The Dales, Part 1: Southdale Center

Southdale Center is a  shopping mall located in the Twin Cities’ suburb of Edina, Minnesota. It opened in 1956 and is the oldest fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall in the United States. Today, it comprises 1.3 million sq. feet of retail space and contains over 120 retail tenants, anchored by Herberger’s and Macy’s, although the mall was originally anchored by Donaldson’s, Walgreens, Woolworth, and Dayton’s (which was modeled after the Dayton’s Flagship Store in downtown Minneapolis). The center’s architect, Victor Gruen, designed the mall to challenge the “car-centric” America that was rising in the 1950s. As an Austrian immigrant  and European-style socialist, Gruen found individual stores in downtown venues to be inefficient and wanted to design a building that would be a gathering place where people would shop, drink coffee and socialize, as in his native Vienna. He also imagined that Southdale would eventually include a medical center, schools and residences, not just a parade of glitzy stores.

In 1956, while visiting the mall as part of a tour of new buildings in Minnesota, the organic architect Frank Lloyd Wright criticized Southdale’s overall design, stating that the “garden court has all the evils of the village street and none of its charm,” unfavorably adding that Gruen “should have left downtown, downtown.” And true to character, he further went on to criticize several other buildings in nearby Minneapolis! Since its opening, Southdale has suffered high vacancy rates and several store closures, but ultimately has been able to recover in recent years due to several additions that have been performed on the building, including the construction of a brand new food court in 2011.

  • Visited: numerous times since the 1980s

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