NorthPark Center is more than 50 years old. In many ways NorthPark is a lot like its original clientele; it’s white, it’s been around forever, and it's had a few face-lifts in its time. After over a decade of existence, it stops being simply a shopping mall and starts becoming a puzzle piece in the history of Dallas.
Host to an estimated 26 million visitors annually, NorthPark Center has been the stage for changing trends in fashion, art and culturally what mattered to not just the upper crust of Dallas society but to average families that wanted to spend a day out. NorthPark changing with the times was crucial, considering that in a 1984 New York Times article, NorthPark mall is described as “not as fancy as the newer malls.” At the time those newer malls were the Galleria and the crater that is now Valley View Mall.
With all that history, there are probably more than a few facts you might not know about the mall. Read these, memorize them, and then pass them on to your friends, who will say, “I didn’t ask you anything about NorthPark. Please stop bothering me.”
The Grand Opening Made National News
When Raymond Nasher opened NorthPark Center on July 22, 1965, it was looked upon as the largest climate-controlled retail center in the world. The building itself was designed by the firm OMNIPLAN, with architect E.G. Hamilton taking on the role of lead design. The next year the building won the American Institute of Architects Design of the Decade Award. Apparently the building was so impressive in its design in 1966, everyone presumed the next four years would have nothing to offer.
While the structure remains almost exactly as it was all those years ago, a few things have left since then. From 1965 to 1976, teenage girls wearing uniforms and aprons walked around selling balloons to all the shoppers. These balloon girls were a brainchild of Nasher’s after “being inspired by a child carrying a balloon.” It’s a good thing Nasher didn’t see a small child with a dog on a leash, otherwise there would have been teenage girls walking in front of Nordstrom with roving packs of German Shepherds.
The Mysterious Handprints
While walking in NorthPark, you might have come across sets of handprints and footprints that look to belong to a family. “Where did these come from,” you’ve probably thought. “Is this some kind of Blair Witch thing, and the police don’t know about it?” First, no, you don’t need to tell the cops at NorthPark; they’re doing a fine job of checking their cellphones when they think no one’s looking. And second, they belong to the Nasher family.
The first set is in the SouthCourt (the area with those large, black silhouette guys hammering) from 1965 when Nasher matriarch Patsy and her three children, Andrea, Joanie and Nancy, put their handprints and footprints in the wet concrete with their initials underneath.
The second set commemorates the expansion that occured in 2006 under the direction of daughter Nancy Nasher, who bought NorthPark Mall from her father in 1995 with her husband David Haemisegger. In front of the Microsoft store you can find the handprints of a now adult Nancy, her three children Sarah, Isabelle and David, and her husband.
No Matter What They Say, Size Matters
The original shape of NorthPark mall was in an L, and based on the shops that were available at the time, it was not entirely inclusive of people who didn’t have multiple commas on their bank statement. In 2005 new co-owners David Haemisegger and Nancy Nasher looked to change that with their $250 million, 1.2 million-square-foot expansion. Finishing in 2006, the expansion closed the L into a square and added features such as the food court, that lured in a younger clientele.
For the expansion, Nasher and Haemisegger brought in OMNIPLAN, the company there for the design of the original, to oversee the project. The ideas was to keep the same visual aesthetic throughout the building, so that even the same style and color of brick could be reproduced for a seamless addition.
It’s An Art Museum That You Can Buy Waffle Fries In
NorthPark Center considers itself the only shopping museum in the world, and with good reason. The Nancy A. Nasher & David J. Haemisegger Art Collection is on display through the shopping center. The collection boasts more than 200 pieces from artists, such as Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist and Joel Shapiro to name a few. Traveling shows will display their work in the halls, so no matter how many times you visit, there’s a chance to see work from an emerging artist.
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The art collection is just one facet of the couple’s dedication to the arts, hosting fashion shows, performers and film festivals from the third floor-located AMC Theatre. It’s these attractions, events and displays that helped NorthPark earn the distinction as one of the “7 Retail Wonders of the Modern World” in Shopping Centers Today.
It Has Its Own Library
Yes, libraries still exist, and NorthPark has one specifically for the kiddos. Located across from Bread Winners Cafe, the library called Bookmarks is there for kids 12 and younger to check out books, movies and whatever else they offer in libraries now. Bookmarks is an annex of the Dallas Public Library System, so anyone with a library card is able to go in and grab a book for their children, making NorthPark one of the only malls that offers late fees.
For a mall largely absent from kid-oriented shops, Bookmarks offers games, storytime hours and computers with literacy programs for early ages. Since FAO Schwarz and the Warner Bros. stores closed in the early 2000s, Bookmarks and the Disney Store are much-needed distractions, that is, unless you can convince your child watching Mom try on clothes is a game.