Developer Huston Rawls with actress Anita Ekberg on Opening Day, 1951. ( Framingham History Center)
In the late 1940s, Greater Boston retailers, businessmen, city planners and academics all saw the population shift out of the city and to the north, south and especially, west of Boston. They saw the rise in automobile culture and the new purchasing power of middle-class families. A lot of smart people were aware of the big-time retail opportunities that now existed.
But only a few were actually able to seize such an opportunity.
One such fellow was Huston Rawls. A self-promoter, wheeler-dealer and marketing guru, Rawls saw the world in terms of potential promotions and shopper appeals. Although he had built a traffic tunnel to Canada and was the head of the Suburban Centers Trust outfit in the Boston area, Rawls was still a promoter in search of a major promotion.
Soon Rawls had latched on to another site: Route 9 in Framingham.
This area, roughly halfway between Boston and Worcester, had retail potential. Not only were the towns west of Boston growing, but restaurants and motels were springing up along the corridor where other routes (16, 27,126 and 135) converged. As rumors of Mass Pike construction spread, a movement to Route 9 began.
Rawls laid out his thinking about the Framingham site years later: “Families were moving out of the cities and into the towns and villages…They would eagerly choose to do their shopping in the suburbs too, rather than contend with the city’s crush of parking problems. The Framingham area couldn’t support a single large store much less a shopping center. But draw a 40 mile circle around it and you have 4,5000,000 people in prosperous communities.” Such a radical idea would test the abilities of this born promoter.