Kalamazoo Mall featured on PBS special about streets that changed America

Kalamazoo Mall.PNG
Kalamazoo Mall featured on PBS special about streets that changed America.{ } (WWMT/Andrew Bisset)

UPDATE: The time for the show to air has been corrected to 8 p.m.


The Kalamazoo Mall will be one of 10 places in the nation featured as one of the streets that changed America in an upcoming PBS special.

Lynn Houghton, mall curator, said hundreds of cities followed Kalamazoo's lead after seeing the success it had with the mall and Kalamazoo was affectionately named Mall City USA after the success of the development.

The Kalamazoo Mall is still one of the most vibrant places in the city and still holds part of the vision Austrian developer Victor Gruen had for the space when it first opened in 1959, a place for people to shop, eat, socialize and do business.

But there is history on the Kalamazoo Mall that Houghton said some people know very little about.

“There really isn't a lot of physical information on the mall that talks about the background and why it started and how it evolved into what evolved into right now," Houghton said.

PBS is recognizing that history in a special about the 10 streets that changed America series and Houghton, who will be featured in the program, talks about how four blocks of the city's downtown streets were turned into a mall. The first of a kind in the nation.

“When you look at the kinds of other areas that they are focusing on, whether it be Fifth Avenue in New York or Woodward Avenue in Detroit, the nine other streets are really impressive that changed America and here's Kalamazoo," Houghton said.

Gruen had plans of building the mall with parking surrounding it, including space for a helicopter pad. Houghton said Gruen presented the ideas to city leaders and after the success of the Kalamazoo Mall, about 200 cities adopted the concept.

“The chance that they took, I think, paid off in creating and giving us a nucleus and giving us like a little seed that helped eventually make the downtown successful," Houghton said.

The Kalamazoo Mall has since changed from the original development, but the roots and history remain. Something Houghton hopes people will appreciate.

“Not only a sense of pride, but also a sense of context," she said. "So that when they see that mall again they will not look at it the same way again.”

Some of the other cities featured in the segment include Boston, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

The episode of 10 Streets That Changed America airs at 8 p.m. July 10, 2018, on PBS.