, another renovation was soon underway. The 2001 renovation followed an unwritten rule of retail : you have to renovate a center every ten years to stay in people's interest. During the renovation and expansion, Dayton's was purchased by Chicago-based Marshall Field's. Results of the new renovation included a new MegaStar 16-screen operation connected to the mall by "District on France," a mallway facing namesake France Avenue. On the new mallway were more stores and upscale dining options including The Cheesecake Factory, PFChang's, and Maggiano's Little Italy. In early 2004, MegaStar was rebranded by AMC Theatres. In July of that year, Mervyn's was shuttered due to Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Naturally, tenants by Mervyn's began to die out.
     As tenants began to file out, the Mills Corporation took control of the struggling mall in 2005. Southdale continued to struggle with maintaining low vacancy rates. As this happened, three things forever changed the mall's fortune. Following Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores purchase of Marshall Field's, a Macy's was placed in the Marshall Field's location. If Macy's had skipped on the then-dying mall, Southdale would probably be demolished by now. Shortly afterward, Arlington, VA-based Mills Corp. was purchased by Indy-based Simon Property Group, a much more established and successful mallmaker. Lastly, Simon was able to lead "Bon-Ton brother" Herberger's into the empty Mervyn's location. This would help fill in vacancies in the anchor area. Herberger's opened in 2011, the same year when the food court was moved to the JCP court. The older food court was nearly dead and in a bad location.

And now I own photos. Here's the Herberger's area. Now back to the history lesson...

     With the anchor addition and food court switchup, the mall began to fill up. The dead third floor was given a boost when Dave and Busters joined the bunch in 2015. New stores added were Apple, H&M, Banana Republic, and Smashburger in the food court area. Despite all of this, Marshalls shut it down in 2013. The basement spot was given to discount-chain Gordmans, who are closing that and half of its 98 locations due to corporate restructuring. Along with this, struggling JCPenney will shutter in August 2017. The good news is that it will be replaced soon after with Life Time Fitness and more retail space. 

Herberger's from the outside looks like Lord and Taylor combined with Dillard's. Stucco lasts a tad longer in the colder North.

Here's the final mall site plan from MHoF. 
     Southdale is probably going to last pretty long. It has the advantage of locals who want to avoid MoA like the plague. If it can fill the Gordman's space and third floor, it should be here for a long time to come. The one serious problem I can see here is Herberger's, with Bon-Ton Stores being one half of the dysfunctional marriage. Bon-Ton would be more likely to sell of Herberger's, which is one of the most successful chains. This would probably benefit everyone, as Herberger's is saved and Bon-Ton dies off. Bon-Ton has placed their stores in dying malls with the wrong demographics (Bon-Ton is essentially the WalMart for the older type), which hurts everyone. And because of this, numerous malls are saved. Von Maur, Kohl's, or Dick's (who fiddled with the thought of moving into the Mervyn's space) might work here if Bon-Ton acts like Bon-Ton. I don't have that strong of a hate for Bon-Ton, it's just that they have made a few corporate mistakes in the past couple of decades.


     Southdale is a great place to see after, well, Edina Galleria. The history is great, and the mall is pretty nice in general. The Garden Court is still stunning, though not the same of sixty years back. It feels like a prototype mall, so different from any other mall. With the beautiful court, odd layout, and four floors, it is truly something to see. A stunning fountain would be a nice addition to the court area, despite everything else. 

Anyways, after that long piece, have a few photos:

Proof that you don't need to do much to look great.

The Garden Court in all glory. Herberger's is waaaaayyyy at the end.

Closing Gymboree, not a surprise.

Secondary Macy's entrance. Macy's was actually pretty busy under further inspection.

This is my favorite center court I've ever seen.

Curve in the mall. I realize how bright this mall was with the long skylights.

Another view from just outside Herberger's.

Walking out of Herberger's. Third store down is Apple.
This photo was taken by sneaking behind some merchandise in Herberger's.

Aerial of the mall.

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