THROUGHOUT THE 20TH CENTURY, the automobile has proven to be a driving force in the evolution of the shopping center industry. In 1922, a stock market boom helped vault the United States into the Roaring '20s, a raucous and innovative period of American history. A prototype of the first talking motion picture debuted in 1922. Also that year, J.C. Nichols opened Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, the first shopping district designed specifically to accommodate the automobile through the creation of wider streets and ample parking. Little did he know of what was to come.

By the 1950s, Americans' love affair with the car led to thousands of miles of new highways being built across the country. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which created today's interstate system. By 1975, 35,000 miles of new roadway had been built. As suburbs sprouted in major metropolitan areas throughout the country, so too did shopping malls eager to serve a burgeoning population. The suburban mall concept worked so well, in fact, that cities began to duplicate the model.

The life stories of eight shopping centers (one actually is a district) chronicled in this report are as varied as the visitors who frequent them. A few are superregional centers that have become major tourist attractions; others are regional malls attempting to redefine their image. Either through location, innovation, nurturing ownership and management, or some other intangible quality, these retail destinations all share one trait: longevity. The oldest is 77, the youngest is 32.

Not surprisingly, most if not all of these centers are located near major thoroughfares, serving as further evidence that the automobile remains a key player in generating sales and foot traffic at the mall.

Each of these centers has experienced highs and lows. In several cases, the open-air concept of the 1950s eventually gave way to the need for climate-controlled, enclosed malls. As the aging process set in, many of these centers were forced to undergo major renovations and expansions to remain competitive. Their stories are a microcosm of the state of the shopping center industry as it approaches the new millennium.

* 1922: Country Club Plaza opens in Kansas City. Story on p. 212-213.

* 1951: Lakewood Center opens in Lakewood, Calif. Story on p. 214-215.

* 1956: Old Orchard Center opens in Skokie, Ill. Story on p. 216-217.

* 1956: Southdale Center opens in Edina, Minn. Story on p. 218-219.

* 1957: Garden State Plaza opens in Paramus, N.J. Story on p. 220-221.

* 1959: Lenox Square opens in Atlanta. Story on p. 222-223.

* 1959: Wonderland Mall opens in Livonia, Mich. Story on p. 224-225.

* 1967: Turfland Mall opens in Lexington, Ky. Story on p. 226-227.