Marking A Golden Era
NorthPark Center is celebrating its 50th year as a local landmark in August, but its beginnings create a storied past.
It all began with co-owner Nancy Nasher’s mother, who was a Dallas native. She met Nasher’s father in Boston, and the couple returned to the bride’s hometown with lofty goals.
“He taught himself the real-estate business,” Nasher said of her father, Raymond. “They saw this 95-acre cotton field, which was part of the Caruth homestead and owned by the Hillcrest Foundation.”
The initial plan was to purchase the land outright. When that didn’t work, they settled on a 99-year ground lease. The couple and their team of developers had three years to plan, design, and finance the shopping center. At the time, all major retail in Dallas was downtown. This was to be the first enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center of its sort in Texas.
“They saw this land and they took a risk,” she said.
1965 NorthPark celebrates its grand opening with 100 stores
1970 It wins design of the decade from the American Institute of Architects, Dallas
1974 NorthPark expands, adding 300,000 square feet
1985 It celebrates 20 years with an installation of over 20 works from Raymond and Patsy Nasher’s collection
2005-06 NorthPark completes its largest expansion with a new wing, new stores, 1.4 acre garden, AMC theater, and food court
2014 Plan to rotate major art throughout mall kicks off
Though the husband and wife were full partners, it was Nasher’s father who convinced Stanley Marcus to open his first satellite store at NorthPark — the first Neiman Marcus apart from the downtown flagship. It became one of three department stores to anchor the center along with 100 inline stores.
They pulled together a team of experts: E.G. Hamilton to design the mall, Larry Halprin to design the landscape, and Henry Beck to build it, just to name a few.
“[My father] wanted to put together who he thought were the best and brightest in the country,” Nasher said.
What resulted was a center that emphasized aesthetics and nature. The mall grew into its reputation for art and wildlife over a period of decades — the ducks in front of Williams-Sonoma, for example, have been there since day one.
“The birds have been there from the beginning. The turtles have been there for over 20 years,” Nasher said. “These are turtles that people people bring to us to be rehabilitated and then we take them to the Texas Wildlife Conservancy.”
And then there’s the art. The Nasher family began incorporating sculpture in the 1970s, but before then, the Marcus brothers added sculpture to the Neiman’s garden to honor their mother.
“NorthPark is a sequence of aesthetic experiences from a garden to a fountain to a main street of stores,” Nasher said.
To celebrate this, NorthPark will launch a charitable initiative on Aug. 19, the actual anniversary, and then celebrate publicly on Aug. 22. That day will include a back-to-school fashion show, model search, and opening of the “Art Meets Fashion” exhibit with the University of North Texas fashion department.
In October, the center will host fashion shows with Harper’s Bazaar, a Concert in the Garden with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and launch Art Rocks, which will feature local artists. The celebrations will hit a high note with a gala partnered with Neiman Marcus.
“We have a lot going on,” NorthPark spokesperson Kristen Gibbins said. “We like talking about how the story of NorthPark has evolved over the years and has turned into one of the top five shopping centers in the country.”