vintage views of a mod mall
What’s more American than a shopping mall? Not much. So claass HAUS is taking a look at the rise and fall of an early shopping center on today’s post.
I recently came across a series of period photographs documenting Cortez Plaza, an early shopping mall in Bradenton, Florida (said to be the first regional shopping center in the Tampa Bay area). Taken by legendary photography studio, Gottscho-Schleisner, the set of photographs, commissioned shortly after the complex's completion in 1959, reveals the pristine modern aesthetic of the swooping mod mall.
Developed by New York-based Eastern Shopping Centers with Walter S. Hardin Realty of Bradenton, Cortez Plaza opened to the public after seven months of construction on a large 23-acre tract. Local architect Edward Wyke, who attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina and the University of Florida, designed the retail center with help from famed mall designer and urban planner Lathrop Douglass. A symbol of America’s postwar economic prowess, the single-level complex housed 185,000 square feet of retail space. The mall's most notable feature- an open air promenade shaded by a series of concrete hyperbolic paraboloids- echoes the popular design aesthetic of the era, all swoop and swagger, optimism and opportunity. At a time when more and more of America's landscape was devoted to buying and selling, Cortez Plaza (and the many malls like it) appealed to the new American consumer by adopting a marketable version of modernism that relied on nonreferential streamlined forms and cool sweeping details.
Throughout the 1960s, Cortez Plaza continued to grow with three freestanding outparcels added to the original 1959 footprint. But just as quickly as the car-driven shopping center emerged on the suburban landscape, the development of the enclosed mall during the 1970s began to overshadow the open-air retail complex. In 1973, Bradenton's new enclosed mall, the nearby DeSoto Square, opened to the public, drawing shoppers away from the decade-old Cortez Plaza. In an effort to regain lost business, renovations were undertaken to rebrand the older shopping center as a modern “marketplace.” But as tastes changed so did the architecture, and during the 1980s, the mod facade of Cortez Plaza was (sadly) removed, replaced with Spanish Revival-style bell towers and stucco walls. Lasting only a few decades, the original portions of Cortez Plaza eventually met the wrecking ball to make room for a new shopping venue. And the cycle continued.
Have a great week and stayed tuned for a new midMOD monday.
This set of photographs is part of the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection available at the Library of Congress. Photographer Samuel Gottscho (along with his son-in-law William Schleisner) specialized in architecture and landscape photography and produced a large volume of work published in high-profile publications, including Architectural Record, House Beautiful, and The New York Times.
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