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The year was 1965: the Oscar for Best Picture went to The Sound of Music; the U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which made it illegal to suppress the votes of minority voters and some of the top television shows were the Andy Griffith Show, Hogan's Heroes and Batman. This was the year that Raymond D. Nasher, a noted real estate developer from Boston decided to create a big, beautiful retail shopping complex in Dallas. Mr. Nasher, a collector of 20th century sculpture, was among the first developers in the U.S. to place fine art in retail complexes, in the belief that art enhances intellectual and aesthetic curiosity and the overall experience of any environment. He wanted his retail complexes to be aesthetically pleasing and a home to art as well as to shops.

The result was the magnificent Northpark Center, Dallas' first covered shopping mall, situated at the intersection of Northwest Highway and I-75, Central Expressway. With its proximity to the high-income Park Cities and the singles-oriented Village, Northpark has always been the home of some of the city's fanciest shops. High-end clothing shops and fine jewelry stores as well as other high-profile retailers: Neiman Marcus, the Museum Store, Lord and Taylor, Brentano's Books, Brookstone and Brooks Brothers have all been tenants at Northpark. Of course, there have also been stores targeted at somewhat less rarified tastes, right alongside the more expensive places–Woolworths, Oshman's Sporting Goods, Foley's and the Gap have also graced Northpark's spacious halls. A trip to the Center shows me that there seem to be less of the latter sort of stores these days and more high-end establishments.

True to Mr. Nasher's dream, the complex is an aesthetic experience. Gigantic spaces full of natural light are stocked with flowers, plants, sculpture, displays and art–Northpark is its own art gallery. There are several fountains and other water sculptures, including one with ducks and turtles (if memory serves, they used to have a small aviary with loads of birds). A friend who once worked at Northpark tells me that the fountains offered wonderful respite for a break or lunch hour. The outside of the mall is likewise carefully landscaped.

The center owns a large number of pieces of art, including works by Barry Flanagan, Antony Gormley, Marino Marini, Henry Moore, Beverly Pepper, George Segal and Andy Warhol. Jonathan Borofsky's kinetic sculptures entitled Hammering Men are absolutely worth checking out, as is Frank Stella's huge, mixed media aluminum piece in the fountain court.

At one time, Northpark had one of the finest cinemas in the Dallas area. The Northpark General Cinema theatre had two auditoriums with gargantuan screens and state-of-the-art sound systems. Numerous studio sneak previews and film premieres took place at that theatre and rumor has it that George Lucas once said that it was his favorite place to show his films.

My best friend and I went to many studio sneak previews at Northpark Theatre, but no experience was so memorable as the showing of a strange film entitled Blade Runner. The version we saw had several moments in it that have never cropped back up in any of the numerous re-cuts of that wonderful film.* A tall, scruffy, sort of geeky fellow with sunglasses (inside the theatre) and a baseball cap came and sat directly in front of us. We were pretty amused by this character, especially as he never took off the shades, even during the movie. Days later, we learned that the tall geek with the 5-o'clock shadow was none other than Harrison Ford.

This particular Dallasite spent many happy hours (and many dollars) at the Northpark I Theatre. Another Northpark Theatre, the II, was added across the freeway from the mall. Both theatres have since been removed, much to the sadness of many Dallas residents.

Dining at Northpark Center tends toward the pricy. In the past, the center had restaurants running the gamut from El Fenix Mexican and Kip's Big Boy to the exquisite (and regrettably long-gone) creperie The Magic Pan. More recently, the dining, like the shopping, tends to be tonier. The food court (if it can be so termed) is a row of nice tables between wrought iron fencing all set near La Madeleine French Bakery and Cafe.

During the Christmas season, the already-spectacular mall is decorated in a particularly festive fashion. Specially-made decorations (including a Santa Claus and sleigh made entirely of nuts and candy) and holiday-themed art is placed everywhere, along with tinsel, stars and other ornaments, always carefully displayed. Northpark's live acoustics are ideal for holiday shows and concerts, puppet shows and chorale recitals, staged in the many big open spaces that the Center has to offer.

Northpark Center is a Dallas landmark and a part of the economic, as well as the cultural life of Dallas. It has won architectural and design awards around the globe and been an inspiration for other developers as well. The Dallas Business Journal has honored Northpark as 'Dallas/Fort Worth's most popular metroplex attraction' annually since 1998. Despite competition from the Dallas Galleria and other high-end shopping malls, Northpark continues as one of the most exquisite retail complexes around.

* What are we up to now? Director's Super-deluxe cut? Second Assistant Director's Cut? Gaffer's Cut? I love them all, but really guys, how many times do you re-do one film?

References: their site at northparkcenter.com
Bio of Mr. Nasher from his alma mater, Duke University at: http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/news/alumni_0904.html
Business in the arts awards, http://www.bcainc.org/includes/awards_articles.asp?id=46
Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau online: http://www.dallascvb.com/visitors/listing.details.php?id=251
That and a walk through the lovely mall with notepad in hand.

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