Historic Inspiration: The Sears Crosstown Building

16 Nov

If I had an old-buildings-to-go-inside-and-gawk-at bucket list, this baby would be on it:

Sears Crosstown

It’s the Sears Crosstown Building in Memphis, built in 1927 and once a thriving retail, distribution and warehouse space for, you guessed it, Sears. All 1.4 million square feet of space – yes, it’s that big – has been empty since 1993, when the last remnants of the catalog business were shut down.

Last night, I had the opportunity to venture inside, thanks to an ArtMemphis event held to showcase the work of the Crosstown Arts Organization.

Cross that one off the imaginary bucket list.


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The pillars that run the stretch of the building and form the framework for what was once the bustling distribution center are breathtaking in their symmetry within the vast space.


Since the building is so large and dark, there is an eeriness to the place (and it probably didn’t help that it was literally a dark and stormy night). However, the space doesn’t feel cold – rather, its architectural character and aura of history make it feel as if it’s been waiting to be populated again.

Red Pipe


In addition to the beauty of the building itself, the ground floor was packed full of antiques. These particular pieces were from a recent Memphis Heritage auction. Most of the items I spied – well, let’s be honest, drooled over – were salvaged pieces from historic homes throughout Memphis.


These cast concrete front porch columns once stood 8 feet high and were salvaged from a demolished Memphis home. Wouldn’t those decorative caps make an amazing addition to a kitchen counter? You could even reassemble the columns for an outdoor living space. Or, you could stare at them, longingly, as I did from behind the caution tape.

Built Ins

These cupboards are Colonial Revival built-ins saved from another house in the area. How amazing would these look in a modern kitchen? This inspires me to try to recreate the look with a salvaged window (I stumble upon them often in antique stores) and a bookcase. What do you think?


This pair of steel vault doors, recovered from the former Memphis Customs House (now the University of Memphis Law School) would sadly not fit in my purse. Can’t you just imagine the elegantly dressed business men who swung through these doors at one time? I can, and they are all wearing bowler hats. And watch fobs. And they are singing.

Not everything was a part of the auction. Some of the pieces lying around the building were actual artifacts of daily life in the Sears Crosstown building.


These carts line the outer walls of the building and once served a vital purpose in the busy warehouse. Think of all the ways one of these carts could add beauty to a modern home, from a garden feature to repurposed bench. With all the pallet furniture projects floating around in the blogosphere, it’s fun to see the original. And with beautiful wheels to boot.

And then, because it was a dark and stormy night and I was in an abandoned Sears building, I had to take the obligatory photo of creepy manequins:

Creepy Manequins

I’m filled with inspiration for bringing the art-deco charm of the Sears Crosstown building and the objects within it home. Moreover, I’m filled with pride to live in a city that sees this building for the jewel box it is and gratitude for the people who are working not only to save it, but also to develop it into an anchor for our community.

Sears Crosstown

For more information on the Sears Crosstown building and the Crosstown Arts initiative, visit www.crosstownmemphis.com. And for stunning photos of the rest of the building, you must flip through this photo essay.

Have you found inspiration for your home in historic places? Are you as intrigued by the concept of Urban Exploring as I am? Did you buy one of the above pieces in the auction and are you in the market for a new best friend? Add your comment below!

5 Responses to “Historic Inspiration: The Sears Crosstown Building”

  1. raycha11 November 16, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    Wow, gorgeous building and I love your comment “its architectural character and aura of history make it feel as if it’s been waiting to be populated again.” I would be drooling too!

    • Katie November 16, 2011 at 9:10 am #

      Thank you! It really is a beautiful space.

  2. Brantley Ellzey November 28, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Great article! Thanks for posting! The Sears building is such a gem and the folks with Crosstown Arts are doing great work. While not affiliated with Crosstown Arts, I have a studio in Crosstown that was part of the night’s intro to the neighborhood. VINI is another art space in the neighborhood featured Tuesday night that is well worth a visit. If you weren’t able to make it by my place Tuesday night, give me a shout. Thanks!

    • Katie November 28, 2011 at 11:57 am #

      Thanks Brantley! I did get the chance to visit your studio and was so impressed. I love that you’re doing great work in such a creative neighborhood. One more reason to be proud to be a Memphian!


  1. sears crosstown – day 361/365 « a girl, a camera and 365 days - December 30, 2011

    […] wrote a great post on her blog about it – Read it. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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