Plans to repurpose a Santa Monica architectural gem won’t touch its 1947 exterior

By Beige Luciano-Adams

Natural light drives a new interior aesthetic in this conceptual rendering
Image courtesy of Seritage Growth Properties

As dinosaur department stores continue their decline, Sears has been surviving the apocalypse by shifting its dwindling portfolio into an independent trust to manage, sell and repurpose properties. In prime markets such as Santa Monica, the strategy appears to be paying off.

Seritage Growth Properties, which owns the iconic Santa Monica Sears store, late last year initiated a “recapture” of the property, ending the department store’s lease. In April Sears will close in advance of what Seritage heralds as “a vibrant, mixed-use destination of retail, restaurants and creative office space.”

The 1947 Late Moderne building, declared an historic landmark by the city in 2004, is redevelopment candy — a notion not lost on Seritage, which calls it “one of the company’s premier redevelopment opportunities,” noting the proximity to the new downtown Expo Line station and Santa Monica Pier.

Designed by architect Roland Crawford (chief architect of the Times Mirror Building in Downtown Los Angeles), it is also “one of the best examples of early modernism in Santa Monica architecture,” said Santa Monica Conservancy architectural historian Ruthann Lehrer.

The conservancy considers the structure, built in the post-war consumer rush and open for business ever since, an “especially valuable example” of the style because it’s been minimally altered
over the years.

Seritage presented its adaptive reuse plan to the city’s Landmarks Commission back in October, and Lehrer said it will leave the iconic exterior architecture untouched. Instead, Seritage will focus on gutting and reworking the inside, and possibly adding some skylights or a “translucent story” that will open up the interior.

“The proposal is to develop the building internally. The project would not affect any exterior features,” Lehrer said.

Any other kind of development — especially residential — would require major changes to the architecturally significant and “extremely cohesive and unified” exterior, she said, and would be extremely problematic for preservationists.

Early conceptual renderings show a vibrant, transit-oriented exterior and a mall-like internal landscape with ocean views.

Seritage declined to answer questions about the concept design, design team or timeframe, but a representative issued a statement, in part:

“We are excited to work in partnership with the community, the city, the Landmarks Commission and other governmental agencies to advance this proposal expeditiously in order to give new life to this important Santa Monica landmark, while at the same time respecting its rich cultural and architectural past.”