Shuttered Midtown Sears Now Shedding Its Full Metal Jacket

Crews are now peeling back the corrugated metal paneling that covers over the original façade of the Sears building on the corner of Main and Wheeler, exposing some of the 1930s art deco details underneath. The plain skin was added onto the 4-story structure in the 1960s. It remained in place after the company that manages Rice University’s endowment bought out Sears’ lease on the property 6 months ago and the department store closed in January.

Yesterday, Mayor Turner announced that an extensive redo of the building — overseen by Hines and designed by Gensler along with New York-firm James Carpenter — would transform it into a startup incubation center, the anchor of a 4-mile “innovation corridor” planned between Downtown and the med center. The vertical mosaic pattern pictured above on the south side of the building is one of the first hidden touches to see the light of day as part of the work that’s now beginning to restore the exterior.

Also uncovered is the row of metal beams used to mount the outer shell:


Inside the 190,000-sq.-ft. building, further restorations are planned on some of its covered-up original murals, which show scenes from Houston history. Added light wells and windows are planned as well. When the transformation is done, co-working spaces, classrooms, offices, restaurants, cafes, and retailers will be among the former department store’s tenants.

Rice owns 3 more acres adjacent to the building, including the Sears Automotive Center on Eagle St. and the Fiesta Mart on San Jacinto.

Photos: Adam Brackman (renovations); City of Houston (roof)

Art Deco Unveiling

16 Comment

  • I’d love to see renderings of what Rice University invisions for this property. I’m also curious of where the displaced homeless population will land once they are removed from the area.

  • Does anyone know why the metal cladding was added to the building?

  • This is just the best news to hear!

  • Glad to see this; I had always hoped the original architectural features of this building would be restored.

  • @Richard Schafer
    From a 2006 Cite article by architect Barry Moore:
    “it was the threat of race riots. In the tumultuous aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.”s assassination in l968, local Black Panther activist Lee Otis Johnson organized an 8,000-person strong memorial march, which unsettled much of the business community. Sears, watching from a Chicago torn apart the same summer, reacted by bricking up almost all the Houston store’s show windows and cladding the elegant upper stones with beige metal. And so Fort Sears has remained ever since, hiding from an evolving international city and culture, and wondering where all the shoppers went.”

  • I can’t wait to see what this will look like. Seems like an improvement already.
    Shame about Sears though. They were like Amazon back in their glory years.

  • Nice to see this antique Sears is in good hands. Midtown has a nice smattering of historic commercial buildings and this will anchor the south end well.

  • Thanks Jackson!
    Off Cite is awesome.
    I can’t wait to see the interior!

  • I am glad to see the metal sheathing come off and to see the original facade which has been preserved all these years. Not only was it protected from demonstrations, but the ugliness which makes me cringe of what may come next… you know some assholes will tag it with spray paint. You know it will happen! Anyone want to place a bet on if it will happen, or when? :(

  • Innovation corridor my butt. The COH can’t even get rid of the homeless people. Much less build a mass transit system that does NOT flood. They can ” envision ” all they want. Let’s see how many leases are signed and how many tenants stay full term !

  • there are a number of buildings downtown as well with sheathing facades that would benefit from removal. This was common practice to “modernize” older buildings in the 1950’s-1970’s.. Happened to large buildings in cities like detroit and chicago but also even on small town mainstreets in texas. I am always looking for these buildings around town of which there a few downtown and scattered throughout older parts of the city (near northside and east end).

    here is a nice example of a hidden gem.

  • The show windows facing Main were not bricked up in the 1960s. That was done a while after that decade. I can remember my siblings and I posing as mannequins when people walked by in the 1970s.

    I also am glad the metal paneling is being removed. It’s exciting for me to see what’s underneath, including the imprint of the “A” in SEARS.

  • Jackson: Crazy. All these years later, black panthers have been replaced by Antifa as the ones going around smashing up and burning buildings.

  • This is interesting. I always suspected there was something cool under the facade of this building. The shape of the building and the handrails in the stairwell gave it away (similar handrails can be found in the Cullen, E. Cullen and Heine buildings at UH and the Masonic Lodge (Holland Lodge No. 1 in the Museum District). Glad to see that they will be restoring the original art deco design features. It’s been an eyesore for so many years. Now they just need to scoot out the homeless camp under the freeway across the street from it. It’s always been a sketchy little triangle near the Montrose area.

    p.s., that Fiesta was a lifesaver for all of us after Harvey! It was good to find a stocked and open grocery store — with beer!

  • @Jackson Tuttle
    From a Facebook post by Preservation Houston:
    “(T)he story about the remodeling happening out of fears of racial unrest has turned out to be an urban legend. The remodeling happened in 1962 as part of a general modernization program (by that time, the 1930s Art Deco facade would have seemed hopelessly out of date). The Chronicle reports that some street-level display windows lasted into the ’80s.”
    From Lisa Gray’s Aug. 4, 2008 article:
    “It’s hard to say what, exactly, the store’s general manager was thinking in 1962, when he proudly announced a “modernization.” The building’s interior and exterior, he told the Chronicle proudly, “are to be completely and radically changed.” ”

  • It’s nice to see what’s under the cladding for sure, but do we have any real reason to think that any significant part of the exterior detailing or finishes will be preserved? I _haven’t_ heard any real announcements that exterior preservation is a priority.