My friend needed an office chair and we happened to have one that we no longer needed. She didn’t have a car, so I agreed to take our chair to her before the kids and I headed out to Downtown Los Angeles for another planned summer day adventure. Lo and behold, as we approached my friend’s apartment complex, I was treated with yet another sight from my childhood.
I was excited to see that the Sears Building still exists!
“Yes, it’s still open,” my friend later tells me, “always has been on the first floor.”
My family and I didn’t live in Boyle Heights, but we frequented the area because Soto Street and Olympic Boulevard were just a stone’s throw away from my late-aunt’s home in the neighboring community of Monterey Park. My father also had the propensity to make up an urban adventure whenever we had nothing planned for the weekend, so we often found ourselves driving around the streets of Los Angeles, cruising around in our Ford Granada, simply to sight see the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
“What ever happened to this building?” I wondered.
A little sleuthing revealed that the once fully-functioning mail order warehouse/distribution hub and the first-floor Sears retail location of my childhood downsized in the early 1990s when the building was sold to developers. The Sears Building was later designated by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM #788) in 2004, and was later listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Today, after yet another change of ownership, news that plans to renovate the building by converting a portion of it into more than 1,000 residential units and 250,000-square-feet of office space may come to fruition. The existing store on the ground floor will continue to service the community and, to maintain its city and national historic landmark status, the Sears Building will have its historic and/or original Art Deco features preserved.
The community reactions towards the planned renovation have been mixed. Arguments against the development include disenfranchising the current community residents from being able to afford to live in the proposed high-end residences (yes, gentrification). Attempts to sway the developers to include low-income housing within the campus seem open-ended to date; according to an la.curbed.com post, “[the developer] says they are looking into the “feasibility” of adding some [low-income housing].” Others have argued that this development would welcome the opportunity for the return of “young, upwardly mobile Boyle Heights residents who have a left for school or other reasons.”
Members of the community were fortunate to tour the campus before work began. Check out their adventures here as covered by UrbanizeLA.com. La.curbed.com subsequently confirmed that the developer received preliminary approval from the City to move forward with its plan to renovate the Sears Building. More recent press about the planned renovations from The Eastsider revealed that changes to the Sears Building have already taken place.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this historical landmark by way of its ever-changing service for the Boyle Heights community. Note to Self: visit our friend again next summer to check out more physical revelations from the 1920s past.
2650 East Olympic Boulevard
Boyle Heights, CA 90023
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