Of all the scars inflicted by redevelopment of Norfolk's downtown in the 1950s and 1960s, the slowest to heal was the vast open tract east of Monticello Avenue and north of City Hall Avenue that was created by the bulldozing of dozens of decayed but historic buildings. The site stood vacant for more than two decades, although several projects for it were floated, including a pleasure park modeled after Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.
The void has at last been filled by MacArthur Center, an ambitious three-level shopping mall anchored by two department stores and a multiplex cinema. The initial exterior design turned inward from the surrounding streets, but opposition by local members of the American Institute of Architects led to its redesign along postmodern lines. The most successful side of the mall fronts on Monticello Avenue, where diapered brickwork and cast concrete trim create an appealing and rhythmic facade. Geometric concrete screens give the two enormous parking garages flanking the mall an almost delicate appearance; a sloping concrete ramp along City Hall Avenue is a tour de force of retro highway design. The exterior classicizing details fail, however, to hide the bulky forms of the department stores. Inside, the design of the mall incorporates a variety of dynamic vistas.