What Will Become of the Boyle Heights Sears?

C.C. de Vere

C.C. de Vere

· 4 min read
Image of the closed Boyle Heights Sears store, a Streamline building with a tower and neon signs.

Boyle Heights is in a unique position.

City leaders have largely ignored Boyle Heights, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, for decades. Residents' requests for repairs and cleanups are often disregarded.

Boyle Heights residents have also been fighting off gentrification for years. Is it really so unreasonable to want to stay in your family's longtime neighborhood and have the city fix the streetlights and pick up the damn trash once in a while?

For quite some time now, there have been plans to close and adaptively reuse the Sears building in Boyle Heights, a striking 1927 Streamline Moderne building. Its younger sister in Santa Monica, built in 1947, closed in 2017 and was converted into office spaces. However, the project's website is defunct and the main building appears to be empty. I did a little digging and it seems that several very large spaces (accounting for what seems to be the entire building) are still available to rent.

The former automotive department has found new life as a florist's shop, and the parking lot is taking paying customers for $10 per hour (even in Santa Monica, that's a ridiculous ripoff), but I question whether anyone is in fact using the offices. Or if anyone ever has.

Boyle Heights' Sears store closed in April 2021 and has been empty ever since.

Anaheim businessman and philanthropist Bill Taormina, who has funded multiple homeless shelters in Orange County, intended to turn the defunct Sears into what he dubbed the "Los Angeles Life Rebuilding Center". Taormina's plan called for housing up to 10,000 homeless people, along with providing onsite medical care, mental health care, job training, addiction treatment, and immigration assistance.

Boyle Heights residents, who were not consulted about the plan, largely rejected it. Many consider it unfair to add thousands of people in need to a community that has been shortchanged for so long. One rallying cry was "Take that to Beverly Hills!"

Residents' desires for the property are perfectly reasonable: stores that serve the community, job training facilities, recreational areas. Some of them even overlap with Taormina's now-defunct plan. (Taormina has agreed to consider residents' input in future proposals.)

That last request - recreational space - is more important than the elite might realize. The 5 freeway runs right over Hollenbeck Park (would you want your kids to play in a park underneath a noisy, smog-belching FREEWAY?), and the Sixth Street Viaduct unintentionally became a de facto park (of sorts) when it reopened. That doesn't tend to happen in communities with ample public space.

The city plans to build a new park under the bridge this summer, but we'll see how that goes. I haven't forgotten certain times when the city conveniently ran out of money for things it was supposed to do, or just plain lied to get what it wanted, but that's a rant for another day.

I won't presume to tell the good people of Boyle Heights what the best use of the former Sears campus is. I've never lived in the neighborhood; what would I know?

Per an LA Times article that was published 11 months ago, the empty property has become a magnet for trash and illegal dumping. And it's well-known that the city doesn't do much about either in non-wealthy neighborhoods, Boyle Heights included. It's also a well-known fact that trash attracts more trash and dumping attracts more dumping.

I don't know what the answer is. I just hope it doesn't sit empty for too much longer when it could be put to good use.

I also hope it doesn't turn into the Eastside version of its little sister in Santa Monica - a glorified parking lot with an apparently empty building in it.

(2650 East Olympic Boulevard, Boyle Heights)

C.C. de Vere

About C.C. de Vere

C.C. is a fourth-generation Angeleno and is horrified at what greed and hubris are doing to Los Angeles.

This website was built by her preservation pals at Esotouric.

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