Former Sears Catalog Order Fullfilment Center in Kansas City MO


Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri
West and south facades (1996)

Constructed in 1912-1913 for Sears, Roebuck and Company, Chicago, Illinois, the building served as an anchor for both the North Kansas City central business district and the central industrial district, ushering in the subsequent establishment of several industrial and commercial enterprises in the area. Designed by George C. Nimmons and Company, Chicago, the North Kansas City Sears warehouse demonstrates the onset of what has been called the American Industrial style of architecture and is an excellent example of its type.

Development of North Kansas City

The city of North Kansas City, unlike most cities, was created and built with commercial and industrial buildings, residences, lighted and paved streets, a waterworks system and park in advance of the arrival of its inhabitants. Plans to establish an industrial city north of Kansas City, Missouri inside the curve of the levee of the Missouri River were developed by the North Kansas City Development Company, a division of the Union Depot Bridge and Terminal Railway Company, in 1910.

Early attempts to urbanize the area were unsuccessful. Willard E. Winner, a visionary speculator who initiated one of the biggest real estate booms in Clay County, attempted to construct a bridge across the Missouri River and develop the northland property in 1887. In order to accomplish the construction of the bridge, The Kansas City Bridge and Terminal Railway Company was organized with the purpose of establishing an outer belt line to take care of all railroad lines. Although the first hurdle of Winner's plan, that of building seven piers was accomplished in 1889-1890 for $434,000, the collapse of the local real estate boom marred Winner's future plans. Schemes for the completion of the bridge were never realized and the Winner piers as they became to be known were acquired, together with the remainder of his holdings, by Theodore C. Bates of Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1902, the interests of the Union Depot, Bridge and Terminal Railway Company, formed by Bates, were taken over by the Armour and Swift meat packing concerns and the Burlington Railway (ASB), backed by local financing.

Thirteen years after Winner's dream collapsed, on February 13th, 1903, the North Kansas City Development Company was formed as a subsidiary of the ASB Company. The NKCD Company continued to purchase the Winner property during the ensuing years.

The three most significant events that accelerated the development of the area were the opening of the ASB Bridge in 1911, the construction of a levee on the banks of the Missouri River which insured protection from flooding and the development of the Kansas City, Clay County, and St. Joseph Interurban Railway, which made stops in North Kansas City along Burlington Road and Liberty Road (now Armour Road). As a consequence of these major developments, the NKCD Company launched into their plan to create the industrial, commercial, and residential districts of the area; it was on Liberty Road where the first of the industrial and commercial properties were realized.

According to newspaper accounts of the day, F. W. Fratt, president of the Union Depot Bridge and Terminal Railway Company, was in the process of negotiating with several manufacturing plants to locate in the planned industrial district. Private switch tracks to each location were developed which offered a strong motivation to move to the area. This railroad connection was made possible, in part, by the ASB bridge. The lower section of the bridge afforded a connection with the Kansas City Terminal Railway tracks sited on the south bank of the Missouri River. The first of the planned sites along Liberty Road was acquired by Sears, Roebuck and Company of Chicago, Illinois, not long after the city of Kansas City, Kansas attempted to woo the mail order giant to settle in their community.

The Sears Warehouse

In June of 1912, businessmen and public officials of Kansas City, Kansas met with representatives of Sears, Roebuck and Company of Chicago regarding the erection of a mail-order house in the surrounding area. A tract of 2 1/2 acres at 18th Street and Stewart Avenue, well suited for switching purposes on the Northwestern branch of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, was offered to Sears, Roebuck for the mail-order house site free of charge. Although a small six-story branch office at 1201 St. Louis Avenue in the West Bottoms of neighboring Kansas City, Missouri had been in operation since 1911, there was no room for the expansion needed to erect a mail order house at that location.

While many perks were offered to Sears, Roebuck for the building of the branch house on the Kansas side, including water and electricity at cost, the construction of a special post office branch supplemented with motor car service, and excellent freight service, the company decided to build their plant on five acres of land in North Kansas City, Missouri. The official announcement was made by Julius Rosenwald, the president of the company, on August 1st, 1912.

The site for the new plant was leased from the Union Depot Bridge and Terminal Railway Company. The tract was bounded by Holmes and Charlotte Streets and North Eighteenth and Liberty Road. The location for this new building was advantageous because the Excelsior Springs electric trolley line, better known as the Interurban Railway, ran along Liberty Road (now Armour Road) and the navigable Missouri River is eighteen blocks to the south. It was stated that the "navigation of the Missouri River was one of the inducements that led the company to come here." The new site also provided room for future growth and the construction of homes for Sears, Roebuck employees.

Boring at the site (to test the soil) began in August 1912 and plans and final arrangements for the building's construction were completed in September. F. W. Fratt, president of the UDB&T Railroad Company, reviewed the bids while in Chicago and the contract was awarded to the Swenson Construction Company, Kansas City, Missouri.

Completed in July 1913, the new North Kansas City Sears, Roebuck and Company warehouse was designed by George C. Nimmons and Company, architect of the Sears, Roebuck and Company Mail Order Plant in Chicago. This building was not designed as a mail-order house, but a warehouse to store larger, bulkier merchandise such as farm implements, furniture, and buggies. The central location of North Kansas City was chosen to ensure quick delivery and reduce freight charges on the "heavier class of merchandise" for customers in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Unlike a mail order facility, orders were sent to the main mail order plant located in Chicago, as the North Kansas City branch did not maintain an office for receiving orders or addressing correspondence.

The $420,000, nine-story building was constructed of reinforced concrete with terra-cotta and brick. Measuring 220' x 101', the Industrial Gothic-styled branch office was actually the "cornerstone of a great plant eight times the size of the building" which the company expected to erect at a later date. The full plan of the Sears, Roebuck warehouse, as outlined in the January 1916 issue of Western Architect, was only partially implemented. The building was to contain a large tower in the center (at the west end of the existing north facade) of the front of a building arranged around the four sides of a light court. As in several of Nimmons' other designs, the tower motif was used not only for its architectural effect, but also as an important accessory to the plant as a water tower enclosure. The expansion of the building also included a large addition to the south, which was planned to flank two sides of a large freight depot and connected above by a series of bridges. Apparently, land adjacent to this structure had been purchased by Sears, Roebuck for the purpose of expansion, but because of the onset of WW I just one year after the building's completion and the eventual construction of a major mail order plant in Kansas City, Missouri, the erection of the planned additions never materialized.

Following the initial success of this building, many prominent industrial firms moved their operations to North Kansas City including: Rumely Products Co., 801 Armour Road (1913); Joslyn Manufacturing & Supply Co., 1744 Iron (1913); Ingle Brothers Broom, Cor and Supply Co., 716 E. 16th Avenue (1913); Missouri Can Company, 901 E. 14th Avenue (1915); Ideal Safety Steering Device Co., 1402 Knox (1915). Furthermore, the North Kansas City Development Company began the development of North Kansas City's central business district with the construction of The Pioneer Building and the Commercial Building in 1912-1913 and 1913-1914 respectively.

Despite the fact that the nation's largest mail-order company sought to enlarge their operations in North Kansas City and establish a future plant at its site on Armour Road, it appears that Sears, Roebuck and Company did not occupy the nine-story Gothic-inspired industrial building for long. During WW I, the bulk of the building was the location for a soldiers barracks and mechanics training camp. Truck, tank, and airplane engines were stored in the upper floors.

According to an article in the Kansas City Star, January 8th, 1925, Sears Roebuck actually leased the upper six floors of the building and continued to maintain their distribution center from this location during WW I. At the close of the war, the building became the home to several prominent businesses including The National Bellas Hess Company, a major mail order concern and retail chain based in New York; Corn Products Refining Company; Hooven & Allison Company; Curtis Harvesters, Inc., and the Kent Percy Bag Company. At the start of WW II, Stern Slegman Prins Company (coat manufacturers); Bigelow Sanford Carpet, and S. R. Seaver and Company were located in this building. In 1947, several other smaller companies including Nor Kay Woolen company and Coronet Manufacturing Company leased space at this location.

Twelve years after the completion of the North Kansas City warehouse, negotiations to select a new site for the location of a huge $4 million plant for Sears, Roebuck and Company were finalized. Like the nine-story building in North Kansas City, this new plant for Sears, Roebuck was designed by Chicago architect George C. Nimmons. Work on the 1,455,000 square foot building, located at 3825 Truman Road, comprised of a two-story administrative and retail wing connected to a nine-story merchandise wing, was begun immediately "in an effort to complete the immense plant for the fall business of [1925]." Work on the Sears Kansas City plant began in March 1925, three months after site negotiations were finalized. Originally estimated as an eighteen-month project, the erection of the Kansas City Sears, Roebuck and Company plant "established a world construction record." No other "single unit structure as large ... ever has been erected in an equal period of time." According to Nimmons, the Sears plant was "completed, ready for business, September 14th, 1925," while an article in the Kansas City Star stated that although the building was in operation, workmen had remained on the site to complete the project.

Building Description

The Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse building, located at 715 Armour Road, North Kansas City, Missouri, is a nine-story, brick and stone industrial building measuring five bays wide and eleven bays long. Situated at the northern terminus of North Kansas City's central industrial district, the building is located on a major thoroughfare just west of Interstate-35. Directly to the east of the building is the 1913 industrial Rumley building; to the west is a vacant lot. North of the property is Dagg Playground Park and to the south lies a parking lot.

Designed in what George C. Nimmons called Industrial Gothic, the building remains in good condition, and because there have been so few alterations, the original historic integrity is intact. The overall horizontality of the building, emphasized by the configuration of the ribboned fenestration and wide spandrels is counter-balanced by the strict verticality of the multiple piers and the tower-like end bays. Gothic styled embellishments, rather rare on an industrial building, at the first story and upper floors of the end bays animate the otherwise utilitarian exterior.

The main or north facade is divided into five distinct bays. The central three bays are separated by prominent brick piers with stone amortizements, while the end bays project beyond the central mass. At the base of the far west bay is the main entrance featuring a recessed, non-original paneled, wooden double-door with plate glass, set below a Gothic styled molded stone, tripartite transom (obscured by plywood from the interior) embellished with paired, ogee arches and arabesques. The whole is set into a molded stone surround with a series of stone paterae crowning the doors. Directly above the transom are four grotesques set obliquely into blocks of stone. Two pairs of brick buttresses with stone amortizements and arabesque panels flank the main entrance. A multipaned recessed sidelight with similarly styled ogee arches, arabesques, and grotesques rest between each pair of buttresses.

A clerestory, set beneath a modified pointed stone arch with arabesques and comprised of multipaned trefoil windows and tracery, crowns the first-story entrance. Squat, triangular-shaped stone piers with stone amortizements further articulate the clerestory. A pair of stone jardiniers, with floriated basins on brick and stone plinths, are located at the main entrance.

The Gothic styled detailing of the easternmost bay of the first story and the terminating floors of the end bays are similar to the vocabulary of the main entrance. Each bay features a tripartite ensemble of single-hung fenestration set in ogee arches further embellished with stone tracery. Brick piers with stone amortizements separate each window, while the whole rests below an attenuated, pointed stone arch with arabesques.

Fenestration of the remainder of the first story and the upper floors of the north facade is one-over-one, wooden, single-hung set in groups of four at the central bays; slender piers divide three units at each floor of the eastern bays, while only a column of single units is featured at the western tower bay. Window units at the first through sixth stories of the central bays feature stone sill coursing, transoms and lintel coursing; only the first story units display stone paterae above a prominent transom. The remaining units of the seventh through ninth floors of the central bays feature stone sill coursing and brick lintels; end bay units of these floors display stone sills and lintels.

In general, the massing and vocabulary of the north facade is repeated at the east and west facades. Massing of the east and west facades is virtually identical: windows are set in groups of four at the central bays and are separated by prominent brick piers with stone amortizements and arabesques. The east facade features an elevator shaft at the center bay which rises above the roofline. The Gothic detailing of the main entrance and fenestration of the main elevation is repeated at the first and ninth floors of the tower bays; however, the first floor of the northern bay of the west facade lacks this treatment. Fenestration of the southernmost bays of the west facade (counting six bays from the south to north) is two-over-two, single-hung, sash-type with stone sills and lintels; the remaining bays feature one-over-one units. Fenestration at the east elevation is one-over-one, single-hung, sash. First-story window units at the loading dock level of both elevations feature single-pane wooden awning-type fenestration at several bays (the central bays of the west facade and the 2nd through Sth and 7th through 8th bays, counting south to north, or the east facade) while other bays have been modified with brick infill and or metal overhead doors. The 10th bay of the east facade, which contains a metal fire escape, features at each upper floor a fire door flanked by two-over-two single hung windows (paired on the south side).

Because the south wall was originally planned to be part of a future expansion and was not designed to be exposed, it features scant fenestration and articulation except for a continuous loading dock and a few single-hung, one-over-one wooden window units with stone sills.

Additional features of the Sears, Roebuck and Co. building include a parapeted roof line with low-pitched pediments at the tower bays and stone coping; four metal-framed, saw-tooth skylights; several brick elevator and stair shafts and a prominent brick chimney that rise above the main roof line. The foundation is concrete.

Original historic features of the interior have been modified throughout the years. Original lobby off the main entrance has been drastically altered. The upper floors which originally functioned as warehouse space feature exposed mushroom-shaped concrete columns and wood floors. The original skylights of the ninth floor are extant and in good condition.

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Main and east facades (1996)
Main and east facades (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Main and west facades (1996)
Main and west facades (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri West facade (1996)
West facade (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Main entrance north facade (1996)
Main entrance north facade (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri West and south facades (1996)
West and south facades (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri South and east facades (1996)
South and east facades (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Detail above main entrance north facade (1996)
Detail above main entrance north facade (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Main entrance bay, north facade (1996)
Main entrance bay, north facade (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri North facade, far east bay (1996)
North facade, far east bay (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Detail of first story bay, main facade (1996)
Detail of first story bay, main facade (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Detail of first story bay, west facade (1996)
Detail of first story bay, west facade (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Detail of first story bays, east facade (1996)
Detail of first story bays, east facade (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Sixth floor looking northwest (1996)
Sixth floor looking northwest (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Sixth floor looking southwest (1996)
Sixth floor looking southwest (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Sixth floor looking west (1996)
Sixth floor looking west (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Sixth floor looking northeast (1996)
Sixth floor looking northeast (1996)

Sears, Roebuck and Company Warehouse Building, Kansas City Missouri Ninth floor skylights (1996)
Ninth floor skylights (1996)