WMU local history expert to appear on popular PBS series

Contact: Paula M. Davis
Headshot, Lynn Houghton.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A Western Michigan University local history expert and a history-making location in Kalamazoo are featured in an episode of the popular PBS series "10 That Changed America," airing nationwide from 8 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 10, Eastern time. (Check local PBS listings and times.)

For the series installment titled "10 Streets That Changed America," PBS tapped Lynn Houghton of WMU's Archives and Regional History Collections for her knowledge about the Kalamazoo Mall, the first downtown pedestrian mall in America.

Houghton says producers were interested in the uniqueness of the mall, which was originally developed in 1959 as a shopping district on a two-block stretch of Burdick Street closed to vehicle traffic.

"They were interested primarily in the reasons why the decision was made by government and business leaders to do something that had never been done in the United States previously. We not only discussed this but also how the mall has changed," she says.

Tuesday's program, which also features Woodward Avenue in Detroit, is described as an exploration of "how streets have connected the nation, divided communities, and changed the way Americans live, work, and shop."

An old photo of the Kalamazoo Mall when it was closed to vehicles.

Old photo of the Kalamazoo Mall when it was closed to vehicles

The Kalamazoo Mall was created almost 60 years ago to lure more residents to the city's central business district. Houghton says that along with the mall's historical importance, another notable factor is the designer behind it, the late nationally and internationally known architect and designer Victor Gruen.

Gruen is known for designing many malls, including Northland Mall in Southfield, which opened in 1954, and Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota, which opened in 1956 and is considered the first enclosed mall. Houghton says Gruen strongly believed that "what you could do for suburbs, you also could do for downtowns."

Houghton is the curator for the Regional History Collections in WMU's Archives and Regional History Collections, located in the Zhang Legacy Collections Center on Oakland Drive and Howard Street in Kalamazoo. The collections support the research and teaching mission of the University and the needs of historical and genealogical researchers. While the materials have local origins, many of the collections have broader themes and historical significance beyond the southwest Michigan region.

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