Documents
Resources
Learning Center
Upload
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

malls

VIEWS: 28 PAGES: 8

									                                                                                    ANNALS OF COMMERCE


                      THE TERRAZZO JUNGLE
                         Fifty years ago, the mall was born. America would never be the same.

                                                                                  BY MALCOLM GLADWELL


V     ictor Gruen was short, stout, and
      unstoppable, with a wild head of
hair and eyebrows like unpruned hedge-
                                                                                                                                                Vienna, Ludwig Lederer, who wanted to
                                                                                                                                                open a leather-goods boutique on Fifth
                                                                                                                                                Avenue. Victor agreed to design it, and
rows. According to a profile in Fortune                                                                                                          the result was a revolutionary storefront,
(and people loved to profile Victor                                                                                                             with a kind of mini-arcade in the entrance-
Gruen), he was a “torrential talker with                                                                                                        way, roughly seventeen by fifteen feet: six
eyes as bright as mica and a mind as fast                                                                                                       exquisite glass cases, spotlights, and faux
as mercury.” In the office, he was famous                                                                                                        marble, with green corrugated glass on
for keeping two or three secretaries                                                                                                            the ceiling. It was a “customer trap.” This
working full time, as he moved from one                                                                                                         was a brand-new idea in American retail
to the next, dictating non-stop in his                                                                                                          design, particularly on Fifth Avenue,
thick Viennese accent. He grew up in                                                                                                            where all the carriage-trade storefronts
the well-to-do world of prewar Jewish                                                                                                           were flush with the street. The critics
Vienna, studying architecture at the Vi-                                                                                                        raved. Gruen designed Ciro’s on Fifth
enna Academy of Fine Arts—the same                                                                                                              Avenue, Steckler’s on Broadway, Paris
school that, a few years previously, had                                                                                                        Decorators on the Bronx Concourse, and
turned down a fledgling artist named                                                                                                             eleven branches of the California cloth-
Adolf Hitler. At night, he performed                                                                                                            ing chain Grayson’s. In the early fifties,
satirical cabaret theatre in smoke-filled                                                                                                        he designed an outdoor shopping center
cafés. He emigrated in 1938, the same                                                                                                           called Northland outside Detroit for
week as Freud, when one of his theatre                                                                                                          J. L. Hudson’s. It covered a hundred and
friends dressed up as a Nazi Storm                                                                                                              sixty-three acres and had nearly ten
Trooper and drove him and his wife to                                                                                                           thousand parking spaces. This was little
the airport. They took the first plane                                                                                                           more than a decade and a half since he
they could catch to Zurich, made their                                                                                                          stepped off the boat, and when Gruen
way to England, and then boarded the                                                                                                            watched the bulldozers break ground he
S.S. Statendam for New York, landing,                                                                                                           turned to his partner and said,“My God
as Gruen later remembered,“with an ar-                                                                                                          but we’ve got a lot of nerve.”
chitect’s degree, eight dollars, and no                                                                                                             But Gruen’s most famous creation was
English.” On the voyage over, he was                                                                                                            his next project, in the town of Edina, just
told by an American to set his sights                                                                                                           outside Minneapolis. He began work on
high—“don’t try to wash dishes or be a                                                                                                          it almost exactly fifty years ago. It was
waiter, we have millions of them”—but                                                                                                           called Southdale. It cost twenty million
Gruen scarcely needed the advice. He                                                                                                            dollars, and had seventy-two stores and
got together with some other German                                                                                                             two anchor department-store tenants,
émigrés and formed the Refugee Artists                                                                                                          Donaldson’s and Dayton’s. Until then,
Group. George S. Kaufman’s wife was                                                                                                             most shopping centers had been what ar-
their biggest fan. Richard Rodgers and                                                                                                          chitects like to call “extroverted,” meaning
Al Jolson gave them money. Irving Ber-                                                                                                          that store windows and entrances faced         Alfred Taubman’s Mall at Short Hills is one of
lin helped them with their music. Gruen                                                                                                         both the parking area and the interior pe-
got on the train to Princeton and came                                                                                                          destrian walkways. Southdale was intro-        every other major shopping center had
back with a letter of recommendation                                                                                                            verted: the exterior walls were blank, and     been built on a single level, which made
from Albert Einstein. By the summer of                                                                                                          all the activity was focussed on the inside.   for punishingly long walks. Gruen put
1939, the group was on Broadway, play-                                                                                                          Suburban shopping centers had always           stores on two levels, connected by escala-
ing eleven weeks at the Music Box.                                                                                                              been in the open, with stores connected        tors and fed by two-tiered parking. In the
Then, as M. Jeffrey Hartwick recounts                                                                                                           by outdoor passageways. Gruen had the          middle he put a kind of town square,
in “Mall Maker,” his new biography of                                                                                                           idea of putting the whole complex under        a “garden court” under a skylight, with
Gruen, one day he went for a walk in                                                                                                            one roof, with air-conditioning for the        a fishpond, enormous sculpted trees, a
midtown and ran into an old friend from                                                                                                         summer and heat for the winter. Almost         twenty-one-foot cage filled with bright-
120                          THE NEW YORKER, MARCH 15, 2004

TNY—03/15/04—PAGE 120—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART R12999—CRITICAL CUT TO BE WATCHED THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE PRESS RUN!!—GLASGOW—DO NOT PULL THIS PAGE OUT 1/16TH—KEEP IN NORMAL POSITION!!
the most successful malls in the country. “We don’t want anything to disrupt the view,” he says. Photograph by Robert Polidori.

      colored birds, balconies with hanging                                                                                                           of Southdale. “The Splashiest Center in the         olis and west of the airport—a big con-
      plants, and a café. The result, Hardwick                                                                                                        U. S.,” Life sang. The glossy weekly praised the    crete box in a sea of parking. The anchor
                                                                                                                                                      incongruous combination of a “goldfish pond,
      writes, was a sensation:                                                                                                                        birds, art and 10 acres of stores all . . . under   tenants are now J. C.Penney and Marshall
                                                                                                                                                      one Minnesota roof.” A “pleasure-dome-with-         Field’s, and there is an Ann Taylor and a
         Journalists from all of the country’s top                                                                                                    parking,” Time cheered. One journalist an-
      magazines came for the Minneapolis shopping                                                                                                                                                         Sunglass Hut and a Foot Locker and just
                                                                                                                                                      nounced that overnight Southdale had become
      center’s opening. Life, Fortune, Time, Women’s                                                                                                  an integral “part of the American Way.”             about every other chain store that you’ve
      Wear Daily, the New York Times, Business                                                                                                                                                            ever seen in a mall. It does not seem like a
      Week and Newsweek all covered the event.
      The national and local press wore out su-                                                                                                          Southdale Mall still exists. It is situated      historic building, which is precisely why it
      perlatives attempting to capture the feeling                                                                                                    off I-494, south of downtown Minneap-               is one. Fifty years ago, Victor Gruen de-
                                                                                                                                                                                                          THE NEW YORKER, MARCH 15, 2004            121

      TNY—03/15/04—PAGE 121—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART R12999—CRITICAL CUT TO BE WATCHED THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE PRESS RUN!!—GLASGOW—DO NOT PULL THIS PAGE OUT 1/16TH—KEEP IN NORMAL POSITION!!
signed a fully enclosed, introverted, mul-                          and, three years later, put up a twenty-    Recently,Taubman’s fortunes took a turn
titiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping                             six-store open-air shopping center in       for the worse when Sotheby’s, which he
complex with a garden court under a sky-                            Flint, Michigan. A few years after that,    bought in 1983, ran afoul of antitrust
light—and today virtually every regional                            inspired by Gruen, he matched South-        laws and he ended up serving a year-long
shopping center in America is a fully en-                           dale with an enclosed mall of his own in    prison sentence on price-fixing charges.
closed, introverted, multitiered, double-                           Hayward, California, and over the next      Then his company had to fend off a hos-
anchor-tenant complex with a garden                                 half century Taubman put together what      tile takeover bid led by Taubman’s arch-
court under a skylight.Victor Gruen didn’t                          is widely considered one of the finest       rival,the Indianapolis-based Simon Prop-
design a building; he designed an arche-                            collections of shopping malls in the        erty Group. But, on a recent trip from his
type. For a decade, he gave speeches                                world. The average American mall has        Manhattan offices to the Mall at Short
about it and wrote books and met with                               annual sales of around three hundred and    Hills, a half hour’s drive away in New
one developer after another and waved                               forty dollars per square foot. Taubman’s    Jersey, Taubman was in high spirits.
his hands in the air excitedly, and over                            malls average sales close to five hun-       Short Hills holds a special place in his
the past half century that archetype has                            dred dollars per square foot. If Victor     heart. “When I bought that property in
been reproduced so faithfully on so                                 Gruen invented the mall, Alfred Taub-       1980, there were only seven stores that
many thousands of occasions that today                              man perfected it. One day not long ago, I   were still in business,” Taubman said,
virtually every suburban American goes                              asked Taubman to take me to one of his      sitting in the back of his limousine. “It
shopping or wanders around or hangs                                 shopping centers and explain whatever it    was a disaster. It was done by a large
out in a Southdale facsimile at least once                          was that first drew people like him and      commercial architect who didn’t under-
or twice a month. Victor Gruen may                                  Victor Gruen to the enclosed mall fifty      stand what he was doing.” Turning it
well have been the most influential ar-                              years ago.                                  around took four renovations. Bonwit
chitect of the twentieth century. He in-                               Taubman, who just turned eighty,         Teller and B. Altman—two of the orig-
vented the mall.                                                    is an imposing man with a wry sense         inal anchor tenants—were replaced by
                                                                    of humor who wears bespoke three-           Neiman Marcus, Saks, Nordstrom, and

O      ne of Gruen’s contemporaries in
       the early days of the mall was a
man named A. Alfred Taubman, who
                                                                    piece suits and peers down at the world
                                                                    through half-closed eyes. He is the sort
                                                                    of old-fashioned man who refers to mer-
                                                                                                                Macy’s. Today, Short Hills has average
                                                                                                                sales of nearly eight hundred dollars per
                                                                                                                square foot; according to the Greenberg
also started out as a store designer. In                            chandise as “goods” and apparel as “soft    Group, it is the third-most-successful
1950, when Taubman was still in his                                 goods” and who can glance at a couture      covered mall in the country. When
twenties, he borrowed five thousand dol-                             gown from halfway across the room and       Taubman and I approached the mall,
lars, founded his own development firm,                              come within a few dollars of its price.     the first thing he did was peer out at
                                                                                                                the parking garage. It was just before
                                                                                                                noon on a rainy Thursday. The garage
                                                                                                                was almost full.“Look at all the cars!” he
                                                                                                                said, happily.
                                                                                                                    Taubman directed the driver to stop
                                                                                                                in front of Bloomingdale’s, on the mall’s
                                                                                                                north side. He walked through the short
                                                                                                                access corridor, paused, and pointed at
                                                                                                                the floor. It was made up of small stone
                                                                                                                tiles.“People used to use monolithic ter-
                                                                                                                razzo in centers,” he said.“But it cracked
                                                                                                                easily and was difficult to repair.Women,
                                                                                                                especially, tend to have thin soles. We
                                                                                                                found that they are very sensitive to the
                                                                                                                surface, and when they get on one of
                                                                                                                those terrazzo floors it’s like a skating
                                                                                                                rink. They like to walk on the joints.
                                                                                                                The only direct contact you have with
                                                                                                                the building is through the floor. How
                                                                                                                you feel about it is very important.”Then
                                                                                                                he looked up and pointed to the second
                                                                                                                floor of the mall. The handrails were
                                                                                                                transparent. “We don’t want anything
                                                                                                                to disrupt the view,” Taubman said. If
                                                                                                                you’re walking on the first level, he ex-
                                                                                                                plained, you have to be able, at all times,
                                                                                                                to have an unimpeded line of sight not
                                                   “What time do you get off work?”                             just to the stores in front of you but also


TNY—03/15/04—PAGE 122—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART—A 9103
to the stores on the second level. The
idea is to overcome what Taubman likes
to call “threshold resistance,” which is
the physical and psychological barrier
that stands between a shopper and the
inside of a store. “You buy something
because it is available and attractive,”
Taubman said. “You can’t have any ob-
stacles. The goods have to be all there.”
When Taubman was designing stores
in Detroit, in the nineteen-forties, he
realized that even the best arcades, like
those Gruen designed on Fifth Avenue,
weren’t nearly as good at overcoming
threshold resistance as an enclosed mall,
because with an arcade you still had to get
the customer through the door. “People
assume we enclose the space because of
air-conditioning and the weather, and
that’s important,” Taubman said. “But
the main reason is that it allows us to                        “Don’t worry about it. It’s probably just a head cold.”
open up the store to the customer.”
    Taubman began making his way                                                        •          •
down the mall. He likes the main corri-
dors of his shopping malls to be no more
than a thousand feet long—the equiva-             Sea Foods only during the lunch and           office, on Fifth Avenue, Taubman took a
lent of about three city blocks—because           dinner hours—which means that if you          piece of paper and drew a simple cross-
he believes that three blocks is about as         put the restaurant in the thick of things,    section of a two-story building. “You
far as peak shopping interest can be sus-         you’d have a dead spot in the middle of       have two levels, all right? You have an es-
tained, and as he walked he explained             your mall for most of the day.                calator here and an escalator here.” He
the logic behind what retailers like to call         At the far end of the mall is Neiman       drew escalators at both ends of the floors.
“adjacencies.”There was Brooks Brothers,          Marcus, and Taubman wandered in, ex-          “The customer comes into the mall,walks
where a man might buy a six-hundred-              claimed over a tray of men’s ties, and        down the hall, gets on the escalator up to
dollar suit, right across from Johnston &         delicately examined the stitching in the      the second level. Goes back along the
Murphy, where the same man might buy              women’s evening gowns in the designer         second floor, down the escalator, and
a two-hundred-dollar pair of shoes. The           department. “Hi, my name is Alfred            now she’s back where she started from.
Bose electronics store was next to Brook-         Taubman—I’m your landlord,” he said,          She’s seen every store in the center, right?
stone and across from the Sharper Image,          bending over to greet a somewhat star-        Now you put on a third level. Is there
so if you got excited about some elec-            tled sales assistant. Taubman plainly         any reason to go up there? No.” A full
tronic gizmo in one store you were steps          loves Neiman Marcus, and with good            circuit of a two-level mall takes you back
away from getting even more excited               reason: well-run department stores are        to the beginning. It encourages you to
by similar gizmos in two other stores.            the engines of malls. They have power-        circulate through the whole building. A
Gucci, Versace, and Chanel were placed            ful brand names, advertise heavily, and       full circuit of a three-level mall leaves
near the highest-end department stores,           carry extensive cosmetics lines (shop-        you at the opposite end of the mall from
Neiman Marcus and Saks. “Lots of de-              ping malls are, at bottom, delivery sys-      your car. Taubman was the first to put a
velopers just rent out their space like           tems for lipstick)—all of which gen-          ring road around the mall—which he
you’d cut a salami,” Taubman explained.           erate enormous shopping traffic. The           did at his mall in Hayward—for the
“They rent the space based on whether it          point of a mall—the reason so many            same reason: if you want to get shoppers
fits, not necessarily on whether it makes          stores are clustered together in one build-   into every part of the building, they
any sense.” Taubman shook his head.               ing—is to allow smaller, less powerful        should be distributed to as many differ-
He gestured to a Legal Sea Foods res-             retailers to share in that traffic. A shop-    ent entry points as possible. At Short
taurant, where he wanted to stop for              ping center is an exercise in coöperative     Hills—and at most Taubman malls—
lunch. It was off the main mall, at the far       capitalism. It is considered successful       the ring road rises gently as you drive
end of a short entry hallway, and it was          (and the mall owner makes the most            around the building, so at least half of
down there for a reason. A woman about            money) when the maximum number of             the mall entrances are on the second
to spend five thousand dollars at Versace          department-store customers are lured          floor. “We put fifteen per cent more
doesn’t want to catch a whiff of sautéed          into the mall.                                parking on the upper level than on the
grouper as she tries on an evening gown.             Why, for instance, are so many malls,      first level, because people flow like
More to the point, people eat at Legal            like Short Hills, two stories? Back at his    water,” Taubman said. “They go down
                                                                                                THE NEW YORKER, MARCH 15, 2004           123

TNY—03/15/04—PAGE 123—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART A9335
                                                                                                                           •          •

much easier than they go up. And we put                                                                      in that high-traffic corridor had the op-    to call them hot spots.” This happened
our vertical transportation—the escala-                                                                      timal adjacencies, or that the sidewalk     more than half a century ago. But it was
tors—on the ends, so shoppers have to                                                                        would feel right under the thin soles of    clear that Taubman has never quite got
make the full loop.”                                                                                         women’s shoes. And because the stores       over how irrational the world outside the
    This is the insight that drove the en-                                                                   are arrayed along a road with cars on it,   mall can be: downtown Detroit chased
thusiasm for the mall fifty years ago—                                                                        you don’t really have a mall where cus-     away traffic.
that by putting everything under one                                                                         tomers can wander from side to side.
roof, the retailer and the developer
gained, for the first time, complete con-
trol over their environment. Taubman
                                                                                                             And what happens when they get to
                                                                                                             the department store? It’s four or five
                                                                                                             floors high, and shoppers are like water,
                                                                                                                                                         P    lanning and control were of even
                                                                                                                                                              greater importance to Gruen. He
                                                                                                                                                         was, after all, a socialist—and he was
fusses about lighting, for instance: he be-                                                                  remember: they flow downhill. So it’s        Viennese. In the middle of the nine-
lieves that next to the skylights you have                                                                   going to be hard to generate traffic on      teenth century, Vienna had demolished
to put tiny lights that will go on when                                                                      the upper levels. There is a tendency in    the walls and other fortifications that
the natural light fades, so the dusk                                                                         America to wax nostalgic for the tra-       had ringed the city since medieval times,
doesn’t send an unwelcome signal to                                                                          ditional downtown, but those who first       and in the resulting open space built
shoppers that it is time to go home; and                                                                     believed in the mall—and understood         the Ringstrasse—a meticulously articu-
you have to recess the skylights so that                                                                     its potential—found it hard to look at      lated addition to the old city. Archi-
sunlight never reflects off the storefront                                                                    the old downtown with anything but          tects and urban planners solemnly out-
glass, obscuring merchandise. Can you                                                                        frustration.                                lined their ideas. There were apart-
optimize lighting in a traditional down-                                                                         “In Detroit, prior to the nineteen-     ment blocks, and public squares and
town? The same goes for parking. Sup-                                                                        fifties, the large department stores, like   government buildings, and shopping
pose that there was a downtown where                                                                         Hudson’s, controlled everything, like       arcades, each executed in what was
the biggest draw was a major depart-                                                                         zoning,”Taubman said.“They were gen-        thought to be the historically appropri-
ment store. Ideally, you ought to put the                                                                    erous to local politicians.They had enor-   ate style. The Rathaus was done in high
garage across the street and two blocks                                                                      mous clout, and that’s why when Sears       Gothic; the Burgtheatre in early Ba-
away, so shoppers, on their way from                                                                         wanted to locate in downtown Detroit        roque; the University was pure Renais-
their cars and to their destination, would                                                                   they were told they couldn’t. So Sears      sance; and the Parliament was classical
pass by the stores in between—dramat-                                                                        put a store in Highland Park and on         Greek. It was all part of the official Vi-
ically increasing the traffic for all the in-                                                                 Oakland Boulevard, and built a store        ennese response to the populist upris-
tervening merchants. But in a down-                                                                          on the East Side, and it was able to get    ings of 1848: if Austria was to remake
town, obviously, you can’t put a parking                                                                     some other stores to come with them,        itself as a liberal democracy, Vienna had
garage just anywhere, and even if you                                                                        and before long there were three mini-      to be physically remade along demo-
could, you couldn’t insure that the stores                                                                   downtowns in the suburbs. They used         cratic lines. The Parliament now faced
124                          THE NEW YORKER, MARCH 15, 2004

TNY—03/15/04—PAGE 124—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART—A 9342—PLEASE PULL KODAK APPROVAL PROOF FOR PRESS COLOR GUIDANCE
directly onto the street. The walls that                                             station?” he asked, when he came for a         chase for your business, that investment
separated the élite of Vienna from the                                               tour. “You’ve got a garden court that has      is assumed to deteriorate and lose some
unwashed in the suburbs were torn                                                    all the evils of the village street and none   part of its value from wear and tear every
down. And, most important, a ring                                                    of its charm.” But no one much listened        year. As a result, a business is allowed to
road, or Ringstrasse—a grand mall—                                                   to Frank Lloyd Wright. When it came            set aside some of its income, tax-free,
was built around the city, with wide                                                 to malls, it was only Victor Gruen’s vi-       to pay for the eventual cost of replacing
sidewalks and expansive urban views,                                                 sion that mattered.                            capital investments. For tax purposes, in
where Viennese of all backgrounds                                                                                                   the early fifties the useful life of a build-
could mingle freely on their Sunday-
afternoon stroll. To the Viennese re-
formers of the time, the quality of civic
                                                                                     V     ictor Gruen’s grand plan for South-
                                                                                           dale was never realized. There were
                                                                                     no parks or schools or apartment build-
                                                                                                                                    ing was held to be forty years, so a devel-
                                                                                                                                    oper could deduct one-fortieth of the
                                                                                                                                    value of his building from his income
life was a function of the quality of the                                            ings—just that big box in a sea of park-       every year. A new forty-million-dollar
built environment, and Gruen thought                                                 ing. Nor, with a few exceptions, did any-      mall, then, had an annual depreciation
that principle applied just as clearly to                                            one else plan the shopping mall as the         deduction of a million dollars. What
the American suburbs.                                                                centerpiece of a tidy, dense, multi-use        Congress did in 1954, in an attempt to
    Not long after Southdale was built,                                              development. Gruen was right about the         stimulate investment in manufacturing,
Gruen gave the keynote address at a                                                  transformative effect of the mall on re-       was to “accelerate” the depreciation pro-
Progressive Architecture awards cere-                                                tailing. But in thinking that he could         cess for new construction. Now, using
mony in New Orleans, and he took the                                                 reënact the lesson of the Ringstrasse in       this and other tax loopholes, a mall de-
occasion to lash out at American subur-                                              American suburbia he was wrong, and            veloper could recoup the cost of his in-
bia, whose roads, he said, were “avenues                                             the reason was that in the mid-nineteen-       vestment in a fraction of the time. As the
of horror,” “flanked by the greatest col-                                             fifties the economics of mall-building          historian Thomas Hanchett argues, in a
lection of vulgarity—billboards, motels,                                             suddenly changed.                              groundbreaking paper in The American
gas stations, shanties, car lots, miscel-                                                At the time of Southdale, big shop-        Historical Review, the result was a “bo-
laneous industrial equipment, hot dog                                                ping centers were a delicate commercial        nanza” for developers. In the first few
stands, wayside stores—ever collected                                                proposition. One of the first big postwar       years after a shopping center was built,
by mankind.” American suburbia was                                                   shopping centers was Shopper’s World,          the depreciation deductions were so large
chaos, and the only solution to chaos                                                in Framingham, Massachusetts, de-              that the mall was almost certainly losing
was planning. When Gruen first drew                                                   signed by an old business partner of           money, at least on paper—which brought
up the plans for Southdale, he placed                                                Gruen’s from his Fifth Avenue store-           with it enormous tax benefits. For in-
the shopping center at the heart of a                                                front days. Shopper’s World was an             stance, in a front-page article in 1961 on
tidy four-hundred-and-sixty-three-acre                                               open center covering seventy acres, with       the effect of the depreciation changes,
development, complete with apartment                                                 forty-four stores, six thousand parking        the Wall Street Journal described the fi-
buildings, houses, schools, a medical                                                spaces, and a two-hundred-and-fifty-            nances of a real-estate investment com-
center, a park, and a lake. Southdale was                                            thousand-square-foot Jordan Marsh              pany called Kratter Corp. Kratter’s reve-
not a suburban alternative to downtown                                               department store—and within two                nue from its real-estate operations in
Minneapolis. It was the Minneapolis                                                  years of its opening, in 1951, the devel-      1960 was $9,997,043. Deductions from
downtown you would get if you started                                                oper was bankrupt. A big shopping cen-         operating expenses and mortgage interest
over and corrected all the mistakes that                                             ter simply cost too much money, and it         came to $4,836,671, which left a healthy
were made the first time around. “There                                               took too long for a developer to make          income of $5.16 million.Then came de-
is nothing suburban about Southdale ex-                                              that money back. Gruen thought of the          preciation, which came to $6.9 million,
cept its location,” Architectural Record                                             mall as the centerpiece of a carefully         so now Kratter’s healthy profit had been
stated when it reviewed Gruen’s new                                                  planned new downtown because he felt           magically turned into a “loss” of $1.76
creation. It is                                                                      that that was the only way malls would         million. Imagine that you were one of
an imaginative distillation of what makes                                            ever get built: you planned because you        five investors in Kratter. The company’s
downtown magnetic: the variety, the individ-                                         had to plan. Then, in the mid-fifties,          policy was to distribute nearly all of its
uality, the lights, the color, even the crowds—                                      something happened that turned the             pre-depreciation revenue to its inves-
for Southdale’s pedestrian-scale spaces insure
a busyness and a bustle. Added to this essence                                       dismal economics of the mall upside            tors, so your share of their earnings
of existing downtowns are all kinds of things                                        down: Congress made a radical change           would be roughly a million dollars. Or-
that ought to be there if downtown weren’t so                                        in the tax rules governing depreciation.       dinarily, you’d pay a good chunk of that
noisy and dirty and chaotic—sidewalk cafés,
art, islands of planting, pretty paving. Other                                           Under tax law, if you build an office       in taxes. But that million dollars wasn’t
shopping centers, however pleasant, seem pro-                                        building, or buy a piece of machinery for      income. After depreciation, Kratter
vincial in contrast with the real thing—the city                                     your factory, or make any capital pur-         didn’t make any money. That million
downtown. But in Minneapolis, it is the down-
town that appears pokey and provincial in con-                                                                                      dollars was “return on capital,” and it was
trast with Southdale’s metropolitan character.                                                                                      tax-free.
                                                                                                                                        Suddenly it was possible to make
  One person who wasn’t dazzled by                                                                                                  much more money investing in things
Southdale was Frank Lloyd Wright.                                                                                                   like shopping centers than buying stocks,
“What is this, a railroad station or a bus                                                                                          so money poured into real-estate in-
                                                                                                                                    THE NEW YORKER, MARCH 15, 2004           125

TNY—03/15/04—PAGE 125—133SC.—LIVE SPOT—N18407—PLEASE REPORT AND INSPECT ON QUALITY
vestment companies. Prices rose dramat-                                  gaining thirty-one shopping centers, in-       sand parking spaces—and one can easily
ically. Investors were putting up build-                                 cluding three enclosed malls. In 1953,         imagine that one day it, too, may give
ings, taking out as much money from                                      before accelerated depreciation was put        way to something newer and bigger.
them as possible using accelerated de-                                   in place, one major regional shopping
preciation, then selling them four or five
years later at a huge profit—whereupon
they built an even bigger building, be-
                                                                         center was built in the United States.
                                                                         Three years later, after the law was
                                                                         passed, that number was twenty-five.
                                                                                                                        O     nce,in the mid-fifties,Victor Gruen
                                                                                                                              sat down with a writer from The
                                                                                                                        New Yorker’s Talk of the Town to give his
cause the more expensive the building                                    In 1953, new shopping-center construc-         thoughts on how to save New York City.
was, the more the depreciation allowance                                 tion of all kinds totalled six million         The interview took place in Gruen’s styl-
was worth.                                                               square feet. By 1956, that figure had in-       ish offices on West Twelfth Street, in an
    Under the circumstances, who cared                                   creased five hundred per cent. This was         old Stanford White building, and one
whether the shopping center made eco-                                    also the era that fast-food restaurants        can only imagine the reporter, rapt, as
nomic sense for the venders? Shopping                                    and Howard Johnsons and Holiday Inns           Gruen held forth, eyebrows bristling.
centers and strip malls became what                                      and muffler shops and convenience               First, Gruen said, Manhattan had to get
urban planners call “catalytic,” meaning                                 stores began to multiply up and down           rid of its warehouses and its light manu-
that developers weren’t building them to                                 the highways and boulevards of the             facturing. Then, all the surface traffic in
serve existing suburban communities;                                     American suburbs—and as these devel-           midtown—the taxis, buses, and trucks—
they were building them on the fringes of                                opments grew, others followed to share         had to be directed into underground
cities, beyond residential developments,                                 in the increased customer traffic. Malls        tunnels. He wanted to put superhigh-
where the land was cheapest. Hanchett                                    led to malls, and in turn those malls led      ways around the perimeter of the island,
points out, in fact, that in many cases the                              to the big stand-alone retailers like Wal-     buttressed by huge double-decker park-
growth of malls appears to follow no de-                                 Mart and Target, and then the “power           ing garages. The jumble of tenements
mographic logic at all. Cortland, New                                    centers” of three or four big-box retailers,   and town houses and apartment blocks
York, for instance, barely grew at all be-                               like Circuit City, Staples, Barnes &           that make up Manhattan would be re-
tween 1950 and 1970. Yet in those two                                    Noble. Victor Gruen intended South-            placed by neat rows of hundred-and-
decades Cortland gained six new shop-                                    dale to be a dense, self-contained down-       fifty-story residential towers, arrayed
ping plazas, including the four-hundred-                                 town. Today, fifteen minutes down an            along a ribbon of gardens, parks, walk-
thousand-square-foot enclosed Cort-                                      “avenue of horror” from Southdale is the       ways, theatres, and cafés.
landville Mall. In the same twenty-year                                  Mall of America, the largest mall in the           Mr. G. lowered his brows and glared at
span, the Scranton area actually shrank                                  country, with five hundred and twenty           us. “You are troubled by all those tunnels, are
by seventy-three thousand people while                                   stores, fifty restaurants, and twelve thou-     you not?” he inquired. “You wonder whether
                                                                                                                        there is room for them in the present under-
                                                                                                                        ground jungle of pipes and wires. Did you
                                                                                                                        never think how absurd it is to bury beneath
                                                                                                                        tons of solid pavement equipment that is
                                                                                                                        bound to go on the blink from time to time?”
                                                                                                                        He leaped from his chair and thrust an imagi-
                                                                                                                        nary pneumatic drill against his polished study
                                                                                                                        floor. “Rat-a-tat-tat!” he exclaimed. “Night
                                                                                                                        and day! Tear up the streets! Then pave them!
                                                                                                                        Then tear ’em up again!” Flinging aside the
                                                                                                                        imaginary drill, he threw himself back in his
                                                                                                                        chair. “In my New York of the future, all
                                                                                                                        pipes and wires will be strung along the upper
                                                                                                                        sides of those tunnels, above a catwalk, ac-
                                                                                                                        cessible to engineers and painted brilliant col-
                                                                                                                        ors to delight rather than appall the eye.”
                                                                                                                            Postwar America was an intellectu-
                                                                                                                        ally insecure place, and there was some-
                                                                                                                        thing intoxicating about Gruen’s sophis-
                                                                                                                        tication and confidence. That was what
                                                                                                                        took him, so dramatically, from standing
                                                                                                                        at New York Harbor with eight dollars
                                                                                                                        in his pocket to Broadway, to Fifth Av-
                                                                                                                        enue, and to the heights of Northland
                                                                                                                        and Southdale. He was a European in-
                                                                                                                        tellectual, an émigré, and, in the popu-
                                                                                                                        lar mind, the European émigré repre-
                                                                                                                        sented vision, the gift of seeing something
                                                                                                                        grand in the banality of postwar Ameri-
                                                                                                                        can life. When the European visionary
                                                                                                                        confronted a drab and congested urban
                                              “I’ve never mentioned this, Mom, but I feel pretty.”                      landscape, he didn’t tinker and equivo-


TNY—03/15/04—PAGE 126—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART—A9382
cate; he levelled warehouses and bur-
ied roadways and came up with a thrill-
ing plan for making things right. “The
chief means of travel will be walking,”
Gruen said, of his reimagined metropo-
lis. “Nothing like walking for peace of
mind.” At Northland, he said, thousands
of people would show up, even when the
stores were closed, just to walk around. It
was exactly like Sunday on the Ring-
strasse. With the building of the mall,
Old World Europe had come to subur-
ban Detroit.
    What Gruen had, as well, was an un-
shakable faith in the American market-
place. Malls teach us, he once said, that
“it’s the merchants who will save our
urban civilization. ‘Planning’ isn’t a dirty
word to them; good planning means
good business.” He went on, “Some-
times self-interest has remarkable spiri-
tual consequences.” Gruen needed to be-
lieve this, as did so many European
intellectuals from that period, dubbed
by the historian Daniel Horowitz “cele-
bratory émigrés.”They had fled a place of
chaos and anxiety, and in American con-
sumer culture they sought a bulwark
against the madness across the ocean.
They wanted to find in the jumble of
the American marketplace something as
grand as the Vienna they had lost—the
place where the unconscious was metic-
ulously dissected by Dr. Freud on Berg-
gasse, and where shrines to European
civilization—to the Gothic, the Baroque,
                                                                                                                      •           •
the Renaissance, and the ancient Greek
traditions—were erected on the Ring-                                         dred thousand square feet they were large         pronounced himself in “severe emotional
strasse. To Americans, nothing was more                                      enough to carry every merchandise line            shock.” Malls, he said, had been disfig-
flattering than this. Who didn’t want to                                      that the flagship store carried, which             ured by “the ugliness and discomfort of
believe that the act of levelling ware-                                      meant no one had any reason to make               the land-wasting seas of parking” around
houses and burying roadways had spiri-                                       the trek to the flagship anymore. Victor           them. Developers were interested only
tual consequences? But it was, in the                                        Gruen said the lesson of Northland was            in profit. “I refuse to pay alimony for
end, too good to be true. This wasn’t the                                    that the merchants would save urban               those bastard developments,” he said in a
way America worked at all.                                                   civilization. He didn’t appreciate that it        speech in London, in 1978. He turned
    A few months ago, Alfred Taubman                                         made a lot more sense, for his client, to         away from his adopted country. He had
gave a speech to a real-estate trade as-                                     save civilization at a hundred and fifty           fixed up a country house outside of Vi-
sociation in Detroit, about the prospects                                    thousand square feet than at six hun-             enna, and soon he moved back home for
for the city’s downtown, and one of the                                      dred thousand square feet. The lesson of          good. But what did he find when he got
things he talked about was Victor Gruen’s                                    America was that the grandest of visions          there? Just south of old Vienna, a mall
Northland. It was simply too big, Taub-                                      could be derailed by the most banal of            had been built—in his anguished words,
man said. Hudson’s, the Northland an-                                        details, like the size of the retail footprint,   a “gigantic shopping machine.” It was
chor tenant, already had a flagship store                                     or whether Congress set the depreciation          putting the beloved independent shop-
in downtown Detroit. So why did Gruen                                        allowance at forty years or twenty years.         keepers of Vienna out of business. It
build a six-hundred-thousand-square-                                             When, late in life, Gruen came to re-         was crushing the life of his city. He was
foot satellite at Northland, just a twenty-                                  alize this, it was a powerfully disillusion-      devastated. Victor Gruen invented the
minute drive away? Satellites were best at                                   ing experience. He revisited one of his           shopping mall in order to make America
a hundred and fifty thousand to two hun-                                      old shopping centers, and saw all the             more like Vienna. He ended up making
dred thousand square feet. But at six hun-                                   sprawling development around it, and              Vienna more like America. o
                                                                                                                               THE NEW YORKER, MARCH 15, 2004        127

TNY—03/15/04—PAGE 127—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART—A 9237EPS—#2 PAGE—TEXT CHANGES!!

								
To top