THREATENED: Inappropriate Modifications Threaten Lawrence Avenue Sears Store (Chicago 7 2016)

Lawrence Avenue Sears Store Historic Photo Taken Shortly After Construction, Photo Credit: “Sears, Roebuck and the Remaking of the Department Store, 1924-42”
Original Proposal for Lawrence Avenue Sears Store. Rendering Credit: Springbank Capital Advisors
Rejected Proposal for Lawrence Avenue Sears Store. Rendering Credit: Springbank Capital Advisors

Façade treatments proposed by developer will compromise the historic integrity of the shuttered Sears Store at 1900 W. Lawrence. A 2016 Preservation Chicago 7 Most Endangered Building, the shuttered Sears Store at 1900 W. Lawrence Avenue was the first Sears, Roebuck & Company retail store to be built from the ground up as a commercial department store. It is an outstanding building with great prospects for a preservation-sensitive redevelopment.

The building was purchased from Sears Holdings and is being redeveloped by Springbank Capital Advisors. The proposed $40 million redevelopment plan includes an adaptive reuse of the existing structure and plans to deliver 59 apartments, 42 parking places, and 20,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space.

Development plans are moving faster now that according to Springbank CEO David Trandel, “for-profit college DeVry University has leased most of the retail space, and plans a vocational school in about 17,500 square feet on the ground floor” (Ori, Chicago Tribune, 10/9/18)

The Lawrence Avenue Sears store was built in 1925. At that time, it was on the cutting edge of department store design including massive plate glass windows to maximize natural sunlight. Sears called this new generation of neighborhood department stores its “daylight” stores, according to Professor Richard Longstreth, in his article “Sears, Roebuck and the Remaking of the Department Store, 1924-42”.

Preservation Chicago’s primary concern is with regard to the façade treatment. The original building façade had large and expansive windows and we would strongly support the reinstallation of windows of a similar size to the original design. Additionally, we oppose changing the original exterior colors.

Preservation Chicago hopes that the developer will reconsider some façade treatment elements. Earlier renderings indicated a solution that was more sensitive to the building’s original design with deeper setbacks and fewer additional floors. The developer has responded to some community concerns voiced at public meetings to address parking and traffic flow considerations. 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar announced his support for the requested zoning change in September 2017.

Urban apartment dwellers are drawn to historic properties that celebrate the building’s history. Instead of trying to make the façade something it isn’t, Preservation Chicago hopes the developer will embrace the building’s strong, elegant appearance. Ironically, the original conceptual rendering proposed by the Springbank did a much better job at recognizing and celebrating the building’s historic elements.

Additional Reading
Column: $40 million Sears store redevelopment in Ravenswood getting tenant, construction loan, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, 10/9/18

Lawrence Sears Redevelopment Gets Zoning OK From Pawar, Patty Wetli, DNAinfo, September 6, 2017

Why Did Sears Cover Up Its Windows? It Wasn’t Always That Way, Patty Wetli, DNAinfo, September 14, 2017

Lawrence Avenue Sears To Close In August; Pawar Prepares For Redevelopment, Patty Wetli, DNAinfo, May 5, 2016

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