A few years ago I acquired a collection of photographs taken by Martin Schaeffer, a Toronto photographer, of fashions being modeled at the newly opened Yorkdale mall. So I was delighted to recently discover an interesting article about the history of Yorkdale Shopping Centre, especially because it was 48 years ago this week, on February 26, 1964, that Yorkdale had its grand opening.
Yorkdale was briefly the largest indoor shopping mall in the world. With Simpsons on the west end and Eaton’s on the east, shoppers could stroll the indoor street-scape between the two anchoring department stores, where it was never too hot or cold, and it never rained or snowed. In 1964 the enclosed shopping mall was still a new concept, although there were plenty of strip plazas located on the perimeters of suburbia – otherwise suburbanites still tended to shop downtown.
The plan for the Yorkdale Shopping Centre was announced in 1958, to be located on Dufferin street near where Metro Toronto would soon be locating several expressway interchanges on and off a newly expanded highway 401. The postwar world was an automobile culture, and a mall adjacent to a highway with ample parking was a good thing.
The architect for the mall and Eaton’s store was John Graham, a Yale educated Seattle architect who had already been involved with building over 70 malls in the world; John B. Parkin Associates was hired to design the Simpsons store.
The interior space was bright and airy with wide aisles, high ceilings and natural light pouring in from windows above the storefronts. There were large plazas at the Simpsons and Eaton’s interior entrances with dramatic columns, vaulted ceilings, indoor trees, impressive modernist sculptures, and second floor restaurants with views onto fountains and reflecting pools. This was where the fashion shows, car shows, and events took place over the years. Unfortunately, in a redevelopment of the mall in 2005, most of these elegant features were removed, and turned into retail space.
Although the exteriors of the Eaton’s and Simpson’s stores had architectural interest, architectural criticism was generally unkind, and I can’t say I was overly fond of the mall myself, but when they started altering the original interior features it was then that I realized I would miss its ‘Mad Men’ mid-century modernism.
Addendum November 22/2012: Yorkdale announced its full reopening after several years of updates – view the new look here