While many people know that Minneapolis is home to the Mall of America, the largest mall in the United States, most don’t know that the world’s first fully-enclosed modern shopping mall is just down the road in the suburb of Edina.
Southdale Center was designed to challenge the car-centric culture that was taking hold in the U.S. in the years after World War II. Traditionally, large retailers like the J.L. Hudson’s Company, Sears Roebuck & Co. Montgomery Ward, and Dayton’s had large department stores located in the downtown areas of major cities. People who lived in the suburbs had to travel into the city to visit these stores or rely on small local shops and mail-order catalogs.
It was not until the 1950s that the suburban shopping mall, as we know it today, began taking shape. The first two modern open-air shopping malls were the Northgate Center in Seattle and Shopper’s World in Massachusetts, which both opened in 1950-51. The J.L. Hudson’s Company tried to improve on this idea with the Northland Shopping Center, in Southfield, Michigan. It was an open-air mall and the first to feature an “anchor store,” a Hudson’s department store.
The Minneapolis-based Dayton Corporation also set its sights on the modern mall concept, but with a twist. They would create an enclosed mall where customers could get away from the cold Minnesota winters. Architect Victor Gruen was hired to design the shopping center, and envisioned something similar to “arcades” found in European cities. Included in this design was an HVAC system capable of maintaining an interior temperature around 75 degrees. The mall was meant to function as a town center for the suburbs. The original plan included a town hall, police department, and library, but these features didn’t make it to the final version.
Construction began on Southdale Center in 1954 and finished two years later with the grand opening on October 8, 1956. At its opening, the mall had space for 72 stores and over 5,000 parking spots. It opened to 40,000 visitors the first day with another 180,000 visiting over the following weeks. Southdale Center was the first of its kind, and inspired hundreds of malls in the decades that followed.
These days the mall is much larger and recently underwent a major renovation in 2012. Unlike many of its 1950s contemporaries, the Southdale Center is still thriving.
Know Before You Go
The mall is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is convenient to get to from I35w or 62.