On July 20, 1915, the United States Steel Company opened the Lake View store in Morgan Park, MN.
The Lake View store with its indoor corridors and multiple stores was one of the first indoor shopping malls in the United States. Minnesota would later build the Southdale Center, the first post-war enclosed shopping mall and the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the United States and the most visited mall in the world. (Full disclosure: I may be biased having been born and raised in Minnesota.)
In the early 1900s, JP Morgan’s United States Steel Company decided to build a steel mill in Duluth MN to take advantage of the burgeoning iron ore mines of the Mesabi Range. U.S. Steel selected a site on the St Louis River about 10 miles southwest of downtown. Keeping with the trends of the time, U.S.Steel did not simply build a steel plant but an entire town called Morgan Park after its owner.
Morgan Park was considered a model company town that based its design on City Beautiful principles popular from 1890 to 1910. The principles called for cities designed with beauty and monumental grandeur that would create civic and moral virus in its citizens. Housing was planned and arranged in the town by employee status and income level with all houses made of concrete block. Morgan Park had its own schools, churches, fire and police forces, parks and a community clubhouse.
Central to the community was the Lake View store. Construction began in 1915 on the building that was to hold all the business establishments for the town. The building constructed of concrete blocks was 200 feet long, 100 feet wide and two-stories with a basement. The main floor housed a general store with groceries, butcher shop, clothing, hardware and furniture. The second floor contained a bank, barber, beauty salon, dentist office, billiard room and auditorium. In the basement was a shoe store and an ice making plant that produced 8 tons of ice a day for the store and community (the icebox era). All shops located inside the mall with access to a main corridor running along both floors. Hence, it is recognized as the first indoor shopping mall. This was quite handy with the harsh northern Minnesota winters.
U.S. Steel owned the building and the general store but the rest of the businesses were privately owned. Of some pride, the hardware store won an award for the best window display in the United States and 3rd in the world against 11,672 entries in Sept. of 1929, The display, created by the hardware store manager Walter Neipp, featured a camping scene with a cabin.
But soon, company towns were falling from favor. The store was eventual leased to new owners. After the drop in demand for steel with the ending of WWII, U.S. Steel sold all of its holdings in Morgan Park except the steel mill. The steel mill closed in 1971 followed by the coking facility in 1979. Morgan Town fell on hard times.
Approaching its centennial, Paul and Brandon Johnson purchased the store with hopes to return the Lake View store to its rightful place as the center of the community.