Sears, yeah, we have our own here in East LA. It’s not just any Sears, though: it’s a historic Sears, sitting at the edge of the Eastside where it connects to Downtown Los Angeles. It’s our only sky-scrapper and before it became known as a retail store it was called the Sears Roebuck Mail Order Building.
From 1927 to 1991, the building was operated both as a mail order distribution center serving the Western United States and as a retail store operating on the ground floor. The sprawling mail order distribution center was a marvel of modern technology when it opened, with employees filling orders by roller skating around the enormous facility, picking up items and dropping them onto corkscrew slides for distribution by truck or rail. The building was one of the largest in Los Angeles, and it attracted more than 100,000 visitors in its first month of operation, not including shoppers at the ground floor retail store.
Sears is where we got our best Sunday suits and dresses, our T.V’s, Nintendos, and—oh yeah’those great family photos my mom still likes show off. You know, the ones with your unruly hair, your turtle neck or v-neck sweater, some cheesy background. The Sears is where sometimes I said “I’ll stay in the car, Mom” Some of us didn’t want to be seen at Sears, even though for some reason I remember being there every weekend.
Outside of Sears was this little cool snack shop: you could get nachos, hot dogs, all sorts of other junk food, soda. Even if you didn’t go in there was a place to hang out.
Today, though Sears continues to operate a retail store on the building’s ground floor, the remainder of the large complex has remained vacant since 1992. In 2008 Oscar de la Hoya, a famous boxer who used to shop as a child at the Boyle Heights Sears store with his mother, stepped in to try to revive the building—but nothing has happened since. The Art Deco building is a landmark, and even if you never visit, you’ve gotta love seeing its neon sign shine, bright as a light-house. Let’s hope it gets new tenants and becomes a place to go once more!