Southdale was not the first shopping mall. (To be historically accurate, we throw a few qualifiers after "first," like "fully enclosed" and 'climate-controlled.") However, it was perhaps the most influential, creating the archetype for the suburban regional shopping mall.
What's more, Southdale has (arguably) received the most national attention of any mall over the years, starting with its grand opening on Monday, Oct. 8, 1956.
The opening festivities were a "typical ribbon cutting, but mostly it was the excitement of the people, the excitement of the media, that came from all over the United States. Life was there; Time was there; New York Times; all major publications were there, as well as all the in-state newspapers, etc. We had coverage that you could not have even hoped for," recalled Marty Rud, Southdale's first public relations director, in an oral history interview for the Edina Historical Society.
Rud said that the mall opening was on the cover of Life magazine in an October issue. We don't have that issue in our collection, but we do have this one from Dec. 10, 1956, with a feature story on the new mall.
Life called Southdale "The Splashiest Shopping Center in the U.S."
"Birds, art and 10 acres of stores all fit under one Minnesota roof," the headline continued.
The birdcage, with real birds, graced the Garden Court along with sculptures by significant artists.
Southdale had a relatively small $60,000 promotions budget the first year, so Rud did what he could to "maximize free publicity."
Rud thrived on creating new events and promotions to generate media attention and new shoppers. "(W)hen Southdale was opened, there weren't any handbooks or rules and regulations that had been established so no one could tell, 'Marty, you’re doing it right or you’re doing it wrong.' I was really blessed with this because you had an opportunity to use your imagination, your ingenuity, without somebody always saying you can’t or you shouldn't do that.
"One of the big things I remember that was really fun was Bob Barker’s Truth or Consequences Show, with KSTP and the Minneapolis Aquatennial. Again, here was a show that we could never have afforded to do, but because the Aquatennial was anxious to come, KSTP was anxious to merchandise that program, we basically got it for nothing. Northwest flew them in; a hotel put them up. They were here for a week. We set up a regular television studio and did it every morning for a full week. That was a great thing."
From huge fashion shows to choir performances to traveling circuses, Rud tried "to make that thing hum every day. We did have ongoing promotions and it reached the point where people would call wanting to know what was scheduled so they could plan something for their guests coming in from out of town. When you build that kind of an image, people think that it’s a great thing to do."
Southdale is still getting national press. Historians and architects recently named Southdale as one of the "10 buildings that changed America." PBS will air a special by the same name sometime in 2013.
Were you there on opening day? Edina residents got the first look at Southdale on Oct. 5 and 6 before the official grand opening on Oct. 8. Were you a "mall rat"? Please share your memories here or email me.
Thanks to Bob Moore for donating this issue of Life magazine. If you have any magazines or newspapers, photos or mall maps of Southdale, we'd love to add them to our collection.
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