Gallery at Market East


A color photograph of steps leading down to the glass entrance of mall. Concrete columns break up the floors and glass panels.
The entrance of the Gallery at Ninth and Market Streets takes customers below street level. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.)

Following the birth and success of suburban shopping malls, the Gallery at Market East was Philadelphia’s attempt to revitalize the city’s deteriorating retail environment in order to lure suburban shoppers back to Center City. In an effort to emulate the popular suburban shopping experience, Philadelphia urban planners created an enclosed, multistory shopping center and attempted to integrate it into the urban landscape of offices, transportation, and existing retail.  While the Gallery did not live up to the lofty expectations of its designers and builders, its developers and managers continually adapted the space to compete within a changing retail environment.

Center City’s many department stores were a regional destination for shoppers in the first half of the twentieth century.  However, in the years after World War II shoppers increasingly bypassed Center City in favor of new suburban shopping malls. In an effort to reverse this trend, early studies sponsored by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority proposed a massive project that combined street and subway-level retail with office towers, parking, ramps to the Vine Street Expressway, and public transportation connections including a rail tunnel, intercity bus terminal, and an above-ground busway.

photograph of Gallery At Market East
The Gallery at Market East under construction in early 1977. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)

High costs eventually made it necessary for the Redevelopment Authority to scale down the project. The first stage, Gallery I, opened by the nationally recognized mall developer the Rouse Company, in 1977, connected the existing Strawbridge & Clothier department store and a relocated Gimbel’s department store with four levels of smaller retailers in a suburban mall-style environment.  Rouse brought a high level of management experience to the project, which helped to overcome some of the stigmas attached to downtown developments.  For example, in comparison to its suburban malls, the Rouse Company deployed a larger security force at the Gallery to ensure that customers felt safe in the new urban space. After Gallery I’s successful opening, city leaders pushed forward with the second phase, Gallery II, which added an additional department store, J.C. Penney, along with another four-level block of retail.  The city also began construction on the Center City Commuter Rail Tunnel, which included a station attached to Gallery II.

The Gallery faced its share of difficulties: The tracks leading to the commuter rail tunnel were shut down for repairs in 1984 and 1992-1993, civil rights leaders used it as a stage for protests in the early 1980s, and the difficult retail market caused the closure of many stores due to consolidations in the 1990s.  Anchor stores changed as department stores merged, closed, or moved, with spaces filled at various times by discount retailers like Stern’s, Clover, K-Mart, and Burlington Coat Factory. Detractors contended that the Gallery was a lifeless hulk and negatively affected retail in the surrounding neighborhood.

A black and white photograph of children looking through a railing to view a Christmas display below them. There is a tower with lights and fake snow on it in the background of the image.
Winter holiday displays in the Gallery, like this one from December of 1990, entertained children and shoppers while they traveled through the mall.(Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)

While the mall was far from being a model for urban redevelopment, it was not lifeless. The suburban shoppers for whom the mall was originally built never came in the numbers hoped for, but the complex with its convenient transit connections quickly became a destination for city shoppers who could not easily travel to suburban shopping malls. The under-performing upper floors of the mall and parts of the anchor stores were converted into offices for numerous companies including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News, and various state agencies. In 2014, Century 21, an upscale New York area retailer, replaced the long dormant Strawbridge’s, and plans called for the demolition of the central anchor store to open up the space, provide more integration with surrounding streets, and allow for more small retailers. As the mall began to evolve into a mixed-use facility, its developers once again aspired to revitalize an ailing Market East.

Sean McComas teaches government and economics at Kennard-Dale High School in Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania, and holds a master’s degree in history from Millersville University(Author information current at time of publication.)

Copyright 2014, Rutgers University


Gallery at Market East

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

James Rouse, a well-regarded shopping-center designer, was hired by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation and Philadelphia's Urban Redevelopment Authority to design the Market East Shopping Center (also known as the Gallery) in the 1970s. The Gallery was part of PIDC's larger efforts to attract shoppers back into the heart of Philadelphia by creating a shopping experience that rivaled shopping at suburban malls. Opened in 1977 and expanded in 1984, the Gallery has four floors of climate-controlled shopping and office space. In this view from 1977 when construction was still in progress, Gimbels department store is visible at the corner of Ninth and Market Streets. Over time, the anchor retailers have changed, and Gimbels was succeeded by Stern’s, then Clover, then Kmart, which closed in 2014 after a decade in that location.

In addition to providing commercial space for businesses, the Gallery acts as a transportation hub for the SEPTA and PATCO subway systems, and provides workspace for other Philadelphia business and agencies.

Children Looking at Christmas Display

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

Like other shopping malls, the Gallery provides a range of events and seasonal scenes to entertain shoppers and bring additional people into the mall. Publicity events with entertainers or theater promotions last for a limited time, but holiday-related motifs such as Easter or Christmas displays provide shoppers with seasonal atmosphere. During the holiday shopping season in December 1990, these children peered through the railing to view the "winter wonderland" assembled in the courtyard below.

View of the Gallery I Courtyard

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

The Rouse Company incorporated elements of suburban shopping malls, such as expansive open spaces and modern-art displays, into the Gallery's urban city environment. Since the primary floor of the Gallery was underground, skylights were employed in the main courtyards on each side of the mall, bringing natural light to the lower floors and reinforcing the open design. This picture of the courtyard at Market and Ninth Streets in 1977 shows an art display of metallic cubes hanging from the ceiling, while the open space on the floor contains small trees, and a water fountain. The scene was much the same in 2014, except the water fountain had been eliminated.

Art in the Gallery

From the initial development plans of in the 1960s, artworks were a key aspect of making the Gallery feel like a suburban shopping center in an urban environment. Modern sculptures and artistic presentations are located throughout the interior and exterior of the complex. The first floor of the Gallery II section of the mall (between Eleventh and Tenth Streets) has a three-story tall artistic assembly that features notable artists, performers, places, and events from Philadelphia history. Outside the Gallery's main entrance at Ninth and Market Streets, a twenty-foot-tall sculpture titled Burst of Joy by Harold Kimmelman towers. The sculpture in this image is called Amity, by David Lee Brown, and is located in front of the Food Court entrance of the Gallery at Tenth and Market Streets. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.)

Gallery Entrance and Sign

As part of the Gallery's design to link shopping with Philadelphia's subway transportation network, the first floor of the Gallery is below street level. This 2014 view of the main courtyard of "Gallery I," located at Market and Ninth Streets, shows the steps (behind the Gallery sign) leading from the outside sidewalk down to the glass entrance of the mall. As the Gallery expanded in 1984 and struggled to find business tenants in the 1990s and beyond, the top floor of the Gallery was modified into office space. Retail businesses on the higher levels moved down in hopes of gaining more foot traffic for the thousands of people who use the Gallery as a transportation hub daily. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.)

Related Topics


Time Periods



Related Reading

Frieden, Bernard J. Downtown, Inc:  How America Rebuilds Cities. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.

Heller, Gregory L. Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics, and the Building of Modern Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Novack, Janet. “The Gallery Is No Picnic to Manage.” Evening Bulletin. January 11, 1979.

Rybczynski, Witold. Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities. New York:  Simon & Schuster Inc., 2010.

Sheehan, Kathy. “New Mall Makes Phila. Stand Tall.”  Evening Bulletin. August 8, 1977.

Weigley, Russell et al., Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1982.

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