Hollywood Sears Building

About a week ago, I was driving south on Wilton passing Santa Monica Blvd. and I looked to the left and realized that they had finally torn down the Hollywood Sears building...

Hollywood Sears Building
Sears Sign Detail, Hollywood 2020.

Archival Recordings 21

About a week ago, I was driving south on Wilton passing Santa Monica Blvd. I casually looked to the left and it struck me that the Hollywood Sears building had finally been demolished. It was a shock to the system. That building stood at that location for as long as I can remember and defined the urban landscape in the vicinity. Since it’s closure (which I’ll get into later) there was a gap of over 20 years until a department store of similar stature opened in the area (the Target on Western & Sunset, which had its own issues). Unlike more affluent parts of the city, when the working class parts of Los Angeles lose major investment, that hole can take decades to fill.

Site of the Hollywood Sears Building, 6/2024.

The Hollywood Sears building was first built in 1928. The surrounding neighborhood has changed in immeasurable ways as has the city of Los Angeles. Shifts in population and demographics have transformed this area into the vibrant, often hectic (in a good way, mostly) area you see today. I have witnessed some of the evolution firsthand and also happened to witness the events that led to the closure of the Sears. 

Hollywood Sears Santa Monica Entrance, 2020.

But first, let’s start at the beginning. When my family moved to the Hollywood area in the early 80’s, my mother gravitated towards this Sears location. The lure was part familiarity (Sears was a brand she was familiar with from the east coast) and part practicality. It was the closest large department store near our house during a time when that format was still the dominant form of shopping in the US. It was an annual tradition to go there to purchase back to school clothes and to go Christmas shopping, as well as to purchase any major appliances we needed. Anyone that frequented that store as a kid can tell you about two specific things: One, the gust of cold air that blasted out every time the automatic doors at the main entrance opened and two, the ICEE Slushee machine on the second floor. In my preschool mind it seemed like the only store in the world and I loved going there. Even after we moved out of the area we went pretty often, so it was a pretty big loss when it closed abruptly.

In 1992, the city was engulfed in an uprising in response to the Rodney King verdict. Many outside Los Angeles are unaware that it extended far beyond the corner of Florence and Normandie where it began into the Hollywood area. I was in middle school at the time, attending Bancroft Jr. High as a magnet student. The day after the chaos started, all students were let out of school early for safety reasons and the school buses were unable to reach us. For me, that meant I had to find a way home from school on my own. A group of us walked along Santa Monica Blvd. to my friend Jaime’s house where I used his phone to let my mom know that I was ok. He lived off of Western and Romaine so we had to walk past the Hollywood Sears building to get there. That's where I saw a scene that is permanently etched into my memory. I witnessed a man running out of the building with bags in his hand and smoke erupting from the interior. The Hollywood Sears was gutted beyond repair and never reopened, simultaneously ending a part of my childhood and emphasizing how dangerous the situation I found myself in was. Eventually I got home after walking past several other stores in the process of being looted or already aflame. All in all, that journey home was a defining moment in my adolescence.

Although the store never reopened, the structure remained. I’ve taken dozens of photographs of the location in the years since in anticipation of its demolition but it took so long that a part of me thought it would never happen. Seeing it gone is truly surreal, although I realize that there are people from the neighborhood in their mid-thirties who have never stepped foot inside the Sears building, only knowing it as an abandoned building. Time flies and the landscape records it.


As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, Archival Recordings will be making it's physical debut at this year's L.A. Zine Fest! I'm incredibly excited and it's fitting since I tabled for the first time at the 2017 festival. It is going to be held on Sunday, June 23rd from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm in Downtown Los Angeles at 300 S. Mission Rd. Los Angeles, CA 90033. You can find more info about the event at: https://www.lazinefest.com/

Come by to say hello and pick up a copy of Archival Recordings (01 and 02 available) plus some older copies of out of print zines. Hope to see ya'll there!

Thanks for reading as always and spread the word about Archival Recordings!