Friday, August 6, 2021

"Have yourself an 'Oriental Ball' by coming to the mall!"


This week marks the anniversary of when Northway Mall opened its enclosed section in 1964, becoming the first indoor shopping mall in Pennsylvania. The shopping center itself existed there since 1953 and became a destination for decades, until being suprassed by nearby Ross Park Mall and eventually closing and rebranding as The Block at Northway. The spring before its transition to an indoor mall, it hosted an "Oriental Festival" in April and May 1964. The April 23, 1964 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a few profiles of the events and attractions---which included "Oriental Bombshell" Japanese-American singer Marie Misakura, dancer Joel Awai, and (somehow) rickshaw giveaways---as well as advertisements that sought to evoke 1964's image of the Orient.
As an aside, a 1970 article in the Jewish Exponent, based in Philadelphia, shares more about Misakura, who would have been around 16 when performing at Northway Mall. It notes that she was born in Kobe and converted to Judaism with her family as a child.
Miss Misakura attended the University of Tokyo for six years as a music major with the goal of becoming a concert pianist. However, after a short tour in Japan, she became a popular song stylist and dancer.
And a photo of a lunch counter, found via the old Northway Mall site, April 1964:

The last time I visited the indoor mall itself was August 2009. I had just visited and extensively photographed a "dead mall" near my apartment in Suncheon, South Korea and wanted to take pictures of one in Pittsburgh as a comparison, since I knew my childhood mall was not long for this world. A security guard approached me outside of Dick's and said she had gotten word that I was taking pictures in the mall. She asked why and I told her. She said that wasn't permitted, "because of 9/11." She continued: "I'm not saying you're a terrorist, but that's something they do." I had come to forget how common it was for Americans to live in fear of routine activities like walking at night or taking pictures inside.