By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
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By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
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"I worked on numerous main streets," says Harold Sternberg, the regional manager of Lanson's, a men's clothing store with old-world feel. "Hempstead, Long Island; White Plains, New York; other places. In Hempstead our address was number one Main Street. This was 40 years ago. That area, like other main streets, has gone by the wayside. They're dead."
Specifically, the old downtown business district of Hempstead was bled dry by Roosevelt Field, a giant mall built on the airstrip from which Charles Lindbergh launched the first transatlantic airplane flight. (Roosevelt Field went up the same year as Victor Gruen's invention in Edina, Minnesota, but began as an open mall; like Dadeland, it was also enclosed in 1967.) Sternberg, then a salesman for Genesco Shoe Co., at first couldn't figure out what was happening to the stores where he worked. Much of post-World War II retailing was based on the belief that car-crazy Americans wanted strip shopping centers or single-store complexes next to highways -- places that offered merchandise as close as possible to the automobile driver's seat. The mall exploded conventional wisdom by showing that people actually longed to get out of their cars and walk around -- provided they could somehow take heating and air conditioning with them. "It was a new experience for all of us," Sternberg recalls. "And the big draw, of course, was climate control."
Sternberg continued working for Genesco for a time, but eventually wound up in Miami in the early Seventies, at the mall. And like thousands of other young couples who couldn't afford a house nearer Miami, he and his wife settled into Kendall. "From 107th Avenue west it was a dirt road," he recalls. "They called it the Road to Nowhere. There were plenty of skeptics who said it was insane to buy a house out here, let alone build a mall. But on the other hand, you could see what was happening to the area. We bought a house in a development called Winston Park for $35,000, and we had to sleep out overnight to get it. We were all young families who came from other parts of the country, and we had been raised in the suburbs. We made more and more money, we bettered ourselves, to the point where if you go to the churches and temples around here now you can see it's a very affluent area. And Dadeland, from the beginning, was synonymous with this area -- it was the downtown of Kendall, a new kind of main street."
Several generations of the same family sometimes find themselves at Dadeland at the same time. A gnomish gentleman who was born in Spain in the year 1900 sits each Monday morning on a bench at one end of the west mall, squinting at the stock exchange listings in a newspaper. On both sides of the oldster, a steady stream of walkers sweeps past, part of a mall walking program sponsored by Dadeland and Doctors' Hospital. The walkers, mostly South Dade retirees, swarm through the common areas of the mall three mornings per week for 50 minutes, then do cool-down exercises and have their blood pressure tested by a nurse. "There's my son," says the old man, pointing out one of the slackers. "He is 72. He comes here with his daughter -- my granddaughter. We'll see her in a little. I don't walk, I just look at the papers. I have 30 stocks! Can you believe it?"
Like other malls across the U.S., Dadeland, with its meditative fountains and benches and its recessed toddler pits, is one of the last places old and young folks naturally encounter and observe one another. And for years it has been an institution that has taken on civic enterprises commonly associated with local government. A cello, flute, and piano ensemble plays classical works from nineteenth-century composers in the food court. Kendall's Baptist Hospital last year opened a health shop here, offering Lamaze and CPR courses, and miniclasses in nutrition.
Next month the mall will host the opening of nearby SW 85th Street -- and then adopt it as part of a new Dade roads program in which private enterprise takes over the maintenance of public thoroughfares. Also in October the mall will throw its second annual black-tie gala, with proceeds going to Miami Dade Community College for support of the school's "Dadeland Scholars." Since December 1984, workers with long-handled squeegees and a lot of patience have scooped more than five million pennies out of Dadeland fountains. The loot goes to the Jackson Memorial Hospital Burn Center. As part of its not-so-subtle, in-house quit-smoking policy, Dadeland's trashcan-ashtray podiums are placed a frustrating ten feet from its benches and fountains.
While South Florida's consumer mother ship grows increasingly into an out-of-towners' destination, it also has solidified its role and reputation as a community center for residents south of Flagler Street. One of the most surprising figures in the mall's most recent market study is the fact that the average nonforeign Dadeland shopper has lived in the Greater Miami area for fifteen years, an eternity in terms of the area's endemic population transience.