The story of Jacksonville’s Grande Boulevard Mall is one that can be described as a retail dream gone horribly wrong, yet the end result achieving the original vision of Victor Gruen, the architect of the first modern mall.
Southdale Center, the first modern mall in the world, Edina, Minnesota. (Courtesy of Bobak Ha'Eri at Wikipedia)
In 1956, Southdale Mall in Edina, MN opened its doors as the first enclosed modern shopping mall in the United States. Designed by architect and urbanist Victor David Gruen, the enclosed mall concept was intended serve as a centralized mixed-use epicenter of pedestrian scale activity for autocentric suburbia. While the shopping mall concept was a success, the retail only focus stimulated sprawl and sucked life out of central cities, leading to Gruen disavowing the concept altogether in the 1970s.
While Gruen refused to pay alimony to what he called bastard developments, Nathan Rosenfield had a vision for a bastardized development of his own in Jacksonville. During the mid-1970s, the dream for Grande Boulevard Mall originated in the mid-1970s with the then chief executive of Jacobson's department store, desiring to cash in on the maturation of the city’s Southside into a viable upscale suburban retail market. Founded in 1838 by Abram Jacobson in Reed City, MI, Jacobson's was a 25-store chain specializing in high-quality clothing, gifts and other merchandise. Unlike traditional mall-based department stores, Jacobson's preferred smaller shopping centers, where they could serve as the dominate anchor.
Photograph of Victor Gruen lighting his pipe. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Victor Gruen Papers, Collection #5809, Box 56. (Courtesy of the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center)
In 1982, two years after the death of Gruen, Clearwater-based National Capital Investments officially announced for the construction of a $16 million enclosed mall at the intersection of Baymeadows Road and Southside Boulevard. Situated adjacent to the affluent, up and coming Deerwood area, Jacobson’s and the developer felt the location would attract shoppers from St. Johns County, Orange Park, Mandarin and the Beaches that were used to flying to upscale centers in Dallas, New York and Atlanta for their consumer needs.
The Haskell Company, Grande Boulevard’s architect, designed the center to be unlike the typical enclosed regional shopping mall. According to Haskell’s Kennon G. Holmes, the mall would be very unique from an architectural perspective. "It's not going to be the size of a major mall - it will be 20 to 40 percent of an Orange Park Mall."
Grande Boulevard Mall's Jacobson's department store has been retrofited to contain a college bookstore, classrooms and labs, fitness center/gym,free speech zone, performance theatre, student life & engagement center, library and Learning Commons.
Instead, Grande Boulevard was designed as a two-story, 289,000-square foot structure featuring 65 retailers with glass-enclosed escalators wrapped around an 80,000-square foot Jacobson’s department store. Opening its doors on November 17, 1983, it was expected that retail sales would average between $225 and $250 per square foot in sales or twice the national average.
High end retailers like Michael Winston, Lyon's Pebbles, La Tierra, Deerwood Bootery and La Casa Ropa once occupied spaces inside this enclosed shopping mall wrapping Jacobson's department store.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro Jacksonville.com and ModernCities.com — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org