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Minnesota Moment: Southdale, our first ‘nation’s biggest mall’

October 5, 2018

What: Southdale, the first fully enclosed shopping mall, opened.

When: Oct. 8, 1956.

Accolades: The event earned a special section in the Sunday Tribune, which raved about the indoor court with its June-day temps, birds and exotic flowers its two department stores, 70 shops, original artwork throughout and a sidewalk cafe.

Working together: The section also revealed an interesting back story. Daytons and rival department store Donaldsons had both considered building a suburban shopping mall in Edina. When Daytons announced its intentions in 1953, Donaldsons realized itd be wise to join forces.

The vision: Southdale had a unique and visionary architect, Victor Gruen, who saw the enclosed shopping center as an antidote to the Twin Cities car-centric development.

We must separate the vehicles from the people, like Venice, said Gruen. I hope it becomes a crystallizing force for this sprawling suburban area. There will be places here for meetings and concerts and galleries of paintings to look at and rooms where classes can be held and places to eat.

The reality: The mall never quite lived up to Gruens plans. His original design called for stores to have large windows and entrances outside as well as inside the mall. But, over the years, the walls went up, and the buildings life was entirely inside. It was a new world, but one that was sealed off and isolated.

Until now: Gruen, who died in 1980, might look more fondly upon Southdale now that the area is becoming more densely populated, with condos, apartments and hotels.

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