Caption: "For years, downtown storekeepers in the nation's cities have been standing morosely watching all the ladies go by - to the suburban shopping centers. It is the city's biggest dilemma in the age of the automobile: the stores have the goods, but where does the shopper park? After a few more years of this, says Planner-Architect Victor Gruen, the cities of America are going to be like doughnuts - all the dough on the outside, and a hole in the middle.
To Victor Gruen, 58, a lively Vienna-born leprechaun, solving the problems of the deteriorating downtown has become something of an obsession. The automobile, he says, is downtown's most virulent enemy.
Last week Gruen got his chance to show the country what a determined city can do. Unveiled in Rochester, N.Y. (pop. 316,000), was his Midtown Plaza, a seven-acre, $30 million shopping center smack in the middle of town. Built without federal financial aid, Midtown is a self-contained complex made up by closing off a whole street, and shortening others and using the space to create a system of arcades and malls. Gruen has covered the sunlit mall with a handsomely structured louvered ceiling and has air-conditioned the whole area. Surrounding this central area are about 50 shops, a half-dozen restaurants, an 18-floor office building topped by a three-story, 78-room hotel.
Two of the key buildings are wholly renovated department stores, McCurdy's and Forman's. It was Gilbert J. C. McCurdy and Maurice R. Forman who brought Gruen and his project to Rochester. Together, McCurdy and Forman put up the bulk of the cost to build Midtown.
Gruen was off and running. The city was persuaded to spend $10 million to close off Cortland Street, enlarge another on the plaza's perimeter and to provide extra parking facilities. To get commercial traffic out of the way, he built a delivery tunnel beneath the stores. Alongside the tunnel, but burrowing three stories below, he built a 2,000-car garage, provided escalators to whisk the motorist to the plaza level. In the spacious, columned malls and arcades he put gardens and sculptures. To add a town-square touch, he designed sidewalk cafes, planted trees, and put benches beneath them for the tired shopper or any idler who wanted to stop for a gossip.
As a centerpiece he ordered a big central clock (Meet me under the clock) that contains puppetry: every half-hour, shoppers see a little "show" keyed to the folkways of a different nation. Midtown's overall effect, says one entranced lady shopper, "is that it's glamorous. You can get all gussied up and have lunch downtown and make a real shopping spree out of it."
From an article in TIME Magazine, dated April 20, 1962. Use the link www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,873...
Search TIME Magazine archives at www.time.com/time/ for "Victor Gruen - Donut". There are a dozen articles about the migration of retail shopping from the center city to the ring of suburbs.