How Michigan’s Very First Shopping Mall Fell From Grace
This may be hard to believe, but Michigan was once home to the largest shopping mall in the world. Not only was Northland Center in Southfield the largest in the world when it opened, but it was also the first mall to open in the state. Sadly, like so many other pieces of Michigan history, Northland Center is no more.
To tell the story of Northland Center's demise, you must go back to its essential beginning. The mall, located in Southfield, opened on March 22, 1954. Designed by architect Victor Gruen and constructed for $25 million, it took two years to build. The mall was actually built by its first anchor store, J.L Hudson Company.
A first of its kind for Michigan, the mall was built on approximately 159 acres and had a massive parking lot with 8,344 spaces. The unique open aired mall also featured a bank, post office, and auditoriums. The mall grew to hold stores we all knew and loved for years including J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, and more as the years went on. Then it all came to an end.
Like many malls, Northland suffered the pinch of competition from other malls around the area. Other options meant fewer shoppers flocking to the once "only place" to shop. Soon, major tenants started leaving such as Target which opened in the center in 1996. The final blow came when Macy's, a buyout rebrand of Hudson's, closed its doors at Northland Center on May 22, 2015. The closure came, ironically, 61 years to the day Hudson's opened at the mall.
The mall also faced a series of ownership changes and financial hardships that all led to the inevitable. The mall officially closed on April 15, 2015. The city of Southfield purchased the property in October of that year with the agreement that the original Hudson's building be preserved. The city paid just $2.5 million for the property.
Breathing New Life Into Northland Center
As they say, oftentimes something new can rise out of the ashes. At least that's what the folks behind The Northland City Center project are hoping for. After the demolition that started in late 2021 was completed, plans were put in place to create something new and exciting on the site of the once-impressive mall.
On October 7, 2021, groundbreaking began on a new $403 million redevelopment that will have 1,546 new for-rent housing units. There will be ground floor retail space for shops and restaurants as well.
As for the building that started it all, the original J.L. Hudsons, it will find new life as Hudson City Market, a food and goods emporium.
You can follow the process as Northland Center comes alive again on its Facebook page.