Update, 2/19: Weingarten says the brochure was a “vision book” that was released to the public in error.
“The time is right for redevelopment” of the Sears at 4000 N. Shepherd Dr., declares a brochure published online earlier this week by Weingarten Realty. The brochure, which appears to be part of a proposal to Sears, which owns the 11.7-acre western portion of the site, says the REIT plans to partner with the retailer to turn the sleepy department store and the Pine Forest Business Park directly to its east into a “wonderfully connected and designed retail shopping destination for Garden Oaks, Oak Forest and neighborhoods around it,” including a new grocery store and restaurants.
No site plan is included in the presentation, but Weingarten notes that it plans to keep “the 2nd longest operating Houston Sears” open in some form throughout the redevelopment. “Weingarten’s vision is to acquire adjacent land,” then “temporarily relocate Sears into an existing building” — the Family Bingo Center at 641 W. Crosstimbers — before scraping and redoing the whole site.
Weingarten’s ballsy name for the new center: Oaks on Shepherd, referencing Sears’s Shepherd Dr. frontage, which currently sports only one oak, along with a few lonely pine trees.
What stands out most in the 7-page brochure Weingarten produced to describe its vision, however, is its almost cringeworthy attempt to assert that the strip-center-style mishmash-y “festive” Prairie Style portrayed in its rendering of the new Oaks on Shepherd — meant to replace the late and muted Streamline Moderne trappings of the existing standalone department store — is an essential feature of both Sears itself and the neighborhoods surrounding it: “Garden Oaks and Oak Forest are the essence of ‘mid-century’ America. . . . Today, new homes are being built in the area continuing this ‘mid-century’ theme with mid-century modern, and arts and craft [sic] architecture with large lots, front yards, and open streets,” reads the don’t-know-much-about-modernism body copy, amid a slew of irrelevant images of residences designed by a young Frank Lloyd Wright in the Midwest in the early years of the 20th century.
The brochure makes no mention of the most distinctive design element of the existing 1959 Sears center, which looks nothing like most of the images peppering the pages: The almost-Jetsons combo bus-stop-and-sign on Shepherd Dr. (pictured below, next to what appears to be the lone oak along N. Shepherd on that block):
Instead, Weingarten says the center will “maintain the ‘mid-century’ Americana look and feel” and be “influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright” — though the accompanying illustrations show only his low-slung early houses, not any of his retail designs.
Although Weingarten’s assertive stylistic confusion is entertaining (and notable for the way it papers over the standout features of the existing center), the resulting jumble could very well end up jibing perfectly with the array of similarly can’t-hear-you aggressively stylized large homes now popping up in Garden Oaks and neighboring Oak Forest.
One big advantage of the pseudo-Prairie look Weingarten has in mind for its proposed center: Designers have long figured out how to translate a singular element of the style — broad, low-slung residential hip roofs — into de rigeur tall sign-bearing shopping center corner “towers” — without the whole thing looking entirely too ridiculous. That’s a little tougher to do in Streamline Moderne and Art Deco without making people laugh, though Weingarten sure did try real hard when it lifted the foreheads and added weird corner pieces to the once-stately River Oaks Shopping Center a few years ago.
Renderings and historical photo: Weingarten Realty. Photo of Sears sign: Arch-ive.org