History: America’s First Outdoor Shopping Mall Was in Kalamazoo
The Kalamazoo Mall was the very first outdoor pedestrian shopping mall in the United States, making its debut on August 19, 1959. It was intended as being just a walk-through, with no traffic, no thru street, and no parking spots. Just a long stretch of buildings where people could walk from shop to shop.
Pedestrians could shop, sit for awhile and talk, maybe have a bite to eat, read, or relax. But mostly shop.
There was a playground for kids while mom shopped, a couple of fountains, a bridge over one of the fountains, and checkerboard sidewalks.
It all began in 1957 when the Kalamazoo City Commission came to the conclusion that their downtown businesses were failing thanks to the new 'suburban' malls. Many downtown establishments were closing down, and they needed to do something about it. So they hired architect Victor Gruen to save the day.
Gruen went to work blueprinting, creating, and planning, and finally in March 1958 he presented his brainchild to the Commission: a $60,000 renovation that would save downtown.
When the new outdoor mall opened in 1959, there was the Burdick Hotel, First National Bank, Gilmore Department Store, Grant's, Nobil Shoes, Penney's, Savings & Loan, Walgreen's, Woolworth's, (all gone) and other shops and stores. Fast-forward to the 2000s, and now there are cafe's, pubs, and coffee shops mixed in with the typical clothing and department stores.
The mall still exists, although vastly changed over the last 60+ years. Take a look below and some vintage photos of America's first outdoor pedestrian mall, in Kalamazoo, Michigan! There are also some old photos of the Burdick Hotel, and the fire that devastated it in 1909.