Sears: Sitting forlorn in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles is the Sears, Roebuck & Company Mail Order Building. Now a fast-fading enterprise, it's easy to forget the extent of the erstwhile Sears empire. The Chicago-based company not only dominated American commerce in the early decades of the 20th century (and beyond), but they also revolutionized retailing, in particular through their mail order business. The trajectory of this particular building mirrors that of its parent.
This building was completed in 1927 to cover Sears' mail order business in the West Coast and Rocky Mountain states, and with a floor area of 1,800,000sqft (170,000m2) was one of Los Angeles' largest. It was one of nine such distribution centers constructed across the country by Sears before 1930. Astonishingly, it was built in only six months, and opened to much fanfare.
It was designed by Chicago architect George F. Nimmons in an industrial-looking yet elegant Art Deco style, reminiscent of Eliel Saarinen's losing (but influential) Tribune Tower design competition entry. Its distinctive Deco tower and 'Sears' sign instantly became a local landmark, and remain icons of East Los Angeles.
In later years, Sears shifted its focus away from its mail distribution operation and saw its business fortunes decline, and so did those of the Boyle Heights warehouse. Its storied trajectory as an active distribution center ended in 1992, and it has sat vacant, except for the Sears store (still) operating on the first floor, ever since.
Several attempts have been made to revitalize this venerable structure, but the sheer scope of the work required as well as stiff community opposition, grounded on gentrification fears, have prevented any such efforts from succeeding.
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