Boyle Heights - Plans for the former Sears building at Olympic Boulevard and Soto Street are still taking shape. But the owner said his company is working on something bigger than previous designs - which already included more than 1,000 units of housing.
“As of now we put the Sears old residential development plans on hold,” said Izek Shomof, founder of Shomof Group, which owns the massive 1.8 million-square-foot building and its nine-acre lot. “For the past year we’ve been working on a bigger and better plan that will benefit the community. It will be revealed in the very near future.”
The store closed last year after nearly 90 years in business. The property itself has been in flux for about two decades, with developers unveiling ambitious proposals that have never been built.
Shomof’s former plans - which have now lapsed - called for 1,030 live/work units, 390,000 square feet of commercial use and creative office space, a new building at E. 12th St. and Rio Vista Avenue with 1,632 parking spaces, and 200,000 square feet of retail commercial space reserved (at that time) for Sears.
Under an earlier form of this plan, the building was approved for adaptive reuse in 2015. But that approval elapsed after three years - and even later modifications to the plan in 2018 expired right along with it.
Sometimes that’s just part of the development game, though, according to the city’s Planning department.
“It is fairly common for entitlements such as zone changes, conditional uses, and Office of Zoning Administration cases to expire without the project being built,” the Planning Department said in a statement.
Then, of course, a key part of Shomof’s plan - setting aside a massive amount space for Sears - were rendered outdated when the store went out of business last spring. Since then, plans for the huge space - each floor of which is 200,000 square feet - have been vague at best.
“There was some sort of proposed office space, food hall concept that was supposed to occur but never did as the Sears bankruptcy somehow affected this,” said David Silvas, chair of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee.
But the future of the nine-acre lot at 2650 E Olympic Blvd. has felt uncertain for years - even before Shomof bought it in 2013 for $29 million. The previous owner, Mark Weinstein also wanted to convert it into a mixed-use project - with plans that included 480 condominiums, 180 apartments and 750,000 square feet of stores and restaurants, possibly even a charter school.
By 2007, however, Weinstein had turned away from that plan, and was negotiating to sell the property to boxer Oscar De La Hoya and some partners for about $70 million. But that deal fell apart in 2008 in the wake of a growing national economic crisis that year.
The building was constructed starting in 1927, and was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (No. 788) in 2004. That designation came partly just for the building itself, “a good example of Art Deco style commercial architecture and a prominent example of reinforced concrete construction in the 1920s,” according to Historic Places LA.
But its historic importance was also, of course, commercial - as the only large mail-order plant constructed by Sears, Roebuck & Company in the southwestern United States. The mail-order section of the building closed down in 1992, however, and about 2,000 people were laid off.