Memories in Your Browser: Southdale Center, Edina MN

Southdale Center, 1956. Edina, Minnesota. “Interior Garden Court with stairway to upper
level in Southdale Regional Shopping Center, the first enclosed shopping mall.

Color transparency by Grey Villet, Life magazine photo archive (click for larger view)

One of the fun sites I follow in my RSS reader is Shorpy’s Historical Photographs. Several images come through each day, and I often click “full size” to view ones that intrigue me. When I saw this one above, a flood of memories came back and this is one reason why I’m increasingly loving how more and more of our books, videos, and other content is being digitized, indexed and available to us at-our-fingertips.

These memories are bitter-sweet right now as we find ourselves in a time of economic meltdown. The optimism of the 1950’s, and the emergence of more efficient capitalism (e.g., advertising mediums, rating systems like Nielsen, national retail chains), helped create a time when building an enclosed, climate controlled shopping mall made it much more pleasant in harsh climates like those here in Minnesota, and obviously created a more efficient and often used place to buy goods.

Though this photo was taken before I was a year old, Southdale shopping mall has played an integral part in my life. Dozens of trips each year were made to shop and buy (though often we had to shop in less expensive stores elsewhere) and I have so many recollections both good and bad that I had to do this post.

According to this article, “Southdale was the brainchild of Victor Gruen, an Austrian emigrant who moved to the United States. It was never his intention to design an icon of capitalism. Gruen was a European style socialist; he hated the suburban lifestyle of 1950’s America, and wanted to design a building that would bring people together into a community, by providing a meeting place that American towns lacked. They would come together to shop, drink coffee, and socialize. He modelled the design of Southdale on the arcades of European cities, although his original version was never achieved. Gruen also saw the mall as the centre of a community.

When he first drew up the plans for Southdale, he placed the shopping center at the heart of a tidy 463 acre development, complete with apartment buildings, houses, schools, a medical center, a park, and a lake. Southdale was not a suburban alternative to downtown Minneapolis. It was the Minneapolis downtown you would get if you
started over and corrected all the mistakes that were made the first time around. Gruen planned for an atmosphere of leisure, excitement, and intimacy to be created. To achieve this he placed works of art, decorative lighting, fountains, tropical plants, and flowers throughout the mall.

Groundbreaking for Southdale took place on October 29, 1954. 800 construction workers were needed to construct the 4-story, 800,000 sq ft center, complete with 5,200 parking spaces and 72 spaces for tenants. The mall was originally developed by the Dayton Company, owners of Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis and predecessor to the Target Corporation.” More here from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Here are a few photos and a couple of memories that stick out for me (though the one when it was constructed was before I was born):

Southdale Photos (click for larger view)

Falling into that fish pond as an 8 year old — after my mother made it very clear I was not to walk around the pond perimeter — is one I’ll never forget. It was wintertime, I was soaked, she was stressed (probably from Christmas shopping), we were with my grandmother, and only after having my own kids did I understand the perfect storm of things that happened that day to cause her to be so upset (and me to feel really, really bad).

Another memory comes from when I was a manufacturer’s rep for a firm in the Twin Cities right out of college. One of our biggest lines was Atari, the first hugely successful video game company with “the new Mickey Mouse”, PacMan, character star of the immensely popular videogame of the same name.

Atari National PacMan Day Ad (click for larger view)

Each rep firm had to hire local actors to put on costumes for Atari National Pac-Man Day on April 3, 1982, and go to key venues for publicity. We headed to the Children’s Hospital, Town Square in St. Paul (a downtown mall), and Southdale mall. I was ‘volunteered’ to be the yellow Pac-Man and my secretary, Betsy, was one of the ghosts (and it wasn’t until afterwards that my buddy Pete pointed out that I was inadvertently being a little inappropriate pretending like I was trying to “eat” her, though I innocently thought I was in-character!).

Southdale was our last stop that day and we walked in to THOUSANDS of screaming kids and their parents along with local TV news crews. Kids were lined up all around the upper area of the mall, seated on the floor, and they were all super-excited to see us. My Mom and Dad, sisters, aunt, uncle and cousins were there as well, and Betsy and I jumped up on stage and cavorted to Pac-Man game sounds and music as the Atari handlers guided us on what to do next.

Let me express my sadness that YouTube and Flickr weren’t around so I could relive those moments, but I’d probably die of embarrassment and you’d never read this blog again.

Taking my dates there in high school (it was something to do that didn’t cost much money and our friends were usually there), having lunch with my grandma in the mall sidewalk cafe (built in the 1970’s), are just a few of the things I remember.

I’m hoping that our local television channels make an effort to digitize footage (more is appearing on YouTube all the time) and that people dig into their archives to pull out photos and get ’em scanned so more of us can have memories in our browsers…but I’m growing more optimistic all the time as I uncover sources of great history and memories like Shorpys.


  1. Gary Allen Vollink on December 9, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I find it quite interesting that, for all that has changed in that mall, the bronze art-posts are still standing to this day. (I am using these to mentally figure out where the photos were shot from.)

    It was the first – as I keep hearing – the first [ indoor, fully Air-Con, shopping space where interior stores face each-other across wide pathways on multiple levels ] modern shopping mall.

  2. kelly on December 10, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I love this. My mom was also one year old that year. I look forward to sharing this with her. And I am enjoying reading your blog I just discovered!

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