Seattle’s Northgate Mall holds the distinction of being America’s first quote/unquote “shopping mall”. When construction of the center began in the late 1940′s, there already were three post-World War II, suburban-style shopping centers in the United States (these were located in Hollywood, Beverly, Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio). However, Northgate Mall was the first to be arranged around a lengthwise mall corridor, with stores facing each other on either side.
Originally an open-air structure, Northgate Mall was located 7.5 miles north of center city Seattle, on a 62 acre tract in the (then) unincorporated Maple Leaf community. The grand opening was held in April, 1950, with the mall anchored by a new 3 story, 3 million dollar, Bon Marche’. There were 17 other businesses in operation then, including a bank branch, A & P supermarket, Nordstrom’s shoes and Newberry’s 5 and 10. The following year, a four story medical and dental clinic joined the fold.
Northgate Mall was also the first to have a “mall movie theater”. It had a single screen, was completed in 1951, and had seating for an audience of 1,500. A similar shopping mall cinema opened in October of 1951 at the newly-constructed Shopper’s World Center, in Framingham, Massachusetts. This has sometimes been cited as being the first shopping mall cinema in the United States. However, by opening in September of 1951, the Theatre at Northgate pre-dated operation of the cinema at Shopper’s World by a few weeks.
New stores at Northgate opened in groups of five or so, with much fanfare. By 1952, all 80 stores were leased. At this time, local sculptor Dudley C. Carter completed work on a 59 foot totem pole. This was installed in a fountain/plaza area -the mall’s main entrance- along NE 110 Street. In 1954, the mall and its surrounding area were annexed into the Seattle city limits. Then, in 1965, the Interstate 5 expressway was completed to points north, with an interchange installed at NE Northgate Way (formerly NE 110 Street). This spurred construction of a 10 million dollar -25 store- addition, which included a J.C. Penney at the mall’s southern end.
The center was enclosed and climate-controlled in 1974. Open areas, such as the central court in front of Bon Marche’, were built in and utilized as retail space. The present-day Nordstom store came about in this manner. The Bon Marche’ was also greatly enlarged, taking up a fair amount of the former central court, as well. A portion of the northeast section of the mall was also torn out, with a fourth anchor built in the space. This became the Gottschalk’s store. With these renovations, the mall hosted over 123 stores.
Following the trend toward a central, coast-to-coast retail chain entity, the Bon Marche’ was reinaugurated under the “Bon-Macy’s” moniker. More changes at NORTHGATE followed. In late 2005, the theatre and medical clinic buildings, which were showing their age, were razed. In their place, an open-air, “lifestyle center” is being built. This will be adjacent to the existing, enclosed mall, and should be completed before the end of the decade.
At last count, there are five different “Northgate Malls” in the United States. These are located in (1) Seattle, (2) Cincinnati, Ohio, (3) Hixson-Chattanooga, Tennessee, (4) Durham, North Carolina and (5) Tullahoma, Tennessee. Seattle’s center, due to its long history and retail innovation, is surely the “grandaddy of the MALL”.