Disneyland is the New Coney Island

Neil Flanagan, writing for Greater Greater Washington, explains why an ordinary strip mall was designated a historical landmark:

While it may look like an ordinary strip mall, the Park & Shop was one of the first examples of retail architecture designed around the automobile.

In the May 1932 Architectural Record, the author praised the Park & Shop in contrast to a traditional main street retail strip, which he derides as “Coney Island Architecture.”

While the article in general was an interesting look at the beginnings of a movement towards auto-centric development, it was an image from the referenced May 1932 Architectural Record that really grabbed my attention. Particularly this quote regarding a vibrant main street scene:

This unrelated “Coney Island Architecture” suggests the need for cooperative and unified planning by architects.

This main street scene was then juxtaposed with an image of the new strip mall with a description lauding its improvements over a traditional retail district:

A planned grouping of shops with parking space that does not interfere with traffic of main thoroughfare. The design by one architect of buildings for a variety of uses results in uniformity.

And so began an era in which the automobile reigned supreme, uniformity paved the way to monotony, and style was reduced to “rationality” and functionalism.

As for “Coney Island Architecture”, it is not surprising, yet still somehow shocking, to see the strength of the architectural establishment’s collective disdain for traditional architecture and the historic urban fabric at such an early point in the 20th century. This is the first seed of the arrogant attitude that begat the insidious “Urban Renewal” which wreaked havoc on many downtowns and established neighborhoods across the country in the name of “rational” traffic patterns and increased uniformity. As Disneyland had yet to be conceived, “Coney Island Architecture” apparently was the derision du jour for traditional design.

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