When Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore opened in 1956, it was one of the first indoor shopping centers in the country and a marvel for consumers, who flocked to its stores from across the region. Anchored by two major department stores, Sears & Roebuck and Hochschild, Kohn & Co., it boasted two pharmacies, three shoe shops, a barbershop, a bakery, a hardware store and a florist among its 40 tenants.
In the years since, however, the fortunes of the Rouse Co. development on a former estate of Baltimore businessman Alexander Brown have gone up and down with the city's changing demographics and competition from trendier suburban malls. That's why the launch this week of a new Target store, following the opening last year of a Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, is an encouraging sign that Mondawmin's prospects may again be on the rise.
When Mondawmin debuted, Baltimore was a different city than it is today. The area around the mall was relatively undeveloped, with big patches of green space amid communities of neat, postwar tract homes. Most residents were white and Jewish, and the few African-American families in the neighborhood were solidly middle class.
But the neighborhood's stability didn't last. In the late 1950s and early '60s, real estate speculators exploited fears of integration, and the ethnic balance shifted from Jews to mostly middle-class blacks within a few years. By the 1980s, the black middle class had also begun its suburban migration, and the original department stores closed or followed their clients to malls outside the city.
Previous efforts to revitalize Mondawmin have met with mixed success, despite such anchors as a Motor Vehicle Administration office and a nearby Metro subway stop. The Shoppers and Target projects are the most promising private redevelopment efforts in years. Their success would go a long way toward helping the historic mall and the area around it thrive again.