While it's far too early to declare the shopping mall "dead" (the New York Times last year cited figures that showed only 20% of America's 1,200 malls have vacancy rates in excess of 10%), there are dead malls. The Detroit Free Press has the fascinating story of what remains of one of them. Southfield, Michigan's Northland Center opened in 1954 as the then-world's largest shopping center, reports Detroit News. It grew to 1.4 million square feet over its 61 years—above ground. Then there are the tunnels. As JC Reindl writes for the Free Press, a miles-long network of service tunnels wind their way beneath, with 484 rooms lurking there as well.
They functioned as storage (a Santa Claus statuette, fur coats, and TVs remain in some), workshop areas, and bomb shelters; there was a central power station for the mall, and a police substation. The tunnels are not pretty today: Reindl describes them as "narrow, barely walkable" and pitch black but not, as rumored, teeming with rats. And rats may not have long to find their way there. The city purchased the 114-acre property in December, and the News reports that per the terms of the $2.4 million sale, the site will be razed in anticipation of a sale to a property developer. The tunnels will go with it. "We're going to have a big hole to fill with dirt," the executive director of the Southfield Downtown Development Authority tells Reindl. (Read more shopping mall stories.)