Looking Back: Northland Center celebrates six decades

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published April 2, 2014

Photo courtesy of Ken Siver, city historian

Last month, Northland Center celebrated its 60th anniversary. Before Northland Center officially opened March 22, 1954, Southfield Township lacked stores that sold clothing, shoes, books, toys, records and jewelry.  Suddenly, Southfield boasted all of these and more in quantity, adjoining the world’s largest branch department store, the JL Hudson Co.

Hudson’s, which began construction of the 80-store shopping center in 1952, selected the site for Northland because of its location near major roads and the area’s growing, migrating population.  The company’s demographic studies had shown that the area the new $12 million center was to serve had experienced a 200 percent increase in population between 1940 and 1950, and would continue to see substantial growth.

Hudson’s retained Austrian-born architect Victor Gruen, of Victor Gruen & Associates of Los Angeles, to design the center. Gruen’s vision was to re-create an urban core in a suburban setting — a community center that would “consolidate suburban living.”  He pushed automobiles, traffic and parking to the perimeter of the shops and placed trucks for deliveries and services underground. The heating and cooling plant and maintenance buildings were placed away from the mall. For the interior of the shopping center, he created pedestrian-friendly spaces that contained art, gardens, comfortable seating and a variety of services surrounding, or anchored by, the large department store. 

The center offered “one-stop” shopping for virtually everything and was an instant success.  Hudson’s is reported to have grossed $88 million in sales the first year. The intersection of Northwestern Highway and Eight Mile Road became the most traveled in Michigan, having an immense impact on Southfield and adjoining communities.

The original Northland has been expanded several times and became an enclosed mall in 1974.

Do you own a piece of Southfield or Lathrup Village history? Send us your historically significant photos from around town, and we may be able to feature them in an upcoming edition of Looking Back. Email your photos and information to Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or call (586) 279-1108.