The Way It Was – ‘Birds of Flight,’ 1955

The mobile sculpture by Gwen Lux was situated outside Southfield’s Northland Center
Birds of Flight
“Birds of Flight’ photograph courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University (The Detroit News)

1955 When architect Victor Gruen was designing Southfield’s sprawling new Northland Center in the early ’50s, he wanted it to be an experience, not merely a collection of retailers. To that end, he added landscaping and fountains and enlisted the talents of six sculptors to inject visual flair into the outdoor space (Northland didn’t become an enclosed mall until the 1970s).

The most popular sculpture, at least with children, was Marshall Fredericks’ “The Boy and Bear.” Kids found the limestone bear irresistible to touch or clamber over. Another favorite was the towering “Birds of Flight” by Gwen Lux, above, circa 1955, situated outside the Hudson’s store. The enameled copper mobile sculpture affixed to a painted wood column was instantly recognizable.

According to Gerald E. Naftaly’s 2016 book Northland Mall, Lux’s work provided a relaxing background for busy shoppers taking a break. Lux, a Chicago native, studied with Pewabic Pottery co-founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton. She created other artworks at Northland: “Totem Pole” (including a separate smaller version) and “Peacock Sculpture,” a collaboration with sculptor Arthur Kraft. Northland Center, at the time the world’s largest shopping center, opened to great acclaim 68 years ago, on March 22, 1954. Life magazine even devoted several pages to it. At West Eight Mile and Greenfield, the site was conveniently located near the Lodge Freeway. Hudson’s was the hub, accompanied by 80 other tenants, though not all were completed at the time of the 1954 opening.

Eventually, newer malls and changing shopping habits dimmed Northland’s luster, and it closed in 2015. Instead of being razed and forgotten, the area will become Northland City Center, containing apartments, restaurants, retail, and a movie theater. The Hudson’s store will be spared, being repurposed as Hudson’s City Market, a shopping, entertainment, and dining space. The plans are being undertaken by Bloomfield Hills-based Contour Development Group, and the chief architect is Bruce Allen Kopytek, whose affection for Detroit retailers is evident in books he’s written on Crowley’s and Jacobson’s. He also has a book in the works about Hudson’s.

This story is part of the March 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our digital edition