After reading our story about the Market Square Family Fair, a reader commented that Elle Decor reported Kansas City's Country Club Plaza was the first shopping center. We wanted to set the record straight, given that Market Square's status is a source of pride in Lake Forest. So we took this query to Arthur H. Miller, archivist and librarian for Special Collections at the Donnelley and Lee Library/LIT at Lake Forest College. He found proof that Market Square was completed in 1916, several years prior to the debut of Country Club Plaza.
By Arthur H. Miller
Lake Forest College's Special Collections holds the papers and early plans of Market Square, a gift from Griffith Grant & Lackie Realtors, and discovered in 1998 or 1999 by Shirley M. Paddock and Gordon Lackie. The college library has about 2,000 leaves of correspondence and meeting minutes and plans for three versions, 1912 (Town Market), 1914, and 1915. These plans, etc., are shown too in "Lake Forest: Estates, People and Culture" by Arthur H. Miller and Shirley M. Paddock (Arcadia Press, 2000). In addition, the college library, in its Special Collections, has Susan Dart's files that were compiled while she was working on her 1984 book, "Market Square," and including copies of the final plans and an extensive photo file.
When east Lake Forest's estate areas were designated a National Register District in 1976, Market Square was included. In 1981 "The Anglo American Suburb", ed. Robert A.M. Stern (St. Martin's, 1981), p. 23, discusses Lake Forest as an early railroad suburb, and discusses and shows Market Square, saying that it "anticipates the modern shopping centre..." (the book is printed in the UK). Urban historian Michael Ebner also discussed the history of Market Square in his 1988 published "Creating Chicago's North Shore..." (U. of Chicago Press), and first reported the existence of an early, 1912 plan called Town Market.
Early photo of Lake Forest's Market Square, courtesy of Arthur H. Miller
In 1997 architectural historian Richard Longstreth published his book "City Center to Regional Mall..." (MIT Press) which is essentially a history of California malls. In his study, Longstreth, who a few years later was president of the Society of Architectural Historians, headquarters in Chicago, cited Lake Forest as (1) the first town center planned around motor vehicles and (2) the first City Beautiful planned town center to be supported commercially rather than by civic buildings (city halls, libraries, etc.). Market Square went through three plans from 1912 to 1915, the final one being in 1915 with the long park going west, creating a 300% expansion of the Western Avenue front footage and making the plan commercially viable: all the stores could be seen from the train platform as riders left the train from the city. Thus it could compete with downtown food, clothing, etc., stores. Longstreth also cites an 1899 Roland Park, Baltimore, little shopping development at a train station, but without the motor vehicle element, a defining characteristic of the later malls.
This innovative approach was the work of a team of developers (Arthur Aldis, Chicago, and John Griffith, Lake Forest), contractors (especially James O. Heyworth), architects (Howard Van Doren Shaw and especially his associate Robert Work), and investors/patrons (Cyrus McCormick, J.V. Farwell, Jr., David B. Jones, etc.). Planner Edward H. Bennett, by then a son-in-law of David B. Jones and the co-author with Daniel H. Burnham of the 1909 Plan of Chicago, also consulted.
The reason Lake Forest had to redevelop its downtown was due to its unique planning history. In 1857 the Lake Forest plan by Almerin Hotchkiss, all east of the tracks, had as its town center what today is the Lake Forest College campus.... no businesses. All the businesses by the later 1860s were lined up on "Western" Avenue, west of the town. By the 1890s, architect Henry Ives Cobb began building estates on Green Bay Road south of Deerpath: his own 1890-93, later Onwentsia; William Henry Smith 1894 (Pembroke drive); and David B. Jones 1895 north to Deerpath. Cobb's place became the Onwentsia club operationally in the summer of 1896, and that brought much more traffic to Lake Forest by train from the city, with people having to see the ramshackle downtown. By 1912 this was intolerable, as the annual June Onwentsia horse shows drew over 10,000 people. Something had to be done to redevelop the town center facing the new 1900 station, the obsolete business district by that time sandwiched in between the original estates east of the tracks and the new ones to the west of Green Bay Road looking west to the sunset over the Skokie River.
Market Square, completed in 1916, was published in articles in 1917, etc., and widely noted. But World War I (1917-18) intervened, and then this was followed by a depression from 1919 to 1923 or 1924, so that only then did follow-up development on this Market Square concept emerge. The Griffith Grant & Lackie archive files show correspondence with Mizener when he was planning such a development at Palm Beach in the 1920s, for example. And Longstreth shows the move in this direction in California, based on the Market Square precedent.
So the designation of first shopping center rests on research by an established academic, Richard Longstreth, whose book on the subject of mall history was published by MIT, Boston.