fragments of an attempted writing.


Above photos by Jim Weber.  The vacant Sears Crosstown Building in Memphis.  In the first photo the building is reflected in a shop window containing a mannequin, at the Cleveland Street Flea Market.

Some other photos of the building.  Two from inside:

 Construction in the mid 1920s:

The front of the building:

An aerial view from 1930:

Here are some more photos from the inside.

Several life-long Memphians I've met over the years used to break into the building at night as kids.  What an urban gothic adventure that must have been.  I suppose adventure might be the key term, as in adventure vacation, or something else adventure-wise that connotes trendiness and status, as all of the people I met who claim to have broken into the building have been white.  I once asked a black guy I know, who lives closer to the building than any white person I've ever talked to about it, and he told me that only white people break into the building for fun, while "the black folks who break in there are all crackheads."  Not sure what to make of that.  Perhaps black teenagers living in the neighborhoods around the building have more to fear if caught by the police during or after a break-in.  It's hard for me to imagine kids of any sort not taking advantage of this obvious target.  

One guy explained to me that the place is so big someone could hold a party with a couple hundred people at one end and you might never know about it if you were at the other end of the building.  Not all of the trespassers in the building were non-violent, of course, and so there was some danger running around the place at night - no doubt that thrill made a break-in all the more enticing.  

The tower as been vacant since 1993 but most of the building has not been used since 1983.  Finished in 1927, the physical structure of the Memphis Sears retail and catalog center is one of 7 remaining, of the original 9 of these behemoths that were built.  The six others that remain are in Minneapolis, Boston, Kansas City, Atlanta, LA, and Dallas.  The demolished were in Philadelphia and Kansas City (the city had 2 and the larger one was demolished - I suppose the central location of KC made it ideal for catalog centers).  Memphis' is the only one that remains vacant.  Some of the others have been renovated and gentrified into chic bobo magnets.  Atlanta's building uses 20% of its space for city municipal departments and the rest sits empty.  The Memphis building is 14 stories tall and has 1.45 million square feet.  There have been potential buyers and renovation prospects for the Memphis Sears Crosstown Building but as of yet none of them have come to fruition.  

I used to drive by this building all the time when hauling copper scrap for work.  I drove past it the other night for the first time in a month or so.  I wish I had some night images of the building but I didn't have my camera on me.  It makes an impression.  


  1. "Atlanta's building uses 20% of its space for city municipal departments and the rest sits empty."

    The Atlanta Sears building, known around here as City Hall East, has been closed for about a year. When I was a teenager about ten years ago, I was enrolled in an art program that was held in City Hall East. It was a bit of a harrowing experience, because the building was so large and decrepit and there was difficulty with the heating and A/C. I was always afraid that there might be a fire, because there the escape route was vague, especially if you were on one of the top floors. Even back then, the unused parts of the building were filled random stuff from the early twentieth century. City Hall East was sold to developers in July to make into mixed use condos. There was a "coming out party" of sorts in October, but the building still looks empty and desolate. It'll be a long time before it's usable.

    Here's a link for more information:

    Thanks for this post. I'm glad to see that City Hall East has "sisters" in other cities and that there are other people who admire these modern day ruins.

  2. An architectural style my dad used to call "Neo-Hittite".

  3. Proof of Capitalism's failure...

  4. The old Montgomery Ward warehouse/store in Baltimore lives on as an office, er, ziggurat. I remember going there as kid with my father.

  5. Leah, Thanks for the correction and the great link. What a sad thing that it is going from public use to gentrification. Ugh.

  6. I used to live around the corner from the one in Boston. I have to say, it was scary when it was empty and it made scary that entire intersection/roundabout area. It is fully gentrified now, which is what happened to the entire Kenmore Sq. area as Boston University bought up more and more of the land to give itself more of a campus. Kenmore used to be very, very rough, but it's nothing but shiny-faced young, American college kids and eurotrash these days with the occasional Bostonian wandering over from Fenway during baseball season.


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