South Florida

Two malls, Dadeland and Sawgrass Mills, opened years apart — and changed Florida

Dadeland shopping center in October 1962.
Dadeland shopping center in October 1962.

When it opened on October 1, 1962, on Kendall Drive off U.S. 1, Dadeland was dubbed ‘deadland’ because North Kendall Drive, which passes in front of it, was branded “The Road to Nowhere.”

Built as an open-air strip center, Dadeland started up at 400,000 square feet with 62 merchants, including Burdines as its only anchor. But Miami-Dade’s explosive population growth along with the construction of thousands of affordable units of tract housing, the opening of the Palmetto Expressway, the expansion of Kendall Drive into a four-lane highway and the appearance of important community institutions, like Baptist Hospital, radically transformed ”horse country” into a flourishing community. Dadeland became a thriving retail outlet. By the end of the 1960s, a rapidly expanding Dadeland was enclosed and converted to a mall.

By the 1970s, Kendall had become Miami-Dade’s fastest growing community, with this trend accelerating in the 1980s. In the ’90s, Dadeland Mall was the busiest shopping mall in the continental United States.

Meanwhile, Sawgrass Mills opened in October 1990, and continues to evolve. It remains one of the largest malls in the country.

Outlets for higher-end shops have opened, as well as a long-awaited parking garage. The Wannado City theme park shut down several years ago, but let’s face it, the whole center is a theme park. Call it Mega Shopping World.

Here is at the first days and years of Dadeland and Sawgrass Mills from the Miami Herald archives.

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Shoppers invade Dadeland Mall the day after christmas looking for bargains. Pedro Portal EL Nuevo Herald File/2000

LOOKING BACK AT DADELAND

Published Oct. 29, 1987

There is no way to put a value on such proof of faithfulness as this.

“I was here when Dadeland first opened,” says Philis Edelman. “At Jordan Marsh, before Jordan Marsh was there, they had a traffic school for kids. We rode tricycles around these things and learned about safety. It’s one of my first memories.”

Now 25 years later, although the giant rearing seahorse sculpture that once functioned as landmark and centerpiece here has departed, along with Tiny Town, Closets Beautiful, Pin Cushion, House of Melody, Vic Tanny and the Yum Yum Shop, Dadeland loyalist Philis Edelman remains, a reassuring constant in the whirling evolution of this place.

On this overcast weekday morning, Edelman, now 30, is here with her own 4-year-old daughter, Leah; her friend, Allison Teisch of North Miami Beach, and Teisch’s 4-year-old, Danielle, all of them on the prowl for enticement and diversion.

Here at Dadeland, it is possible to have one’s shoes reheeled, one’s hearing and vision tested, one’s hair cut, one’s nails polished, one’s ears pierced, one’s makeup revamped, one’s vacation planned, one’s car washed, one’s spare tire repaired, one’s loan application scrutinized, one’s watch fixed or one’s portrait painted.

This is the sort of place where a person can walk in with both hands empty and then out again clutching a certificate for a free spinal check; a $3.50 chocolate golf ball; a $3.95 Ollie North coloring book; a pair of $22 Budweiser-label sneakers; a $40 Willie Mays-autographed baseball; a $149 costumed bear speaker phone with eyes that blink and a mouth that moves in synchronization with the caller’s voice; or a $1,999 shar-pei puppy that wiggles everywhere.

When Dadeland opened on Oct. 1, 1962, it was ballyhooed as the most glorious suburban shopping center in the South. Even today, it remains one of the five or so most profitable centers in the country, generating sales of about $400 a square foot. With its 7.1 acres of land, 9,000 employees, 1.47 million square feet, 175 stores and 8,000 parking spaces, it handily holds its own against such lately hatched competition as Cutler Ridge Mall (1.3 million square feet; 103 stores), Miami International Mall (1.3 million square feet; 175 stores) and Aventura (1.5 million square feet; 196 stores).

If Dadeland pales miserably when compared to that monstrous pretension, West Edmonton Mall in Canada, which boasts 5 million square feet, 836 stores, 15,000 employees, 30,000 parking spaces and an artificial lake with an underwater ride that deploys twice as many submarines as the Canadian navy, well, that is that. It pales.

“I was here yesterday, too,” says Jill Brener, pushing her 4-month-daughter, Jessica, down Dadeland’s western main drag between Jordan Marsh and Burdines.

With Brener are Carol Wechsler, steering 3-month-old Michael, and Shelly Mitchell, pushing 3-month-old Shannon.

Even on a weekday, three mothers with baby carriages comprise a formidable flotilla in a place such as this. These women met a few weeks ago at a coping-with-motherhood course, and after class they routinely come here to chat over lunch at the food court (“If the babies make noise, it doesn’t matter,” says Wechsler). “Then we go to the Burdines baby department,” says Mitchell. Some days there may be as many as eight new mothers in their after-class lunch group, because there are some things these women have to learn on their own.

“You learn never to take the price tags off anything,” says Wechsler.

“There’s always something that doesn’t fit,” says Brener, “so you have to come back the next day and exchange it.”

People who shop at Dadeland as often as these three women do not come here under the delusion that this is the biggest or the oldest or the most convenient mall in South Florida. Mitchell, who lives at the western end of Kendall, drives right past Town and Country Mall and keeps going until she gets here. There is only one reason for such behavior on her part: This is where she wants to be.

“This is just the greatest mall,” says Jeri Volpe, with her two sons and a nephew in tow. “I’m closer to The Falls, but I would rather come here.”

“Tenant mix,” explains general manager Mel Mendelsohn. “You come in here, and you can buy something for $2, or you can buy something for $150,000. We’re a shopping center for everybody. Everybody can come in here and buy something.”

There are no preconceptions, molds or formulas for a place like Dadeland. There are only boasts and superlatives.

Burdines’ present three-story Dadeland store is by itself as large as the whole mall used to be. Its wide main first-floor aisle, a maelstrom on weekends, stretches 391 feet from one end to the other. It is longer than a football field, and on peak shopping days one must feint, dodge and attempt the occasional end run to make any progress against the press, in the process hurling one’s body past Swatch watches, fragrances, men’s shoes, designer handbags and a hot dog stand. This store ranks No. 1 in volume among Burdines’ 27 stores and No. 1 in profits for Federated Department Stores, its parent chain.

“You can imagine,” says Candy Martin, Burdines’ vice president and general manager for Dadeland, “that any vendor would want his merchandise to be right on that aisle.”

Not only that. Almost a third of the center’s original 60 stores are still in business. The W.C. Fields statuary whackiness of The Barefoot Mailman may be a lamented thing of the past here these days, but Gray Drugs is still around, and so are Pampered Lady, Lerner’s, Arango, Mayor’s Jewelers and Baker’s Shoes. In January, the center will begin a $10-million expansion expected to plump things up with 20 new stores and 100,000 additional square feet of floor space. The large wishing fountain near the food court has netted more than $28,000 in small change for the Burn Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The center’s surrounding neighborhood is now home to approximately 50 businesses and services whose names begin with the word Dadeland: from Dadeland Abortion Center to Dadeland Word-o-Matics with Dadeland Mobil Home Park, Dadeland Rare Coins, Dadeland Bank, Dadeland Sandwich Shop and the Dadeland Marriott Hotel floating around in between.

On this 25th anniversary, it is best not to try to find a reason for Dadeland’s continued existence and growth. Dadeland is, because it is. It works, because it works.

Back in the early ‘60s, when they were putting up the first of these shops, using 1,200 workers and 20,000 sheets of plans, the armchair skeptics had a fine time chortling about the fools who were bent on shelling out $4.5 million to build a center so far out in the sticks merchants would have to kidnap people to get them to shop here.

Nine miles from downtown Miami, this was the far suburbs. Some of the people who lived around here did not even have water and electricity. Kendall Drive was the road to nowhere. Dade County already had one regional shopping center at 163rd Street and another, Northside, at Northwest 79th Street and 27th Avenue. Who needed this, this lonely outpost of a place called Dadeland? Deadland was more like it. Dudland.

“There was nothing here,” says David Dolinger, owner of Tiki, one of the center’s original stores. “There weren’t even any customers here. The only thing out this far was Shorty’s Bar-B-Q.”

Mel Mendelsohn was a flier in the Air Force when the mall was going up.

“I used to fly into Homestead,” he says. “My dad would pick me up, and we would drive up U.S. 1, and I would say, ‘You’re kidding. Building a shopping center this far out in the Everglades? Ridiculous.’ Little did people know what was going to happen.”

The signs were there, though, and some people were smart enough to read them.

“I think now, frankly, even in our earliest planning, we identified that location as a prime spot for a shopping center,” says Dade County Planning Director Reginald Walters, who has been with the department since 1959 and is himself a Dadeland shopper.

“Whenever you have a confluence of an expressway (the Palmetto) and two major highways (U.S. 1 and Kendall Drive), you have a setting in which really major activity will occur. If it hadn’t been Dadeland, it would have been another shopping center by another name.”

Today’s typical Dadeland shopper tends to be a woman between the ages of 18 and 34 with at least some college education and an income that ranges between $15,000 and $24,999.

In the early afternoon of a cool January day in 1976, someone who might have been one of those typical customers strolled into Dadeland’s Lane Bryant store. Store manager Helen Pearl noticed her immediately. She was about 20 years old, had long hair and an admirable figure. She was also completely nude.

“Everyone was shocked,” Pearl later reported. “We couldn’t believe it. The girl acted perfectly normal, so everyone thought it was an initiation or a dare.” Pearl recovered her composure sufficiently to suggest that perhaps her store did not carry anything in the young woman’s size.

“I’m just looking,” she said pleasantly. Then she strolled away in the direction of shop called Just Pants.

DADELAND FACTS

Opened: Oct. 1, 1962, with 60 stores and a single anchor, Burdines. Jordan Marsh followed in 1965, and JC Penney came along in ‘70. Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor were completed as part of a 193,000-square-foot expansion in ‘83 and ‘84.

Built: The first phase was erected during 14 months on land once owned by aluminum kingpin Arthur Vining Davis. Originally unenclosed, it was designed to be constructed of maintenance-free materials. The original roof decking was large enough to cover eight football fields.

Site of: In 1967, a display of life-size model dinosaurs, including a remarkable five-ton brontosaurus. In 1968, an exhibit called The Guggenhead Collection of Awfully Modern Art, which included such supposed works as Pablo Pistachio’s Nude With Clothes On. In July 1979, the most violent outburst to that time in South Florida’s drug wars occurred when killers in an armored “war wagon” stormed into a Dadeland liquor store, shot two customers dead, wounded two employees and then escaped.

Silver anniversary celebration: An 11-day birthday bash begins today and will include cooking demonstrations, fashion modeling, face painting, harp music, puppet shows, magic shows, clowns, mimes, balloons and bubbly.

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A billboard for Sawgrass Mills Miami Herald File

LOOKING BACK AT SAWGRASS MILLS

Published Oct. 5, 1990

At Sawgrass Mills, you can park next to a blue dolphin or a yellow toucan, then promenade down a grand allee of palmetto trees to go to shop.

The “food court” in this, the world’s newest and largest discount shopping mall, simulates a hurricane, with kiosks tilting over precariously and umbrellas whooshing away. It is engaging and clever.

Whimsy reigns at Sawgrass Mills, but its architecture is not at all trivial. For its size — and at 2.2 million square feet, with a mile of corridors, this is an immense place — there is a particular attention to the scale and rhythm of the shopping experience.

Most shopping malls rely on marketing formulas that stultify the shopping experience and diminish our fun. Sawgrass Mills is playful and even a little zany, so that amid all those bargain outlet stores, there’s a sense of adventure.

Ultimately, there will be more than 200 stores, big and small, linked along metal-roofed corridors. The corridors are called “Main Streets,” but the experience isn’t in any way a substitute for a real old-fashioned town. It is much more like a parade -- except that here, the spectators are moving and the pageantry is stationary.

And there’s plenty of it: Oversized sea horses, beach towels, binoculars, high-heeled shoes — among many other spoofy two-dimensional objects — hang down from high ceilings. The center’s logo is a hungry sawtoothed alligator, visual pun upon verbal pun.

he architects, Arquitectonica International of Coral Gables, paid particular attention to the texture and the tempo of the shopping experience. There’s lots of color and movement, a play of bright and filter light.

Corridors lined with shops bear distinct local architectural themes: Modern, Mediterranean, Art Deco and Caribbean.

he shopfronts are not fully authentic renditions of these architectural styles but fanciful adaptations. They are slightly smaller than the mall norm to give them full facades -- turrets, parapets, eaves and all. Green-painted palm fronds form a backdrop behind these little streetscapes. Some facades step out; others are set back.

From a distance, Sawgrass Mills looks almost extraterrestrial, an immense and alien form landed in the barren suburban Broward landscape. It is located out where little else is — at Sunrise Boulevard and Flamingo Road, just before Sunrise terminates at the Sawgrass Expressway. Mall, landscaping and parking — to get away from the psychological impact of all that asphalt, cars will park in “fields” rather than lots — cover 170.5 acres. Just to give an idea of its dimensions, that is just about half the size of all of downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The logistics in a place of this magnitude are astounding. The mall’s builder, Western Development of Washington, fully understood the importance of orientation to its shoppers.

Graphics — by Fuller, Dyal and Stamper of Austin, Texas, and Washington — and landscaping by the SWA Group of Deerfield Beach go hand in hand with the architecture to tie all this together.

Each parking lot has its own special symbol (besides the blue dolphin and the yellow toucan, there are red snappers, pink flamingos, green toads and white sea horses) and is planted with a different tree species. Each entrance is strikingly different — bold geometric statements, ranging from a cube of bright blue fishnet to a grid of hot pink stucco pierced at various angles by huge gray cylinders.

Inside, there are large information booths and lots of directories. But ultimately, the architecture is distinctive enough that Sawgrass Mills is easy to understand. In most malls, there’s little difference in the design from one corridor to another. Here, each space is memorable.

The Mediterranean Main Street links the Cabana Court with the Video Court, which in turn, is connected to the Rotunda Court by the Art Deco Main Street. The Rotunda Court leads to the Caribbean Main Street, which passes by the Hurricane Food Court on the way to the New Ideas Court. (Still to be completed are the Modern Main Street, the Sports Food Court and the Entertainment Court, which will open next month. Construction on the mall’s vast recreational arcade, called the 49th Street Galleria, has not begun.)

The “courts” — basically interior plazas — are the focus of much of the architectural invention here; each has a different shape, a different roofline -- pyramid, rotunda, vault. Arquitectonica excels at this kind of spirited, sculptural modernism, and the courts are a fine showcase for their abilities.

The Video Court not only has two 16-screen Pioneer multi- image televisions high against a bright blue wall but also two dramatic windows — a full-circle “sun” and a half-circle “moon” set high in a coral-colored wall. The Cabana Court has a tensile white tent roof and washed-wood walls that look like they might have been built by a modernist Robinson Crusoe.

The lagoon at the Cabana Court features animated alligators and talking toucans, pelicans and flamingos -- just a little sideshow. Indeed, there is a certain debt to Disney throughout Sawgrass Mills -- well-learned lessons about the way people perceive space and move through it.

True, Sawgrass Mills is not so far-fetched as the time-warp worlds at Magic Kingdom, but the intent is different. At Disney, the ersatz world is the commodity that people are buying.

The achievement of Sawgrass Mills is that it takes what would otherwise be an arduous, monotonous experience and by design makes it fun. There’s nothing innately uplifting about buying a pair of Lee Jeans or Reeboks at half-price; it is up to the architecture to fulfill our real needs.

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Early morning shoppers line up outside the Sawgrass Mills Target store waiting for it to open. Miami Herald File

SAWGRASS MILLS STORES

A partial list of the 107 discount/offprice and factory outlet stores at the Sawgrass Mills:

Ann Taylor Clearance Center

The Athlete’s Foot Outlet

Bag & Baggage Outlet

Barbizon Lingerie Outlet

Baron’s Outlet

Bed, Bath & Beyond

Bentley’s Luggage Outlet

Brandsmart USA

Bugle Boy Factory Outlet

Chico’s Outlet

Claire’s Boutique Outlet

Fashion Children’s Shoe Outlet

5-7-9 Outlet

Guess

Helen’s Handbags

Joan & David Shoe Outlet

J.G. Hook

Kidsmart Clearance Center

Lillie Rubin Outlet

Maidenform Factory Outlet

Marshalls Superstore

9 West Outlet

Payless Shoe Source

Perfumania

Phar-Mor

Ritz Camera Outlet

Sears Outlet

Secaucus Handbag

Spec’s

Sports Authority

Sun Shades 501

Swim ‘N Sport Outlet

Top Of The Line Fragrances

Toy Liquidators

Van Heusen Factory Outlet

Waccamaw

VF Factory Outlet

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