Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Beerman Towns

Arthur Beerman was one of the most successful businessmen in Dayton during the postwar era, building business empires in retail and in real estate.

Beerman was not a native, having moved to Dayton from Pennsylvania in 1929, while in his early 20s. He started in retail, but also ventured into real estate, forming the predecessor to Beerman Realty in the depths of the Depression. By the postwar era Beerman was already a player, being part of the consortium that purchased the Arcade and eventually owning that complex outright. The Arcade was perhaps an influence on an early Beerman suburban shopping center. More on that later.

Beerman Towns.

Beerman was an early developer of shopping centers in Dayton. His first may have been the McCook Center, from the 1940s. This might have been the earliest, preceding Miracle Lane, the first true strip center in Dayton.

It’s certain that Beermans’ Main-Nottingham Center was one of the very first strip centers, joining Miracle Lane and Town and Country as the first three outlying strip centers as of 1950. Main-Nottingham was later renamed Northtown.

After Northtown came Easttown, out Linden Avenue just outside the city limits. Easttown was open around 1954-1955, as the surrounding area was undergoing mass suburbanization.

At the end of the decade Beerman moved again, developing Westtown, off West Third near Gettysburg around 1959-1960.

There was a Southtown, but that is another story as it’s related to the development of the Dayton Mall. These three “Beerman Towns” are good examples of the evolution of the shopping center during the early postwar era.

Dissecting Location Decisions.

Taking a closer look at locations one can see how savvy the site decisions were. Drawing a circle around each center and then looking at development patterns, one can see how nearly all of these were located at the edge of the platted area of the city.

This platted area, shaded in yellow, was mostly subdivided before the Great Depression, but was filling up with houses during the 1940s in response to the wartime and immediate postwar housing boom. So already a market; people from these older areas would be able to drive out to the new shopping centers rather than fight parking hassles downtown or in their small neighborhood shopping areas.

And the areas in white, undeveloped in 1950, would quickly be platted and go under development. The new shopping centers could intercept these new customers before they could head downtown for shopping (as well as providing neighborhood retail for the new plats).

The shopping centers were located on arterial roads leading out of the city (Main, Linden, West Third), which isn’t so unusual. What is sharp is that they were located near intersections with the major crosstown roads on the periphery of the city (Gettysburg, Siebenthaler, Smithville, and eventually Woodman Drive), so the trading areas of the centers could extend in all directions, tapping into the newly developing suburbia.

The Evolution of Shopping Center Form

Comparing the three Towns by using aerials and black plans one can see the evolution, perhaps, of shopping center form.

For buildings one can see how Northtown is somewhat smaller and tentative compared to Easttown and Westtown. And there seems to be two early “”big boxes” (perhaps a grocery store) next to the two center buildings. But Northtown does have a first draft of the “L” plan that one also sees in Westtown and Easttown.

However, one can see that Easttown is also sort of a "U" shape, too, with a building to the east closing forming the U. One doesn't see this at Westtown; perhaps this center was never completed?

Pavement diagrams shows how parking gets moved to the front of the site over time, as the strip center form is worked out. Northtown has substantial rear parking, Easttown not so much, and Westtown none at all. Yet in all cases there is a drive to the rear of the site (for parking in Easttown and Northtown, perhaps service access for Westtown), separating the buildings.

Putting it all together, one can see how Northtown really is a transitional form from something perhaps looking back to the taxpayer strips of the 1930s and proto-strip centers like McCook, as the front parking is less, and buildings are closer to the street.

With Easttown and Westtown the fully developed strip center form is evident. Most of the parking is in the front and the L form of the center is stronger. Buildings are more integrated vs. the two big boxes somewhat separate from the center that one sees in Northtown. One also sees outlying buildings either in front or to the side of the main buildings; early versions of out lot development common in later strip centers.

Coming soon, a closer look at the Beerman towns, starting with Northtown.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget Southtown shopping center by Dayton Mall, where Elder Beerman had its store, having been shut out of the mall by Rikes.

Bruce Kettelle said...

You whould also include Main St in Trotwood. He puchased much of both sides of the street. The south side was developed with an L shaped center anchored by a Beerman Outlet store and a large grocery (now Trotwood Foodtown) and a bowling alley on the north side (dmolished in the late 90's)but was not able to generate enough momentum to develop the adjacent parcels which still sit empty.

Bruce Kettelle said...

Beerman also purchased a few large parcels south of Trotwood's Olde Town around the corner of Olive Rd and Trotwood Blvd back when the nearby subdivisions started building out. Unfortunately the building spurt soon ended on that side of town in the 1960's and they have been sitting on that vacant land ever since.

I wonder if they have any undeveloped parcels in other communities.

Jefferey said...

I think I posted on the Trotwood development a year or two back, over at Urban Ohio..but not in the Beerman context.

Don't forget Southtown shopping center by Dayton Mall, where Elder Beerman had its store, having been shut out of the mall by Rikes.

Dayton Mall area development is another story. Beerman's interest there was more than their stand-alone department store.

Nana said...

Some corrections and additions: Westtown was constructed c.1956. The connector road behind it to Gettysburg was constructed in 1957. The Trotwood center was built c. 1960-61, and that Beerman store did not become an outlet until many years later. Originally it was a fully stocked, full service Beerman (later Elder-Beerman) store. It included a full-service auto center, as did the store at Northwest Plaza later on.

Lois Harris