Ohio's First Enclosed Shopping Mall
Seven years after Victor Gruen's visionary Southdale appeared outside Minneapolis, consigning many an American downtown to a generation of retail decline, Severance Center opened in Cleveland Heights in 1963 as the first fully enclosed regional mall in Ohio. The shopping center's namesake, Cleveland industrialist and philanthropist John L. Severance (who also was responsible for Severance Hall in University Circle), once lived at Longwood, the 125-acre estate that became the mall site. Two other Severance family estates were located near Longwood, both situated across Mayfield Road. Ben Brae, the estate of Julia Severance Millikin, was located near the northeast corner of Mayfield and Taylor Roads, and Glen Allen, the estate of Elisabeth Severance Allen Prentiss, sat to the east of Ben Brae.
After John Severance died in 1936, his nephew Severance Millikin inherited Longwood and lived on the estate until 1959. By the early 1950s, Millikin was making plans to redevelop Longwood, and he hired Cleveland's Austin Company to plan a future use for the property, leading to the recommendation for a regional shopping center. Austin Company ended up acquiring the land and brought in a Seattle-based development firm as a partner on the project. While the decision to build a large mall on the previously undeveloped land caused some controversy, the city eventually gave its assent to the plan. The mansion at Longwood was torn down in 1961 and a groundbreaking ceremony for the mall was held during the winter of 1962.
Severance Center opened for business in October 1963. The mall's original anchors were Cleveland-based department stores Halle's and Higbee's. Other tenants at the new mall included Fisher Foods, Woolworth's, Richman Brothers, Peck and Peck, and a branch of Society National Bank. At first, the mall was extremely successful. As newer malls opened across Greater Cleveland, however, Severance faced stiff competition. Halle's closed in 1982, prompting a renewed push to upgrade the mall into a full-fledged "town center." New anchor stores were brought in, a new food court opened, and, most significantly, in 1986 the Cleveland Heights City Hall relocated to the northwest corner of the Severance property. By the 1990s, however, the mall was simply unable to compete in its existing form, and much of the original mall was torn down. The current outdoor shopping center, anchored by "big box" stores, reflects the response to continually changing patterns in retailing.