Philadelphia’s Sears Tower

When Americans are asked about the Sears Tower, they normally call to mind the recently renamed Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois. However, if asked about a Sears Tower when in Philadelphia, you’re likely to get a different answer. In Northeast Philadelphia, where Adams Avenue meets Roosevelt Boulevard, the 14-story Sears clock tower stood for over 70 years.

Sears visible from Roosevelt Boulevard.

Sears visible from Roosevelt Boulevard.

Side of Sears building

Side of Sears building with the bottom section of tower visible.

In the 1900s, the Sears, Roebuck & Co. was still growing rapidly in the United States. With the company’s need to expand eastward from Chicago, Philadelphia was highlighted as a possible location for one of their mail-order houses and plants. With the city’s important railroad access, the Northeast Philadelphia section, along Roosevelt Boulevard was chosen as a location.

From 1919 to 1920, Sears, Roebuck & Co. constructed a large complex that consisted of a large 9-story building that included a 14-story clock tower. The neo-Gothic brick building was designed by George C. Nimmons, a Chicago-area architect who had worked for Sears, Roebuck & Co. previously, even designing the company president’s home.

The building opened October 18, 1920 even though parts of it were still unfinished. This was just one of the companies allowing the Northeast section of Philadelphia to grow. However, even with the success of the Roosevelt Boulevard building, the overall decline of mail-order shopping prompted the company to open up a nearby retail store there just a few years later, in 1925. It wouldn’t be the company’s only expansion as Sears would also add on an administration building and a power plant. They even paid for a miniature of their building, with its famous clock tower, to be constructed as a firehouse on a nearby block.

Engine Company Number 70 on 4800 Langdon Street.

Engine Company Number 70 on 4800 Langdon Street.

Through most of the 20th century, the Sears complex was a popular and well-known landmark in Northeast Philadelphia, It employed thousands of workers from the surrounding neighborhoods. In the 1960s, the area, still a popular hub, even had a subway station constructed. Although it was meant to be connected to the Broad Street Line, the plan never went through. Unfortunately, in the 1980s and 1990s, sales decreased and the building with its iconic tower was sold in 1993.

On October 31, 1994, the Sears Tower was imploded. It barely took 7 seconds for the building to go down, as seen in the 6ABC news broadcast from that day. 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-nvu4SlD54?rel=0]

 

With a 14-story tower and over 25 million square feet, the implosion was set to be the largest of its time.  Hundreds of Philadelphia residents came to watch as over 70 years of history was brought down in 7 seconds.

Today, the area is home to a shopping center full of different chain stores. However, it is also still home to the Sears power plant, which was visible in the above video and not imploded. Currently, the power plant building is not being utilized other than Home Depot advertising its logo on the smokestack. The power plant and the aforementioned firehouse are the only Sears buildings remaining in the area.

 

Miller, Bill. (1988, May 15). The Sears Tower. The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sitton, Lea. 1994, October 24. An Explosive Finale For Giant Sears A Landmark Will Go As It Came: In Record-setting Fashion. The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Phila PA Chronicles – Keeping Time By Sears Clocktower

 

 

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One Comment

  1. JerrycONWAY
    Posted March 4, 2015 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    STARTED WORKING THERE IN ’61. PART OF MY 1ST JOB WAS TO STORE RECORDS IN A ROOM 2 FLOORS BELOW THE CLOCK. THERE WAS AN OPEN AREA BELOW THE TOP AND IT WAS USED DURING WWII BY CIVIL DEFENSE AIRCRAFT WATCHERS. WE STILL COMMUNICATE WITH EX-SEARSITES AFTER ALL THESE YEARS.

    WHEN SEARS PUT US OUT THEY MEANT IT BY BLOWING UP THE BUILDING. ABOUT 500 OF US “FORMER” EMPLOYEES WERE 3 BLOCKS AWAY WATCHING IT GO DOWN & WHEN THE SMOKE CLEARED ONLY THE FLAG POLE FROM THE CLOCK TOWER WAS STICKING UP FROM THE RUBBLE–GOT A BRICK FROM THE RUBBLE & STILL HAVE IT!

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