267-971-5583

1800 Markley Norristown, PA 19401

info@norristown.com

The Property

Norristown Centre, previously known as the Logan Square Shopping Center is a multi-parceled condominium comprised commercial office and mixed use retail, all contained within 25 acres at the corner of Johnson Highway (route 202) and Markley Street. The Property is in the process of an intense rehabilitation and betterment project which will result in the demolishment and raising of old and antiquated office and retail space in exchange for pad ready sites, improved ingress and egress, improved green space and new tenancy.

The property is currently the US headquarters for US Maintenance, a facilities management company and subsidiary of EMCOR. As the anchor tenant within the 220,000 Square foot three story “Silver-leed”, newly renovated office property ( together with a two-story 550 concrete parking garage) this building provides the centerpiece of the property and has expansion opportunities to join other existing tenants including Impact Thrift and the Social Security Administration.

The northeast corner of the property is a 19,000 square foot one story building which provides for both retail and office space. Anchoring the corner of Johnson Highway is one of our newest tenants Aaron’s Rent-A-Center.  With only 1800 square feet of available space remaining in this building adjacent to Easton Coach, a leader in passenger and ground transportation services, maintains its local Montgomery county presence in Norristown.

Dunkin Donuts has been a long-time tenant of Norristown Centre and resides northwest corner of the property. Recent improvements to Markley Street/U.S. 202 resulted in improvements to the parking and traffic flow in and around Dunkin Donuts.

With the addition of several newly signed leases and development opportunities currently in process, the rehabilitation of this property will again provide the residents and business community of Norristown with a property not only complimentary to the local community, but also one which is supportive of the local needs. We are pleased to be able to provide a historical account of this once innovative property my local by Michael E. Tolle, historian, author of What Killed Downtown?  Norristown, Pennsylvania, From Main Street to the Malls".

“The Logan Square project was a seminal event in the post-World War II history of Montgomery County

     The Year was 1950.  America’s unprecedented post-World War II prosperity was just getting underway.  With both the Depression and the War now behind them, people had both money to spend and items to buy.  Although few realized it at the time, a nationwide revolution in where they would shop for these things was also getting underway.  Logan Square would herald this retail revolution in central Montgomery County.

     In 1950, downtown Norristown Pa., centered along Main Street, was Montgomery County’s dominant shopping location, a title it had held for over one hundred years.  Main Street Norristown was a classic American downtown, built up over many years building by building and was thus a hodgepodge of styles and sizes.  Locally-owned small businesses dominated, but over the decades Main Street had also attracted the large, nationally-based chain stores.  There were primarily the “five and dime” type, but Main Street could boast of a Sears Roebuck & Co., opened to considerable civic pride back in the depths of the Depression.   But Main Street had developed largely before the advent of the automobile, when local shoppers had arrived on foot and those from other places had arrived by horse, wagon and then rails.  In 1950, Main Street was choked with traffic and lacked that new essential thing customers were increasingly demanding: ample, free parking for their automobiles.   

      Residents of Norristown were given early notice of the coming revolution in retail when in January, 1950, when they read in the Times Herald about a proposed development for the sparsely populated northern portion of the borough, where the combined Swede/Markley Streets met the Johnson Highway (at that time just a two-lane road lacking traffic lights).  The proposal was for a planned shopping center, with all structures designed and built in relationship to one another.  Unlike Main Street, few of its expected patrons lived within walking distance, and no rail line served the site.  Logan Square was designed and built for the automobile; the original design provided parking for 200 cars.

     The idea for a planned, automobile-welcoming shopping center on Norristown’s periphery was the brainchild of two members of Norristown’s emerging Italian business community, entrepreneur Joseph Butera and his uncle Harry, a prominent and highly respected real estate agent.  Joseph was the owner, while Harry was the exclusive leasing agent for the new project, but the initial planning was done jointly.  Harry’s expertise in land values and his unexcelled connections across the Norristown business community were necessary to the success of what, at the time, seemed an audacious and risky venture.[1]

To build a shopping center on the proposed tract of land required rezoning, which meant a decision by the Norristown Borough Council.  Here the Buteras first encountered the resistance of the established to proposals for change.  It would not be the last.  Joseph Butera first brought the Logan Square proposal to the Borough Council in January, 1950.  The Zoning Commission considered it, and reported favorably to Council. The Borough Council, however, rejected the request.  The downtown merchants saw the Logan Square proposal for what it was—a frontal assault on their traditional economic dominance—and their opposition carried a great deal of weight.

The Buteras did have the support of some segments of Norristown’s political elite, among them the editorials of the Times Herald.  Months of behind-the-scenes negotiations commenced.  In September, 1950, Borough Council finally came around, and passed an ordinance to set up a new business district classification for the site.  A long list of permitted and non-permitted businesses was included as part of the ordinance, reflecting continued deference to the downtown merchants.

     At the very beginning, Logan Square established one the basic principles of a successful shopping center: land a major tenant, an “anchor store.”  For Logan Square, that would be Sears Roebuck & Co., which agreed to close its Main Street store and move to the new shopping center.  This proclaimed Logan Square’s frontal challenge to downtown Norristown in no uncertain terms.

Logan Square’s official groundbreaking ceremony took place on July 9, 1953, and its official opening (and that of the Sears store itself) was on August 12, 1954.  The new store and its smaller companions were initially set amidst seven acres of land, but a series of expansion requests—mostly for parking—followed over the next few years.  Logan Square’s original layout of 200 parking spaces was increased to 500 and then to 1,000.  The resistance of downtown merchants had not ceased, and the expansion to 1,000 spaces required a court decision, after municipal authorities had turned down the request. 

     When it first appeared, Logan Square not only transformed retail shopping locally, it heralded what would take place on a national level, the abandonment of America’s traditional downtowns and the movement of retail commerce to planned centers at the intersections of major roads.  Logan Square would introduce this change, and offer the model to follow. 


[1] The Logan Square project was both audacious and risky, but it was not actually new. The basic concept, and indeed the basic design itself, was patterned after the Suburban Square project in Ardmore, one of America’s early planned shopping centers.