I am just old enough to remember an annual trek in the early 1950s to Hudson’s Department Store in downtown Detroit, buying clothes for school and the Jewish Holidays. Maybe we would go into another store, but I only remember Hudson’s. Arriving at the store, we always took the elevator, greeting the gentleman operator with an excited smile, to the top (8th floor, if memory serves me well) for the full experience. Coming down one floor at a time on the escalator, we stepped off at each level to inspect the store’s offerings, increasingly interesting as we got closer to ground level. Lunch or dinner after shopping was at our favorite deli on the corner of Seven Mile and Livernois, before heading for home in Bay City. That was a long day with a two-hour drive at each end, plus having the energy to shop with purpose at our destination.
In the late-1950s we gradually shifted the entire experience from downtown Detroit to the newly developing suburb of Southfield. We still shopped mostly at Hudson’s, but now treated ourselves to lunch and sweets at Sander’s, bringing home their fabulous Almond Tea Ring for another day. Throughout the early 1960s, until starting college in the fall of 1965, our family repeated this annual ritual.
In the heart of Southfield, our destination was the new Northland Shopping Center. In spite of confusion about these names, we found the Northland Center convenient and a bit closer to, so a shorter drive from, Bay City. It still offered what we wanted in our beloved Hudson’s, and it just seemed so easy to drive right up to any one of the mall entrances. There always seemed to be some kind of circus-like festive atmosphere in the spaces between the buildings, and we delighted in the charming sculptures. We were very non-judgmental, though, and accepted this new type of shopping in stride. I do not remember where my father and brother settled, but my mother and I had a grand time.
Never living in the Detroit area, I did not retain a loyalty to this or to any other shopping destination, and gradually forgot about Northland and Sanders and the two-hour drive.
Historic postcard, Kim Silarski Collection
Northland Center, south side, double level, main entrance. Photo by Ilene R Tyler.
Then, in the spring of 2015, it was announced that the old Northland Center had been shuttered for the last time, and that developers were looking for new ways to redevelop the site. This would mean demolition of the original Victor Gruen structures and clearing the site of the original parking lot surrounding it. In order to document the site before its demise, volunteers from the docomomo-US|Michigan chapter offered to prepare a statement of significance and existing conditions that contributes to the archive of information on the site and raises awareness for discussion of the site’s importance and its legacy. This document is attached for reference and for circulation.
Northland Center: Statement of Significance & Existing Conditions (PDF)