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Dayton’s first true shopping center was Miracle Lane, on Salem,, dating from 1946-47. It was torn down a few years ago.

But there was a quasi-shopping center older than Miracle Lane, and it still survives.

McCook Shopping Center on Keowee Street, at the edge of town in North Dayton, was probably the first true auto-oriented shopping center, but it developed in bits and pieces as sort of semi-planned commercial strip, but one with more than one lane of parking in front and buildings with low horizontal lines, so it was probably the first place in Dayton where one could experience “shopping center space” that was to become ubiquitous in postwar suburbia.

An interesting feature of this shopping district was that two major businesses were a bowling alley and a movie theatre,. A later tenant was Beermans Department Store (later to be Elder-Beerman), who had an early neighborhood store here.

McCook probably dates from around the time neighboring Parkside Homes was built., around 1939-41. The movie theatre opened in 1941, and probably the shopping center and bowling alley at around the same time, or just after the war.

The general location of the site in relation to the CBD and the “Old North Dayton” neighborhood, of which this was part of. The shopping center was part of a larger “redevelopment package” that included the housing project and a very early (for Dayton) industrial park

During WWI and the early to mid 1920s the site was McCook Field Army Air Corps research station. It was closed in 1927, military stuff torn down, and the land apparently lay vacant until the housing project and shopping center were developed at the end of the Depression.

A markup showing some modern features. Duncarrick, on the lower right of the pix, was an old estate that served to separate this area from the rest of the North Dayton neighborhood.

An aerial of wartime Parkside, Homes (incidentally showing some interesting site planning for that project) and vicinity. The shopping center is just at the edge of the pix

A close-up of the shopping center showing some salient features

The shopping center today (it is mostly abandoned), showing, first, that big bowling alley designed in a streamlined moderne style

Some details. This bowling alley played a roll in the most intense labor conflict in postwar Dayton history. It was the HQ for the UE picket line managers in the Univis Strike during the late 40s.

Univis was located just around the corner in the industrial park on Leo Street (the building is still there), and a UE local tried to organize them in the late 40s. The strike had over 1,000 –2,000 people on the picket lines and supporters, and the Ohio National Guard was called out to keep order.

So if you can imagine the Guard patrolling this area and thousands of people with picket signs marching around…..

McCook Theatre. For a good history of this theatre check out Craig Dalton’s McCook page from “When Dayton Went to the Movies”. The place apparently went porno in the 1970s.

Both the bowling alley and McCooks share a large vertical central feature on the façade, contrasting the with the horizontals elsewhere in the complex I like that little ticket booth window.

McCook looking north, with a large building at the corner, which may have been the Beerman department store? The curving corner is a nice little detail

Two more views of the same building, including the neat little entry detail, where the wall angles in from the fairly minimal sidewalk

The original stores. One of these has a rear entry, which we will see later. The funny thing about the parking here is that there is that front lot, but the developers are still unsure, and keep this lot somewhat small and the stores somewhat close to the street (compared to later shopping centers).

Then , on Helena street, there is this related building, which fronts right on the sidewalk, but has some nice entry details, both at the corner and on the façade. Again, parking to the rear and side

And a view of the rear parking lot and rear store entrance.

I am pretty sure this was a public entrance given how prominent this is on the back wall….

…and by the details too. The decorative block work and modernistic cone-shaped spotlights imply this was a public entrance. I recall rear store entrances like this from neighborhood shopping centers in Chicago of the same era, where there was a lot of parking to the rear. (also some views of the wide open parking lots to the back of the center)

Then, next to the bowling alley, is this little bank building. The way the sidewalk works makes me think there might have been another building here, or provisions were made for one.

Some analyses:

(the neat thing about this development is that the buildings also follow the street a bit, which curves,, so the bowling alley is at slight angle to the shopping center and theatre)

And a quick peak at the front lawn of the soon-to-be-demolished Parkside Homes…to be replaced by a big-box-retail shopping center . So one has the alpha and omega of retail; the earliest auto-shopping center in Dayton, replaced by state-of-the-art mass merchandising retail (I assume that when they tear down Parkside they will tear down McCook too).


Later early Dayton shopping centers

After McCook, and World War II, three other centers opened in the late 1940s. The aforementioned Miracle Lane, followed by Town and Country and Northtown where the oldest surviving true strip centers, built more or less at once, using a unified design concept.

Town and Country is particulary interesting as it is a near duplicate of one by the same name and developer in Columbus.

Now for a small early-mid 1950s strip center, which might have an early indication of the ‘mall concept”

The Page Manor story really starts with the Wherry Military Housing Act of 1949, named after the Nebraska senator who sponsored it. The intention was to promote the construction of housing in areas that had a large military presence and an acute housing shortage.

Wherry Housing was built by private contractors and was privately owned, but leased to the military for family housing. Wherry Housing developments could also include a mix of military and civilian housing.

Wherry Housing was also cheap and quick…the intent was to provide shelter, not do high-design.

Dayton had one large Wherry Housing development: Page Manor.

Page Manor was fairly large for Dayton, and may have been an early master-planned development given the way it was apparently zoned.

There was single family housing for civilians and multifamily “project”-style housing for the military. The development also had provisions for schools (by the local school board) and a shopping center (by the developer)

Site planning was actually pretty good for Page Manor. The military housing area faced busy Airway Road, but was buffered from it via a greenbelt or parkway. The shopping center interrupted the greenbelt at the intersection of Spinning and Airway (with Spinning being an access to the civilian housing area, too.

Some views of the frontage road and greenbelt along Airway

The shopping center was pretty typical for a strip center of its time, but has been modified. Similar to McCook, the complex also incorporated a movie theatre

As originally designed streets from the military housing area entered connected up with the shopping center. This was pretty different from places like Town and Country, where there is no direct access from the surrounding neighborhood into the shopping center

Page Manor cinema. A fairly clean and simple and un-modified example of mid-century modern.

The shopping center has been heavily modified by the construction of this brick arcade

But what makes this shopping center interesting is this little mid-block “mall” area, with landscaping. No real retail here, just a tavern and a doctors office.

This might be the first local example of a “mall” feature in a shopping center. It was later picked up in the much larger Hills and Dales shopping center of 1959, which was developed with shops on both sides of a central landscaped open space…..

…but had antecedents in shopping centers on the West Coast, which was the likely source for what we see in Dayton.

(both from City Center to Regional Mall, by Richard Longstreth, MIT Press, 1997.

The outdoor mall concept would locally culminate in Dayton’s largest shopping center of that time, Forest Park Plaza, of 1960.

….followed by the first local indoor mall, Salem Mall, of 1966.

Forest Park today, having lost its mall and also most of its tenants. This is another one of Dayton’s dead shopping centers.


Front Range expatriate
1,086 Posts
The Air Force base I used to call home in Cheyenne, WY tore down all their Wherry Housing in the late '90's because it was built so quickly and cheaply that it was literally falling apart, and was quite unsafe. I really didn't know that this type of housing existed elsewhere, so kudos on the post.
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