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63. Sears Roebuck, 1947 63. Sears Roebuck, 1947
303 Colorado Avenue
Architect: Rowland Crawford

Sears Roebuck
photo by Michael Grandcolas

View from Third St Promenade
photo by Michael Grandcolas

Another view
photo by Michael Grandcolas

photo by Michael Grandcolas

The 1934 Chrysler Airflow

Sears began when Richard Sears, looking to supplement his income, started selling watches in 1886. He soon hired watchmaker Alvah C. Roebuck to join his venture, and in 1888, Sears' first catalog, featuring only watches and jewelry, debuted. Sears, Roebuck and Co. was officially formed in 1893. In 1894 sewing machines, bicycles, sporting goods and a host of other new items made up the 322 page Sears catalog. And in 1908, Sears Modern Homes (catalog homes) program began.

Sears was already an American institution when they opened our building in Santa Monica in 1947. A sensual blend of curves and angles, with ribs to augment length, our local Sears is another classic example of a late Streamline Moderne Commercial building. Streamline Moderne evolved out of the Art Deco style. From the early 1930s through into the 1950s, Streamline Moderne flourished in the United States. The design trend was influenced by science and mass production, where aerodynamics are involved. The Streamline Moderne style implied speed, mobility, efficiency, luxury and hygiene, all concepts of the modernist vision of the utopian future. Sharp corners and transitions of objects were rounded off. Speed lines, or ribs stressed the horizontal flow of the style. On the interior, knobs, handles and handgrips were recessed, to give the object a closed appearance. Inspired by the success of Chrysler Air-Flo design of 1933, "streamlined" forms emerged in everyday objects from pencil sharpeners to refrigerators.

As bizarre as it may seem, our local Sears meets the City of Santa Monica’s six conditions for landmark designation – >

(1) It exemplifies, symbolizes, or manifests elements of the cultural, social, economic, political, or architectural history of the City.

(2) It has aesthetic or artistic interest or value, or other noteworthy interest or value.

(3) It is identified with historic personages or with important events in local, state or national history.

(4) It embodies distinguishing architectural characteristics valuable to a study of a period, style, method of construction, or the use of indigenous materials or craftsmanship, or is a unique or rare example of an architectural design, detail, or historical type to such a study.

(5) It is a significant or a representative example of the work or product of a notable builder, designer, or architect.

(6) It has a unique location, a singular physical characteristic, or is an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community or the City.

Built during the post World War II boom, the Sears building is the only large retail store of that era in Santa Monica that is still operating under the same ownership. It still has its original neon sign, and the extensive parking behind the building captures the exploding car culture and consumerism of the post-war era.

When the City was deciding to landmark the property it was decided that the Garden Center building would be designated an “accessory” building, as it has been remodeled and no longer retains all the characteristics of the original design. In most cases, accessory buildings belonging to landmarks may be altered or even demolished, pending approval of the rebuilding plans by the Landmarks Commission. The City needed to give Sears some leeway, because the site of the Sears Automotive Center across the street at Fourth and Colorado has been identified as a potential site of the Exposition Light Rail terminal.

“Sears needs to protect its economic viability,” noted attorney Ivor Samson.

Sears real estate manager Louis Colletto and attorney Ivor Samson requested that the Garden center not be designated a part of the landmark, so as to leave the building’s status flexible in case of a future need for redevelopment of the property.