Black Friday: The Life and Death of Florida’s Shopping Malls

For many Floridians, the day following Thanksgiving is something of an unofficial holiday–one marked by the custom of camping out in front of stores in search of the greatest deals on gifts for the holiday season. This Black Friday, we take a look at the history of a familiar, increasingly antiquated structure: the Florida shopping mall.

Interior view showing the atrium and escalators at Mayfair in the Grove Mall in Miami, ca. 1980.

Shopping centers are nothing new. The original “malls” were open-air markets, dating back to the Roman forum or the Greek agora. However, the American shopping mall as we know it today is a product of the rise of consumerism after WWII. The modern shopping mall was originally invented by Victor Gruen, an architect and refugee of Nazi-occupied Austria who came to the United States in 1938. Gruen conceived of the mall as a community center, in which people could socialize, walk, dine and shop just as they did in his home city of Vienna. Gruen is best-known for designing the Southdale Mall in Minnesota. Built in 1956, Southdale was the first fully air-conditioned, enclosed, two-story mall. The space centered around a square, complete with sculptures, greenery and water features. The unprecedented comfort and convenience at Southdale set the stage for the ensuing American shopping mall phenomenon.

Interior of the Winter Park Mall with a fountain, Winter Park, Florida, ca. 1959.

Gruen’s vision of building commercial utopias influenced other entrepreneurs of the era, such as the founder of Publix Supermarkets, Florida businessman George Jenkins. In 1947, Jenkins visited his first shopping center in St. Louis, and ultimately decided to pattern his stores based on this model. Jenkins opened his first shopping center in 1956 in Largo, and soon opened more locations in Sarasota and Winter Haven. The Southgate Center in Lakeland, built in 1957, boasted 16 stores, including a Woolworths, a hardware store, and a shoe store, all anchored by a Publix featuring Jenkins’ latest innovation, the in-store “Danish Bakery.” Equipped with ample parking, a plethora of stores and air conditioning, these shopping centers were the true predecessors to shopping malls in Florida.

Shopping center in St. Petersburg, 1958.

Shopping center in St. Petersburg, 1958.

The proliferation of shopping malls mirrored the rise of the automobile and the post-war white flight from urban centers to suburban neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Congress enacted the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, granting tax deductions to developers equal to one fortieth of the value of their development projects. This would account for the eventual depreciation of the value of the structure (that the developer, hypothetically, would have to re-build in an estimated forty years). These tax reforms were intended to stimulate manufacturing, but they also provided incentive for developers to build the largest, most opulent structures possible in order to deduct proportionally grand sums from their annual incomes. These tax reforms, coupled with the growing buying power of the white middle class, created a veritable gold rush for the construction of shopping malls.

Interior of the Colonial Plaza Mall, Orlando, Florida, 1966.

Malls hit the scene in Florida in the 1960s. The Winter Park Mall arrived in 1959, and featured a garden of tropical plants with a 25-foot champagne glass fountain at its center. Coral Ridge Plaza in Ft. Lauderdale and Colonial Plaza Mall in Orlando were soon to follow, both built in 1962. The Northwood Mall in Tallahassee, erected in September 1969, was the first mall built in the state capital, and offered a variety of clothing retailers, a luxury jeweler, a toy store, several restaurants, and a Publix.

Florida State Senator Mallory E. Horne, center left, with George Jenkins at opening ceremony of Publix at the Northwood Mall - Tallahassee, Florida

Florida State Senator Mallory E. Horne, center left, with George Jenkins at the opening ceremony of Publix at the Northwood Mall, Tallahassee, Florida, 1969.

Florida’s malls matched their national counterparts in size and grandeur, featuring indoor fountains, impressive sculptures, artificial gardens, gleaming chandeliers, and expansive parking lots.

Sculpture at storefront of Mendelson's at the Northwood Mall on opening day - Tallahassee, Florida

Sculpture in front of Mendelson’s at the Northwood Mall on opening day, Tallahassee, Florida, 1969.

Fountain at the Dadeland Mall in Miami.

Fountain at the Dadeland Mall in Miami, ca. 1970.

As malls became a fixture of American consumer culture, they gained a reputation as a place for young people to socialize. With limited spending power, and so often without an alternative place to congregate, teenagers flocked to the malls. There they could take a stroll, chat with friends, and engage in “people-watching”–unknowingly harkening back to Gruen’s original vision of the mall as a type of community center.


Youngsters “people-watching” at Governor’s Square Mall, Tallahassee, Florida, 1984.

Catering to this new wave of teenage patronage, youth-oriented businesses began to arise within the mallscape–including community college outreach centers, as well as national army recruitment centers.

Biscayne College outreach information center in the Palm Springs Mile mall - Hialeah, Florida

Biscayne College outreach information center in the Palm Springs Mile Mall, Hialeah, Florida, 1980.

People at the Miami Dade Community College outreach information center in the Palm Springs Mile mall, Hialeah, Florida.

People at the Miami Dade Community College outreach information center in the Palm Springs Mile Mall, Hialeah, Florida, 1980.

However, the place of the mall in Florida’s consumer society began to diminish by the 1990s. With the arrival of big box stores such as Walmart and Best Buy, as well as the rise of online shopping, malls saw a steep decrease in revenue, forcing many to close their doors forever. The Northwood Mall was later repurposed into an office building, while the Tallahassee, Governors Square, Aventura and many other malls across Florida have weathered the changing face of retail, remaining as palatial testaments to the post-war economic boom in America.

View of man posing with mannequins at Colony store in the Northwood Mall on opening day - Tallahassee, Florida

View of man posing with mannequins at Colony store in the Northwood Mall on opening day, Tallahassee, Florida, 1969.

Do you have a favorite mall in Florida? Were you a teenage “mall rat”? Share your memories with us in the comments section.

Finding Family on Florida Memory

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

With genealogy as the fastest growing hobby in America, many Floridians seek out resources at the State Archives of Florida to research their ancestors and connect with their past. In the process of digitizing photographs, documents and audio, Archives staff members sometimes make surprising discoveries–including insights into the lives of their own relatives.

Young circus acrobats practicing on a bicycle in Tallahassee. Terry Folmar, center.

Young circus acrobats practicing on a bicycle in Tallahassee. Terry Folmar, center.

Isabella Folmar, Florida Memory administrative assistant, was working as a scanner when she came across the above image of her grandfather Terry Folmar with fellow acrobats Margie Herold and Sandra Brooks.

“I was looking through the Tallahassee Democrat Collection on Florida Memory, and there he was. I remember once, when I lived with my grandparents as a little girl, my grandfather told me about being in the circus when he was a boy. But I had never seen any pictures,” said Folmar.

“This photo is really special to me. I remember sharing it with everyone in my family after I found it. My grandfather appreciated this little window into the past, and asked me to be on the lookout for more photos of his childhood,” she added.

Group of men in front of Moseley's Drug Store, Madison. Dr. Alonzo Lashbrook Blalock, third from left.

Group of men in front of Moseley’s Drug Store, Madison. Dr. Alonzo Lashbrook Blalock, third from left.

Similarly, Photographic Archivist Adam Watson discovered a photo of his great grandfather in a collection of photographs taken in Madison.

“My great grandfather was a doctor in Madison. I had never seen anything but formal portraits of him.  I had heard many stories about him from family and former patients.  I knew that he primarily made house calls but also had an office in the back of one of the drug stores downtown.  In this photo he is apparently hanging out in front of the drug store with his ‘buds.’ It was interesting to see an informal photo of him from head to toe,” said Watson.

“I was surprised at how small and kind of tough looking he was. It was easier now to imagine this man whom former patients told me could often be spotted in front of his house early in the morning,  asleep behind the reins of his carriage after a late night house call–his horse having found the way home.”

Children with Santa mailing letters to Santa from Tallahassee. Charlotte Pullen, top right, held by Santa.

Children mailing letters to Santa from Tallahassee. Charlotte Pullen is held by Santa.

Sound Archivist Ross Brand has uncovered a number of records of various family members in the State Archives, but two regarding his mother, Charlotte, were of particular sentimental value.

“The first thing I found after I started working in the Archives was a photo of my mom as a child mailing a letter to Santa.  In fact, most of her brothers and sisters are gathered around in the photo as well.  I don’t even think my mom had ever realized that it ran in the Democrat!”

Later, while digitizing Florida Folk Festival recordings, Brand found an even more charming record of his mother: “When I heard Thelma Boltin say my mom’s name, I couldn’t believe it.  My mom used to joke that she sang at the Folk Festival when she was in high school, but the fact that it somehow got captured on tape is incredibly serendipitous.”  This was the only recording of the Godby High School Folk Singers, and it just happened to be the year that Charlotte Pullen, as she was known then, was co-leader.  “Hearing not only her speaking voice, but her singing voice, too, was amazing,” Brand said, continuing that he “couldn’t wait to sneak her version of John Denver’s ‘Grandma’s Feather Bed’ onto a mix CD with all of her favorite folk music from the 1970s.”    

Archives are home to historically significant materials that often bear personal meaning to archives staff and the communities they serve. This October, make the most of Archives Month by investigating your family’s history using resources from the State Archives of Florida. Have you found a photograph of a loved one on Florida Memory? Let us know in the comments section!

Out of the blue!: The Ins-and-Outs of Cyanotype Printing

Back in April, a 1920s-era scrapbook of portraits of the Bridge family of Dade City was accessioned into the Archives. This scrapbook was unusual in two ways: first, it heavily features pets as the subjects of its photographs; second, nearly all of the prints are cyanotypes—prints created through an early photographic process, characterized by their brilliant Prussian blue hue.

Fred L. Bridge with his dog in Dade City.

Bridge family dog in Dade City.

The deep, cool tones of cyanotype photography are particularly refreshing to viewers coping with Florida’s summer heat. But, as it turns out, Florida’s summertime UV rays are ideal for the exposure of cyanotype prints! Inspired by the unique and beautiful prints preserved in the Bridge family scrapbook, we decided to research the history behind this unusual photographic process and even learned how to create our own cyanotypes.

A Brief History of Cyanotype Photography

English astronomer John Herschel first discovered the chemical process of cyanotype printing in 1842, when he coated paper with iron salts before exposing them to light to create an image. Herschel used the technique to copy his scientific notes through contact printing—laying objects onto sensitized paper to create an image. The process later became a popular method for copying architectural plans or “blueprints.” Additionally, botanist Anna Atkins applied this same process in creating photograms of algae. Released in 1843, Atkins’s British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, debuted as the first-ever publication illustrated with photographs. Atkins is also credited as being the first woman to create a photograph.

The cyanotype process was infrequently used until the 1880s, when photographers turned to cyanotype printing as a quick and inexpensive way to proof their negatives. Commercially available, pre-sensitized cyanotype sheets became available in 1872, and by the early 20th century were used to produce cyanotypes at home.

Though pre-sensitized cyanotype sheets are still commercially available today, we elected to mix the solution, sensitize the paper, and create a contact print using a large-format negative from the Archives. The method we chose is similar to how  photographers may have proofed their own negatives in 1870.

The Process

First, we selected a large-format black and white negative with simple, clean imagery, little detail, and with a good scale of dark, light and mid-tones, in the hopes that this negative would produce a clear cyanotype image. Given these parameters, we selected William Elsner’s 1934 photograph of a palm-lined road in Florida.

Palm-lined road in Florida by William Elsner.

Then, we set out on mixing the sensitizer, with a kit purchased online. The sensitizer is produced by mixing equal parts of two  solutions: Solution A (a mix of 100g ferric ammonium citrate with 500 ml water) and Solution B (40g potassium ferricyanide with 500ml water). The solutions are mixed in jars that have been covered in paper, to keep them out of the light.

Isabella mixes the sensitizer.

After mixing the solutions in the darkroom, we painted the resulting sensitizer onto watercolor paper, a heavier stock of paper that would stand up well to rinsing the prints later.

To protect the negative from the sensitized paper, we enclosed the negative in clear mylar–the same material used to protect many historical documents in the Archives. After the sensitized paper dried, we tacked the encapsulated negative onto the sensitized paper, and allowed the print to sit in direct sunlight for ten minutes.

Sunlight exposes the image onto the sensitized paper.

As the sunlight exposed the image onto the paper, the sensitized area of the paper turned from light yellow to a deep emerald green. Once the ten minute exposure time elapsed, we took the print inside for washing. After washing the print for five minutes in softly running water, the color transformed into the Prussian blue hue characteristic of cyanotype prints.

Jackie poses with freshly rinsed print.

Jackie poses with the freshly rinsed print.

The final print.

For more information about historic photographic processes, check out our exhibit, Daguerreotype to Digital, which covers the history of photography from 1839 to the present era. Are you a photographer? Let us know about your experiences with alternative photographic processes in the comments section!