The mall built as part of Columbia, Md., turns 50

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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James Rouse's phenomenally successful master-planned community pegged the mall as a key ingredient.

The Mall in Columbia, built as the social centerpiece of James Rouse’s master-planned community of Columbia, Md., is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.

Just two of the 102 stores that opened at the mall in 1971—Edward Arthur Jewelers and GNC—are still in operation. (The original anchors were Hochschild Kohn’s and Woodward & Lothrop department stores, now both demised.)

Current top architect Frank Gehry was pegged to design the mall, but he was rejected by Rouse for lack of experience and the job was awarded to Cope, Linder & Walmsley. That did not affect the success of Columbia, however, which Rouse envisioned as a solution to urban blight in Depression-era D.C. while working for the Federal Housing Administration.

With nearly 100,000 residents, Columbia is the second-largest city in Maryland after Baltimore. The mall flourished as the community’s central marketplace over the years, and today houses 200 tenants led by AMC Theatres, Nordstrom, H&M, and Apple. Specialty retailers include J. Jill, Express, House of Hoops, J. Jill, Loft, and Lululemon. Its dining directory is headed by mall mainstays Cheesecake Factory and Seasons 52.

The Mall in Columbia’s current owner-operator, Brookfield Properties, has planned a month-long 50th anniversary celebration that will fill the walkways with jugglers, balloon twisters, stilt walkers, and bubble blowers.

On the 18th, a “Happy Birthday to The Mall in Columbia" event will showcase the Downtown Columbia Partnership and Columbia Association, and Under Armour and Pinnacle Fitness will hold a body blast and core workout. There will be a brief anniversary ceremony starting at 2 p.m. in the center court of the mall with a performance by Toby's Dinner Theatre.

On the evening of Sept. 15, the Columbia Festival of the Arts will present a free outdoor film screening of the 1971 version of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

"The Mall in Columbia started as the city's Main Street," Senior General Manager Barbara A. Nicklas told Patch. "Jim Rouse took great pride in the way the mall was used by the community."