Building Description Sears Roebuck Department Store, Spokane Washington
The Sears, Roebuck Department Store was a square three story Art Deco style building with a five story tower projecting above the building mass. The building, completed in 1930, boasts a structural system of reinforced concrete. The foundation is supported by 940 cedar pilings driven to depths of 15 to 30 feet. It was the best preserved example of an Art Deco Sears store in Washington State, and an impressive example of Art Deco style in Spokane. The structure was also important on a national scale. Art Deco was the "house style" of Sears, Roebuck and Company, creating a mechanism which helped disseminate both the style and Sears' corporate name throughout the country.
The architectural firm of Nimmons, Carr & Wright, as primary architects for Sears, conveyed this style which used the Art Deco and a central tower as the Sears signature. Several articles of the period which included photographs of the Nimmons, Carr & Wright buildings indicate that this style was used nation-wide. Indeed a photograph of a Buffalo, New York Sears store in June 1931 Architectural Record depicts a building nearly identical to the Spokane store.
The three story building has a width of 124 feet 11 inches and depth of 12 9 feet 11 inches. Projecting 26 feet 6 inches from the north side (rear) of the building is a wing which is 74 feet 8 inches wide. It includes the one-story unloading room and the three-story automobile entrance and stairwell to which are correspondingly attached a loading platform and an entry vestibule. The loading platform is 49 feet 2-inches long and 10 feet 6 inches wide. The entry vestibule projects 7 feet 2 inches north of the entry and is 22 feet 8 inches wide.
The second and third floors, which do not include the unloading room, have the same dimensions as the first floor. Since it projects beneath the sidewalks along the Main Avenue and Lincoln Street frontages, the basement is slightly larger in size (136 feet 5 inches wide and 151 feet 2 inches deep).
The first floor is divided into five equal bays: the centered tower which contains the entry (two double doors), and two window bays (display windows) on each side. The second and third stories consist of a single window bay in the central tower with six window bays flanking each side. The fourth and fifth floors of the tower each contain a single, centered window bay.
The three-story mass is 46 feet 6 inches from grade to the top of the parapet. The equipment room on the northwest corner (50 feet 7 inches wide and 30 feet deep along the west side and 27 feet 7 inches deep along the east side) rises 14 feet 8 inches above the parapet. Imbedded in the center of the front facade is a five-story tower, 24 feet 6 inches square and 77 feet 4 inches in height (from grade to parapet.)
The building has structural system of reinforced concrete exterior walls and interior columns. It is underlain by 940 cedar pilings driven to depths of 15 to 30 feet, then boxed in concrete to form piers which support 10-inch-thick reinforced concrete floor slabs. Footings along the exterior walls extend 12 inches to 24 inches beneath the walls. The basement walls along the Main Avenue and Lincoln Street frontages are 2 feet 2 inches thick, and the walls along the west and north sides are 1 foot 1 inch thick. Columns, centered at intervals of 25 feet, buttress the north and west walls. These columns project 4 inches from the exterior wall and are 5 feet wide. The interior sections of the columns project 12 inches and are 2 feet 6 inches wide.
The above-grade walls are reinforced concrete which range in thickness from 13 inches to 18 inches. The exterior of the building is clad with blonde brick (painted beige color) with pre-cast concrete Art Deco detailing on the parapet, windows and door surrounds, and other accent points. Multiple string courses enhance the parapet and consist of a cast concrete lintel course above the third floor windows, two decorative brick soldier courses (alternating recessed and projecting) and a coping course. Both the lintel and coping courses are in an intricate Art Deco pattern consisting of a series of flared diamonds. Articulated pilasters, capped in forms consisting of triangle, chevron and diamond patterns, frame the door and display window openings.
The narrow architrave above the display windows is adorned in a diamond relief pattern as are the pilasters. Pre-cast diamond-shaped panels with geometric-form relief are located on the facade between the window bays above the pilasters.
The brick field between the tops of the window bays and the second story sills is in American bond. The piers between the window bays are also in American bond. A vertically-aligned brick stretcher course (alternating projected and recessed bricks) frames the window bays.
The central tower projects from the front facade approximately 12 inches. Its vertical lines are accentuated by articulated corners and the pre-cast pilasters which frame the main entry (same motif on blocked east entrance) and rise to middle of the second floor windows. Brick in American bond faces the tower. The spandrels between the second through fifth story windows is brick in pattern formed by angled headers. The tower is capped with geometric Art Deco detailing in a fan motif.
The side facades, each divided into fifteen bays, use the same detail elements as the front. Several brick panels on the side and rear elevations, however, are laid in a basket weave pattern.
The floor plans were essentially the same for the basement, first and second floors in that they featured an open floor for display of retail goods. The third floor was also open and used for storage. Other common features included stairwells along the center west wall and center north wall, restrooms adjacent to the north side of the west stairwell on all floors but the first, and a freight elevator and utility rooms in the northwest corner of the building.
The plans had the following differences. In the basement, which extended on the east and south sides beneath the exterior sidewalk had a boiler room and coal room in the northwest corner and a mechanical room in the southeast corner. On the first floor, space was dedicated along the south and south half of the east walls for window display with a wall separating the display area from the retail area. The northwest corner of the building included an unloading room and covered unloading platform. The second and third floors did not contain the building area which housed the basement boiler room and the first floor unloading room.
Apparently, Sears had made some interior alterations to the store prior to 1961 when the building was sold to the Comstock Foundation. The demolition plans for the library (10 August 1962) indicate a large L-shaped walled area in the southwest corner of the second floor as well as several offices in the southwest corner of the third floor.
Although the conversion to the library retained large open floor areas, walls and equipment were added to each of the floors. Common to all floors was the addition of a passenger elevator and a book lift near the southeast corner of the west stairwell, and a book lift in the central portion of the building. A small book lift connecting the basement and first floors was also installed in the north central portion of the building.
During the remodel the walls were added in the basement to divide it into three functional areas: the public area which includes the periodical reading room and existing men's restroom; the book and periodical storage area, open to staff only; and the utility and maintenance area.
On the first floor, the public entrance is limited to the Main Avenue entrance. In the original layout counters for book return and check-out flanked the main entrance. The check-out counter is now at the west side of the entrance. A reference desk is at the center of the floor east of the main stairs. Plaster over sheet rock walls were added to the south and north sides of the main stairs. Aluminum-framed glass partitions and doors were placed at the entry to the stairwell. North of the stairs is the Northwest Room, formed by 7-foot high plaster walls. South of the stairwell is an office formed by 7-foot-high metal and glass partition walls. Another office, formed by plaster walls, is on the south side of the elevator. Other changes include the division of the unloading room into two rooms by a plaster wall, one used for unloading and maintenance (west portion) and the other for administrative functions. On the south side of the administrative room is a small office formed by 7-foot-high partition walls. The north stairwell has been walled-in and closed to public access. Two doors provide access to a hallway on the east side of the stairs then to the rear entrance and basement stairs. A wall has been added along the east side of the hallway to create a narrow work room.
As with the first floor, the main stairwell has been walled-in with access provided by aluminum-framed glass doors. A plaster wall (with double-door entry) closes off the north stairwell from public access. Seven foot high partition walls have been used to form three offices along the central portion of the south wall and east of the stairwell along the north wall. An auditorium (plaster walls) with a projection booth on its south side (prefabricated walls covered with fabric) has been placed in the center of the north half of the building. A plaster wall has been extended between the women's restroom and the auditorium. This area, in the northwest corner, is used for storage and various utility functions. The hallway created between the rear of the auditorium and the wall closing in the north stairwell provides access to a boy's restroom and a girl's restroom along the north wall.
The third floor is closed to the public and used for library administrative offices. Only the northwest corner of the building and the restrooms retain the same space configuration as the original building. The remainder of the area has been divided into administrative offices, storage areas, conference rooms, and various work rooms.