Apache Plaza: Farewell to the ‘Center of
by Jeff Anderson
On December 30, 2003, a brief article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press
quietly announced that Apache Plaza in St Anthony, Minnesota would be
closing its doors in February 2004. The announcement signified
the sad ending of an era, a day that fans of the mall expected yet
hoped would never come.
Apache Plaza was not Minnesota’s first enclosed shopping center.
In 1956, Southdale in Edina, Minnesota, became the first
fully-enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center in the United
States. Nearby, St. Anthony Village (now known as the “City
of St. Anthony”) was rapidly evolving from fields of farmland into
miles of new rambler houses occupied by bright-eyed young
families. It only made sense that a bustling city such as
this be chosen as the location for Minnesota’s second enclosed shopping
center, Apache Plaza.
Ground broke on the exciting new venture on April 18, 1960, on land
that was formerly owned by hog farmer Ken Lee. The mall was the
creation of Apache Corp. and architect Willard Thorsen. Indoor
shopping of this magnitude was still revolutionary to the Minneapolis
area at the time. Early promotional materials from the mall
described the experience as “in effect, shopping in one huge store with
everything (you) need under one roof.” Original anchors JC
Penney, Woolworths, Montgomery Ward and GC Murphy were supplemented by
nearly 60 shops and stores, catering primarily to shopping needs and
whims of the contemporary housewife of the 1960s.
The plaza's central court, three stories high and larger than a
football field, measured in at a length of 350 feet. The court's roof
was gloriously marked by ten inverted hyperbolic paraboloids, measuring
65 by 71 feet and standing on single 28-inch square columns. In 1961
this construction was very “space-age” and is now historically
representative of the era. Mall promotions described the center court
as a year-around garden of exotic plants and flowers, pools, a
jet spray fountain, birds, sunken brick garden...kept perpetually sunny
by a glass clerestory which frames the ceiling. This
multi-colored glass clerestory was indeed spectacular, with alternating
bright red, yellow and blue squares. At night the windows
were lit from many directions, projecting splashes of color from every
angle. The center court floor similarly featured colored inlay,
and throughout the mall were red, blue, and yellow lockers where
shoppers could store their belongings as they shopped in sunshine
comfort. Simply put, this place was gorgeous.
The mall opened on Thursday, October 19, 1961, amidst much
fanfare. In a recent interview with apacheplaza.com, Mr.
Eugene Johnson, manager of one of the mall’s first stores, described
the Grand Opening as “the most exciting thing to happen in all of the
north metro area in many years. It was responded to by long lines of
people awaiting their first glimpse inside the mall. The ceremony was
hugely attended and included local media stars and dignitaries. There
were cars lined up for miles along Stinson and Silver Lake Road”.
Governor Elmer Anderson arrived by helicopter and ceremoniously raised
American, Minnesota, and Apache Plaza flags. For the years that
followed, Apache truly was the Center of the Community.”
Throughout the 60s and 70s, Apache was a bustling hub for the North
Twin Cities area. It was during this time that neighboring
shopping malls Brookdale, Northtown, and Rosedale held grand openings
of their own. These new malls were larger and flashier than
Apache, but by no means prettier in regards to design.
Regardless, some sources believe that the opening of these malls were
the true beginning of Apache’s misfortunes.
A string of bad luck for the mall began in 1979, when original anchor
store Montgomery Wards jumped ship, followed soon by fellow anchor G.C.
Murphy Co. Despite this shift in some of its major
retailers, however, life appeared rosy as ever for Apache. The
mall was even starting work on its first large scale renovations,
including an exterior overhaul, new indoor lighting, an upgraded court
fountain, and brand new center court floor tile.
Still the bad luck continued. On April 26, 1984 a tornado tore
into the South end of the mall, injuring many, and causing millions of
dollars worth of damages. Some speculate that the mall never
recovered from the setback caused by the tornado, as Apache remained
closed for several months before its grand re-opening on November 15,
The grand re-opening unveiled a much less colorful Apache.
Missing were the beautiful clerestory colored windows that rounded the
central court (which were destroyed in the tornado), as well as the
colorful matching floor inlay that accentuated the court
area. The mall’s new look reflected a era in which 60's
chic was no longer cool. In its place was a bland, generic look
that managed to strip the mall of much of its original
charm. Still, it was a striking indoor shopping space, and
with the opening of a new Herberger’s department store in 1987, things
seemed to be on the mend at Apache.
The mall remained at practically full occupancy until the beginning of
the 1990s, when Apache’s misfortunes began piling up at a rapid
rate. The mall, suffering from mismanagement and sorely in
need of repairs, was sold to a new owner. During this time F.W.
Woolworth Co. declared bankruptcy, and Apache’s JC Penney store closed
its doors after 32 years. Apache’s bowling alley, a steady
attraction since the mall’s opening, was boarded up in
1996. To make matters much worse, one third of Apache was
mercilessly demolished to make room for a new Cub Foods store, which
was not physically connected to the mall. Merchants and
customers fled from Apache in droves, and by the end of the decade the
City of St Anthony began actively exploring new alternatives for the
In the summer of 2003 came the inevitable announcement from the city
that Apache Plaza was being redeveloped into a new mixed housing and
retail space. The city’s plan to demolish Apache in
spring 2004 is a sadly tragic ending to a mall that began, like so many
other regional malls of the past 50 years, with so much
promise. Apache fans know that this was more than
just a mall, however. It was a community space as well as a
charming architectural beauty. For fans of recent architecture,
Apache Plaza’s demolition is further reminder of the recent history
that continues to slip away from us in the name of “progress.”