They did this to stimulate the manufacturing industry, which had slowed a bit since World War II, in order to construct new factories with new technology.
This law applied to all new construction, though, not just factories, and commercial real estate investors used it to make fat profits from new retail construction.
There were even similarly “modern” enclosed shopping malls predating Southdale, like the Westminster Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island, which opened in 1828, and even the modern Valley Fair Mall, which opened in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1954.
Gruen, like many other retail developers, also took advantage of a tax loophole in a recently enacted federal law.
In 1954, Congress passed a bill accelerating the tax depreciation process for new construction.
Furthermore, it was built by an eccentric, energetic visionary, Victor Gruen, whose socialist ideals for retail development were infiltrated, bastardized (Gruen’s word! Congress, though, who in 1954 passed a bill to stimulate manufacturing in America; instead, it unwittingly created the retail building boom and hastened a cultural change in the built environment as we know it.
) and changed by American capitalism, giving us the frenetic retail landscape we know today. Before 1956, there were certainly shopping centers, plazas, and arcades dating back to the dawn of humans.
Gruen saw pieces of his Vienna in American downtowns, which had the critical mass necessary for his model but were beginning to die and lose out to suburban developments, so he knew he had to act fast.
Also, Gruen felt he could improve on downtowns by building his own in the suburbs, and perfecting the mistakes that were made.
Then, in the early 1950s, Gruen turned his sights to the American suburbs and designed his first large-scale suburban-style shopping center near Detroit for J. All the retail strips that popped up weren’t pedestrian friendly and didn’t encouage people to stay at all; instead, people drove their cars up and down the street to patronize individual businesses, using the ample seas of parking in and around every building, all the while not interacting with each other as they ran in and out, to and from their cars.
Gruen bemoaned this, and wished he could create a prototype community where he still had the control of building a suburban shopping mall but also with a real sense of community infused.
The way Gruen saw it, downtowns were organic developments, and, over time, they developed mistakes that could not be easily controlled by a planner – the extant built environment built its own pattern, and you couldn’t just put a large parking structure wherever you wanted, or place like businesses in adjacency like you could in an environment you built yourself.