Preservation Chicago concerned Six Corners Sears would get razed
by BRIAN NADIG
Preservation Chicago labeled as "threatened" the future of the former Sears Department Store at 4730 W. Irving Park Road, expressing concern that the site’s new owner could demolish the 82-year-old iconic building which stands at the heart of the Six Corners shopping district.
Novak Construction purchased the site earlier this year from Seritgae Growth Properties, which had been teaming up with Tucker Development to build an eight-story retail-residential project which would have included 434 rental units and called for portions of the Sears building to be preserved.
Preservation Chicago executive director Ward Miller said that Novak’s development history has raised concerns that the building could be demolished despite its architectural and historical significance. He said that several years ago Novak replaced the Art Deco-designed Medic Building at 3201 N. Ashland Ave. with a modern-looking Whole Foods grocery store and that large pieces of the Medic’s ornate facade were not incorporated as promised in the store’s atrium or the new faade.
"It sends up all the red flags for us," Miller said.
Novak has not publicly announced plans for the Six Corners site, but Alderman James Gardiner (45th) has said that he does not expect Novak to stick with the Tucker-Seritage proposal.
Novak did not respond to a request to comment. Novak also acquired the former Sears in Galewood near Harlem and North avenues, and the store’s demolition is almost completed to accommodate a retail redevelopment project.
Gardiner said that he expects that his discussions with Novak regarding the Six Corners site will "ramp up" after the holidays. "I am well aware there are people in the community who have become attached to that building, (and) I will do what I can" to try to have it incorporated in the site’s redevelopment, he said.
At community meetings over the years many residents have called for the building’s art deco-style facade, which includes a large glass display at the building’s southwest corner, to be preserved and incorporated into any redevelopment of the property even if other portions of the building were to be demolished. Under the shopping district "pedestrian street" zoning designation, any new structures on the site would have to be built close to the sidewalk.
Miller said that the building was designed by George Nimmons, who was the architect for many large commercial buildings, including the Reid, Murdoch and Co. Building, 320 N. Clark St., which was designated a city landmark in 1976.
The Sears store at Six Corners was ahead of its time, having a Hillman’s Pure Foods grocery store in its basement – similar to the large grocery sections at many of today’s Walmart and Target stores, Miller said. "You had it all in one big destination point," he said.
The Hillman’s played a key role in the success of the Sears store, which opened toward the end of the Great Depression when many households could not afford new appliances and furniture, Miller said. Customers would see those items while heading to Hillman’s, and once the Depression ended or the family saved enough money, they would return to Sears and make their purchase, he said.
The store also was designed in accordance with a "top secret" study which Sears had commissioned several years earlier to help design the "ultimate merchandising experience" for its customers, according to Northwest Chicago Historical Society vice president Daniel Pogorzelski. That experience included the use of artificial light for all in-store merchandise displays, he said.
"The idea behind it as to keep people in the store," Pogorzelski said. "There was no natural lighting in the store."
Miller said that he believes the store would qualify for city landmark status and that saving the building is especially important given that another architectural gem at the Six Corners intersection was demolished in 2016. The former bank building at 4747 W. Irving Park Road, where an 11-story senior living complex with an Aldi grocery store is planned, had two "Classical Revival" lobbies with ornate columns, he said.
"That site is essentially the ‘Block 37’ corner of Six Corners," Miller said in reference to a Loop development site marred with delays and controversies for years.