When the Sears store in Santa Monica opened in 1947, thousands of people lined up around the block to get in. The Streamline Moderne architecture in cream and green was designed by Roland Crawford (who also designed the Brentwood Country Mart and the downtown Times Mirror Building). Everything is original, down to the neon Sears sign.
Seventy years later, it is being mothballed, joining hundreds of other closures of US department stores. It was the last of Santa Monica's early department stores.
Last weekend DnA's Frances Anderton attended the forlorn closing sale.
But it's not over for the building itself.
The group that owns the building, Seritage Growth Properties, has initiated what it calls a "recapture" of the property, ending the department store's lease.
Now the property will become what Seritage describes as "a vibrant, mixed-use destination of retail, restaurants and creative office space."
The building was declared an historic landmark by the city in 2004, and the Santa Monica Conservancy says the exterior will remain untouched and will add skylights or a "translucent story" that will open up the interior.
Seritage presented its adaptive reuse plan to the city's Landmarks Commission back in October, and said it will leave the iconic exterior architecture untouched.
"Vibrant, mixed-use destination of retail, restaurants and creative office space." Sound familiar? That mix already exists right nearby -- in the Santa Monica Place mall whose entrance is across the street from Sears and the Third Street Promenade.
Now that begs the question -- will this work in the Amazon age that is killing so many stores?
The Atlantic just ran a story reporting nine retail bankruptcies in 2017—as many as all of 2016. J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy's, and Sears have each announced more than 100 store closures. Sports Authority has liquidated, and Payless ShoeSource has filed for bankruptcy. Last week, several apparel companies' stocks hit new multi-year lows, including Lululemon, Urban Outfitters, and American Eagle, and Ralph Lauren announced that it is closing its flagship Polo store on Fifth Avenue, one of several brands to abandon that iconic thoroughfare.
The diagnosis is partly that so much shopping now happens online, but also that America simply overbuilt malls -- The number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population between 1970 and 2015, the Atlantic reports.
Santa Monica Place went through a major overhaul a few years back -- ripping off its roof and introducing fine dining as an attraction now that so many stores are closing. Examples of this are at the Beverly Center, now being remodeled, and Westfield Century City.
One marker of how these malls are changing as they retrofit: they are being redesigned to appeal to pedestrians.
The original Sears was planned to appeal to the car driver, but the remodel is expected to be oriented to the mass transit users who pour off of the nearby Colorado and 4th Expo Line station.
Carol Lemlein, president of the Conservancy says: "What I have seen is that the east-facing entrance that used to be a minor entrance will be treated as the primary entrance to the facility. So it will be very attractive to the Expo Line."
Many of those Expo line users will be heading to the Pier and the beach. Seritage will have to find a way to hook them in as they pass by.
Photo: Sears in Santa Monica, built in 1947. (Laurie Avocado)