Sunday, January 20, 2008

Stop & Shop's Showstopper

One of the great buzz-phrases of the 1960’s was “urban renewal”. If the term were coined today, one might think it meant restoring historic buildings for modern-day uses. Unfortunately, the phrase at the time essentially meant tearing blocks of vintage buildings down and building new stuff in their place. Thousands of wonderful old buildings all across America fell to this process from late 50’s through the early 70’s.

Occasionally some new gems arose, however, and the above-pictured Central Plaza of Lowell, Massachusetts, which opened in December 1961, is a fantastic example of this. Recognized as the “first completed commercial redevelopment project in the country” by the federal Urban Renewal Administration and widely acclaimed for its striking modern architecture, the project was spearheaded by Stop & Shop and its fellow Massachusetts corporate neighbor, Natick-based Zayre.

The photo above was taken shortly after the shopping center’s opening, and shows a nice view of the surrounding area as well. The triple-peaked store to the right of the Stop & Shop is the Zayre store, and if you click on the enlargement, the “Zayre” name will become a bit more visible below the left-most peak. The shopping center still exists, but both original anchors are long gone (Zayre, of course, is long gone in the broad sense as well), and an assortment of smaller stores have taken their place.


  1. The modern architecture is a sharp contrast to the old mill town of Lowell surrounding the center. It must have been seen as a sign of progress for a New England shoe and textile mill town to have landed such a swanky example of post war optimism. Unfortunately, it appears the condition of the center has deteriorated but it still evokes mid-century modern and deserves better maintenance.

  2. Great observations, and I completely agree. It sure is a shame that it's not better maintained, given its status as the "first commercial redevelopment". If you look up the address on Windows Live Local (50 Church St) and pan around, the original diamond patterns on the sides of the bldg are clearly visible, so they must be of brick or masonry. It's definitely restorable, in my opinion.

    Shopping centers as a category are just now beginning to register on the historic preservation radar screen, and this one would certainly be a prime candidate.

  3. Definitely, I agree. I just love the shape of that building.