The ‘Empire State Sears’? City moves to landmark Flatbush retailer

The ‘Empire State Sears’? City moves to landmark Flatbush retailer
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

The city is moving ahead to designate a Sears store on Beverly Road in Flatbush a landmark — and if the stunning Art Deco ediface gets the approval, it will have a single enthusiastic preservationist to thank.

Tenzing Chadotsang, who directs a grant program for the Landmark Preservation Commission by day, was driving by the classic Sears Roebuck store when he was struck by the majesty of the streamlined building, located near Bedford Avenue

“I said, ‘Wow, this is a beautiful building,’ ” he said. “It recalled the Empire State Building — it has all these Art Deco details as you get closer.”

Chadotsang took photos, and was surprised to discover that the building was not protected from demolition — a possibility given that Sears, like many retailers, has merged with other companies over the years and shuttered some stores.

The Flatbush store remains open — though its elegant front windows have been bricked over, a remnant of urban blight from the 1960s.

“They saw what was going on with riots, so they bricked over the windows,” said one former resident.

But in its day, the Nimmons, Carr and Wright-designed limestone building was so important to the chain that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the grand opening in 1932.

The store features two three-story wings, and a three-story tower with a stylized Sears logo on all four faces, beckoning shoppers from Flatbush Avenue and beyond.

Preservationists cheered the potential designation.

“It’s wonderful that Landmarks is looking at things slightly afield,” said Simeon Bankoff, who heads the Historic Districts Council. He celebrated the designers’ revolutionary move to reject Classical ornamentation in favor of clean, sweeping lines.

“It’s an expression of modernity,” Bankoff said. “It’s about the romance of the machine age.”

If the building is designated a landmark, the structure will receive protection from the wrecking ball, and any modifications to its iconic exterior will require special approval by the city.

“Landmark status is important because it protects the building and these aesthetic resources for generations to come,” Chadotsang said.

The commission weighed the matter on Tuesday, and will make a decision in the upcoming weeks.

Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

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