Sunday, July 27, 2014

Deco Delights: Sears Building Awaits a Better Future - or Demolition

Syracuse, NY. Former Sears, Roebuck Co. Store, 1300 S. Salina St (1929).  Photo: Samuel Gruber July 2014

 
Syracuse, NY. Former Sears, Roebuck Co. Store, 1300 S. Salina St (1929).  Photo: Samuel Gruber July 2014

Deco Delights: The 1929 Sears Building Awaits a Better Future - or Demolition

Most of my posts so far about Art Deco buildings in Syracuse have shown buildings still in use that contribute much aesthetically and economically to the community.  This post brings attention back to the Sears Building at 1300 South Salina Street, one of the grand Deco buildings of the period, but one that has mostly sat empty since Sear moved to the suburbs in 1975.  The building sits amid mostly vacant land just minutes south of Downtown.  Much of this area has been declared "brownfields" as despite grants awards last year still awaits cleanup and development.  The Sears buildings could be central to any future for the area - though more likely any developer would want to tear it down and start afresh. 

When the store opened it was major news in all the local papers.  And the coverage tells us what was innovative about the store and its location.  From The Syracuse Herald (October 2, 1929):
Officials of the Sears, Roebuck Co. are unusually pleased with the location, because they are eager always to consider it from the viewpoint of the customer and his convenience. S. Salina St. is undoubtedly the main boulevard in the city and is easily accessible from everywhere. The parking facilities are of the very best. The structure was started in the spring of this year.

It is a three-story building of white face brick and all-steel construction. A tower surmounts the building proper. The entire building may be said to be composed of small shops — each a little store in itself, making shopping very convenient.  The lighting system is unusually adequate. The day lamps lend a sunshiny atmosphere to the entire store. No expense has been spared to make the store complete in every way. Every modern convenience and mechanical device has been introduced, including a refrigeration plan to cool the water, lights to illuminate every corner, wide aisles, an excellent restroom and soda fountain,free parking spaces, free tire service station and other facilities.
Some of the history of the building and the issues confronting its survival are provided on the blog/website You Are the Mayor which focused on abandoned buildings.   The Sears buildings was built and opened in 1929, and despite the depression that began just weeks later, it managed to survive as a major retail center until the 1970s, when so much commerce followed (mostly) white customers to the suburbs - and our present-day mall culture began. 


You Are the Mayor links to the October 2, 1929 full-page feature article in the Syracuse Journal announcing the store's grand opening, Sears Roebuck was committed to serving the local community.
"In order to be of real service to the neighborhood in which Sears Roebuck & Co. have opened this new store in Syracuse, the company has made special preparations to provide those necessities and conveniences which will serve to make this retail store a neighborhood center." "It is hoped the store will be used as a meeting place where friends may wait for each other upon appointment. For the convenience of customers, besides the free automobile park for the convenience of store shoppers, there will be places where baby carriages may ample and well appointed rest rooms for women, a soda fountain luncheonette, where either right lunches or well-prepared meals may be had, and other conveniences which will serve to make the store real useful to the entire neighborhood as well as a place where all items usually secured in a department store may be found."

 
Syracuse, NY. Former Sears, Roebuck Co. Store, 1300 S. Salina St (1929).  Photo: Samuel Gruber July 2014

 Syracuse, NY. Former Sears, Roebuck Co. Store, 1300 S. Salina St (1929).  Photo: Samuel Gruber July 2014

The new store was the most up-to-date department store imaginable, with event modern convenience.  But most popular of all was its location south of the downtown, with "huge amounts" and "unlimited" free parking to satisfy the new demands of an increasingly automobile-centered consumer base.  The language used to describe the location and free parking this 1929 description is very similar to language used to promote new shopping malls in the post- World War II era, and the large enclosed malls from the 1960s on.    From The Syracuse Herald (October 2, 1929):
Upon interview, J. M. Barker, eastern regional manager, said: "We are more than pleased with the site selected in Syracuse For our new store. It measures up to every requirement of the company and I don*t believe we could-Have chosen more fortunately." "The present day tendency is to establish stores away from the congested district" continued Mr, Barker. "A few years ago, this idea would have been termed absurd but in this modern day of congested traffic and the advent of the automobile age, this plan is the most plausible. Shoppers do not like to drive through a veritable maelstrom to shop. They want to reach their destination as quickly and as easily as possible. That is why we selected the location at S. Salina and W. Raynor Sts." "Too, the site here affords excellent parking facilities. It has always been a firm policy of our company to provide free parking space for the customers. Here we have accommodations for a huge number of cars. Stalls Are marked off and a uniformed attendant will be on duty at all times to assist in the parking of the cars. A Free tire service station is maintained on the grounds as an added feature.
The trend toward moving large retail away from the congested downtown, had in fact already begun in the late 1930s.  It was just starting when the Depression hit, so ti was not until the new building boom of the 1950s that it begun again, this time coordinated with - or at least facilitated by -the massive construction of suburban residential developments hurried into post-war construction to meet pent-up demand, and the newly planned Eisenhower-era highways.  So in many respects it is a direct line from the 1929 Sears on South Salina to the Carousel Mall of 1990.

Syracuse, NY. Former Sears, Roebuck Co. Store, 1300 S. Salina St (1929).  Photo: Samuel Gruber July 2014

Today, the Sears Building sits in the middle of what has been dubbed the The South Salina Street Gateway area (brownfields), bounded by Taylor Street on the north, Kennedy Street on the south, State Street on the east, Midland Avenue, Cortland Street, and Oneida Street on the west, and covers approximately 113 acres.  In 2012 Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner Unveiled Brownfield Redevelopment Plans for the area. 

Their announcement stated:
The 113-acre South Salina Street Gateway area is located between downtown and the southern portion of the City, and is ripe for commercial and residential growth. This area is a gateway between Downtown Syracuse and several residential neighborhoods. The completed plan for the South Salina Street Gateway BOA provides a revitalization vision for an area consisting of 17 known brownfield sites and 29 additional vacant or underutilized sites. The South Salina Street Revitalization Plan calls for the creation of an urban core consisting of commercial and residential mixed-use development, including retail and service shops, and a possible expansion of public park space. The plan presents opportunities for job creation, improved urban design, and long-term area-wide revitalization.
I'm not sure if anything has happened since - I have not heard much since of an "urban core consisting of commercial and residential mixed-use development, including retail and service shops, and a possible expansion of public park space" - but would glad to learn what is going on (or not). Time for an update from City Hall?  This area is too critical to the city's future to ignore. When I find out more, I'll update this post.  

Let's not have the very important issues of I-81, the Inner Harbor and (yes) Destiny's hotel plans suck all the air of discussion, planning and real progress in the city's distressed neighborhoods. 

 Syracuse, NY. Former Sears, Roebuck Co. Store, 1300 S. Salina St (1929).  Photo: Samuel Gruber July 2014

 Syracuse, NY. Former Sears, Roebuck Co. Store, 1300 S. Salina St (1929).  Photo: Samuel Gruber July 2014

Syracuse, NY. Former Sears, Roebuck Co. Store, 1300 S. Salina St (1929).  Photo: Samuel Gruber July 2014

See some posts on other Deco Delights here:

Former First Trust & Deposit Wolf Street Office  

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