Deteriorating Beauty: The Sears Crosstown Building



Me in braids posing in front of decades old flaking paint.

Sears Selfie

A few weeks ago on a balmy Saturday, Justin Thompson of Crosstown Arts invited a group of media types and photographers for one last look inside the behemoth Sears Crosstown building before construction crews shut it down to work their magic. My photographer pal, Ziggy Mack, joined me on this adventure, and we were met with scores of other creative types that were eager for this opportunity. I worked on a fashion editorial in this space in 2010 (I think) and it was really exciting to be inside that building with its ghosts and atrophy back then. Regardless, I wanted another look inside and jumped at the chance to go again and peruse around with my camera.

The massive structure is every bit imposing as I walked up to enter and it internally knocked me off balance as my mental axis tried to digest something so large and intimidating. I know the place is empty and I know it really doesn’t pose any type of threat ... but it still has a major presence. The emptiness is only magnified by the neglect and decay as it makes your mind pulse with the imagination of the past and the possibilities of its future. It’s gonna be something else when it finally gets THE makeover and Memphis is going to have a jewel in a much forgotten corner of Midtown.

Lisa Hume, grant writer for Crosstown Development, was our tour guide for the afternoon and she proved to be a valuable key figure. She knows every square foot of the space and the history that goes along with it. It was fascinating to follow her around in the dark corridors and learn about what was and what is going to be. It’s a good thing I wasn’t in charge of its renovation and attracting new tenants. Once inside, I immediately thought ... “gosh this place would be the most amazing gay bar” but thankfully forward minded Memphians have come up with a better plan. 

Soy Catolica so I naturally have an affinity for old and perishing edifices like the mighty cathedrals all over the world that have seen better days. I am always attracted to things that aren’t perfect so the Sears Crosstown building with its bullet ridden limestone, broken windows, peeling paint, and rotten wood is just my type of structure. I am endlessly attracted to the interesting flaws that present themselves in ways of texture and other visual chemistry. Highlights include the electrical floor with rows and rows of old punch clocks and dangling wires; the office space with my favorite metallic leaf wallpaper that I wish I could replicate in my own home; and the water tower room with sweeping vistas of Memphis in every direction. I also loved the men’s bathroom with old beautiful tile — totally weird, I know. 

It’s safe to say the asbestos got the best of me ... or maybe my braids were too tight because I failed to save most of my photos and realized my grotesque error after I was into my third margarita at the after-tour gathering with Ziggy. Total Amateur Move. So, *extra special snaps* to another stellar young photog buddy of mine, Joey Miller @iamjoeymiller, for sharing his shots with me. I really wish I had my pics of the work clocks with wires, the wallpaper, the water tank, and even the urinals but I don’t. Gone which is what all of that is going to be anyway in a few months. The new building with its long list of improvements is going to be astonishing and I’ll love it, I’m sure. But, I’ll always have the decrepit space with its arresting blemishes in the back of my mind. 

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