The 1920s and 1930s were crucial decades in laying the groundwork for the shopping center as a major force in retail development during the second half of the twentieth century. The concept of the shopping center as a fully integrated business enterprise became significantly more sophisticated and ambitious. Sizable complexes were initiated that included at least several dozen businesses purveying not only routine goods and services, but a variety of more specialized ones as well. Thus cast, the shopping center became more than a place of convenience; it formed a destination-a focus of activity and a physical landmark in the fast-growing suburban landscape. Despite their pivotal role, these large community shopping centers remained few in number during the initial decades of their development. The projects that were undertaken were experimental, and hence tentative in nature. They were also highly individualistic in appearance and other physical characteristics, reflecting the vision and the taste of the developers who created them. Many were integral parts of comprehensively planned residential communities and were conceived as much to control and contain commerce as to foster it. In such ways, this first generation of large shopping centers offer conspicuous contrast with their post-World War II offspring. Their influence on later work was nonetheless crucial, for they demonstrated the advantages of meticulous planning and management in the fiercely competitive area.
- Copyright 1997 The Society of Architectural Historians