Kenneth Burns wrote:I'm delighted by the remembrances of OG East Towne and West Towne and want to hear more.
Well, I'm already in Geezer mode so here goes:
I remember when Westgate and Hilldale were not malls but open air "Shopping Centers". Today folks would probably call those "Strip Malls", but Westgate and Hilldale were actually classier than that in their day.
In the 60s, Hilldale and its environs (and the neighboring office buildings) were the epitome of early 1960s suburban architecture. Westgate was built first (it opened in 1960) but Hilldale was a little more stylish (it opened in 1962). Westgate and Hilldale were the first shopping centers that enabled established Madison retail businesses to move beyond the Capitol Square. Longtime Square retailers like Manchester's, Penney's (which opened stores in Westgate), and The Hub and The Emporium (which opened stores in Hilldale) were the first to extend their operations to these new shopping centers.
People still shopped downtown, but the ease of (free) parking at the shopping centers did not go unnoticed.
In 1970, (coincidentally, at the same time that the anti-Vietnam War riots were scaring the over-30 crowd from traveling downtown) construction began on West Towne and East Towne. West Towne opened first (about 1970-71) and East Towne opened second (about 1972).
I had never heard the term "Mall" until one day in about 1971 when one of the kids in my East Side neighborhood told us about traveling to this amazing place called West Towne Mall. Eventually we made the journey ourselves, and yes it was a fabled land of "mod" early 70s fountains, indoor gardens (think rubber tree plants and giant ferns), sunken seating lounges (smoking allowed), and giant Hot Sam pretzels (garnished with huge salt crystals you could use on your driveway). About a year and a half later, a similar magical wonderland opened on the East Side.
I recall one early East Towne store was The Tie Rack. A friend's sister worked there, circa 1973. Much like the fictional Scotch Tape Store in a late 70s SNL skit (that sold only tape and nothing else), The Tie Rack sold only ties (not shirts, or belts, or cuff links, or even tie clips - no, just ties). Keep in mind, these were not kiosks (which did not exist in ET or WT at that time - such space was occupied by fountains and gardens and seating areas). No, a store like The Tie Rack occupied actual (small) store space. Another early store (at both WT and ET) was "Id", which was a hip clothing store for the under-30 crowd. It had the novel idea of having the store opening closed (a big white wall with the word "Id" written in a funky late-60s font reminiscent of the Laugh-In logo), with the entrance off to one side, kind of hidden by the wall.
As hoards of Madisonians flocked to these sheltered shopping meccas with free parking, retail on the square sharply declined. The sheltered aspect of the new malls did not go unnoticed by Hilldale and Westgate. Starting first with Hilldale (in about 1971) and later with Wesgate (in 1975), the old shopping centers began to enclose their open sidewalks with walls and windows.
Hilldale's first attempt in about 1971 was just that: A wall of window glass enclosing the sidewalk in front of the store fronts, forming an enclosed "mall". Throughout the 1970s, Hilldale expanded on that, and actually built out into the parking lot to add store fronts on the parking lot side of the former sidewalk. By the late 70s you really wouldn't have known that Hilldale had once been an open air shopping center with just one row of stores, with the exception of a couple of the old store fronts (like Wolff Kubly) that looked like exterior facades with the doors removed. In 1975, Westgate was completely remodeled and they enclosed the former sidewalk and built storefronts on the parking lot side right away. If you walk out of the back entrance of Westgate, one or two storefronts on the right still have their old exterior facades (complete with doors).