The Sears outlet at the Northridge Mall is no more. The latest in a series of closures following the restructuring of the company in 2017.
Though it retains a shitty food court, the mall is now without one of its two anchor tenants. We already kind of know how this will end. Being the Valley, I don’t anticipate Google riding to our rescue.
Once the Amazon of its day, Sears has been a great declension a century in the unmaking, reflected in its architecture.
As it fell out of favor, the in-house brands and subsidiary businesses: Allstate, DieHard, Craftsman, Kenmore, and Discover Card, were sold off one by one in debt restructurings. The corporate headquarters in Chicago, once the tallest building in the world, was vacated twenty years after being built and downsized to an office park in the suburbs.
Ironically, Sears leaves behind a terrific portfolio of civic architecture in the form of massive Art Deco mail-order distribution plants now rapidly being repurposed nationwide as live/works lofts, creative office space and in another irony, retail. Many of these buildings were vacant for decades. Think how different it may have turned out if Sears had held on to the real estate. It was uniquely positioned to take advantage of re-urbanization.
Izek Shomoff is developing the 13 acre Boyle Heights site as a 1000 unit mixed-use campus with predictable bells and whistles.
Sears’s lasting legacy will prove to be its timeless line of mail-order Craftsman houses, pre-cut, delivered on railroad cars, and easily assembled by road gangs. Most of them are with us today, 100 years on, a testament to indestructible aesthetics. They spawned countless imitations. Historic Los Angeles and Pasadena are fecund with variations on these designs. It’s the default residence of our collective dreaming, and thereby television locations: my life, we tell ourselves driving past, would be oh, so perfect if we lived in that house.
Just as an aside, how popular a housing solution would this be? With small alterations for local codes, the plans are perfectly valid today. Build them in clusters of six around a common yard. Cluster the clusters around a common greenway.
If you could go back to the 1980s and tell the board of directors, get out of the malls, you will be replaced by an electronic mail-order catalog, your end is in your beginning, return to first principles. Your value is old real estate and love for your catalog and always will be. Would anyone listen, even if you gave them second sight? Or would the snake just keep eating its tail?