Sears Closing Downtown Vancouver & Some History

Comments 21 by Rebecca Bollwitt

This morning it was announced that Sears was closing its downtown Vancouver location, along with others in Calgary and Ottawa, by October 31st [News1130]. While rumours are flying about what will move into the Pacific Centre Sears spot, which they took over from Eaton’s back in 1999, my immediately reaction was that now we can finally do something about that building.

Bordering Georgia, Howe, Granville, and Robson, its blank stone walls lock out the public and offer one of the most unwelcoming sidewalk views in the city. A few years ago many talked about projections and artwork to liven up the building and during the Olympics, the broadcast projection was rather successful.

The TD Tower and the adjacent Eaton’s (Sears) building, as a part of Pacific Centre, actually sit on the site of the first and second iterations of the Hotel Vancouver.

1923 – Georgia at Howe. Second Hotel Vancouver. Archives Item# CVA 677-951.

The second Hotel Vancouver stayed at that spot until 1939, when the hotel as we know it today opened up on Burrard and Georgia.

1939 – View of 2nd and 3rd Hotel Vancouvers. Archives Item# CVA 1376-154.

After the second Hotel Vancouver was demolished, Georgia at Granville became nothing but a parking lot until the Pacific Centre development began.

1969 – Granville looking West to Georgia. Archives Item# 2010-006.095.

1969 – Pacific Centre construction. Archives item# cva 1135-41 & cva 1135-42.
Photographer: William E. Graham.

In the late 1960s, Eaton’s Department store moved from Hastings (where SFU’s Harbour Centre campus is now) to the brand new Pacific Centre Mall location [Source].

Photo credit: vjm. on Flickr – Submitted to the Miss604 Flickr Pool.

Now that a new tenant will be moving in, Cadillac Fairview could take advantage of this opportunity to provide street-level access, bring in more foot traffic, and even open up sidewalk-level retailers around the perimeter.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Would you like something to be done with the building now that it will be undergoing a tenant transition?

Update July 19, 2012: CTV News confirmed that Nordstrom will be moving in.

21 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. DaveFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 10:13am PST

    With Granville and Robson becoming one of the most heavily foot-trafficked areas downtown, this building should be revitalized to include a new digital experience. Screens, art, windows, projections could all help bring this building into the 21st century.

  2. SophiasianFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 10:15am PST

    I’d love to see it become an extension of the Vancouver Art Gallery – Vancouver’s Tate Modern as it were

  3. NoraFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 10:18am PST

    That building is a windowless eyesore. It should either be destroyed or renovated in a way that makes the corner seem more open.

  4. LisaBFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 10:19am PST

    The Art Gallery! They’re looking to move & the Sears building is a windowless box with plenty of room for them to expand. It’s a match made in heaven. And the Art Gallery will probably be more interested in opening up at street level than another retailer would be. This has been my daydream for a while. The Art Gallery probably can’t afford the lease though.

  5. Alan HawkerFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 10:59am PST

    Agreed, this would be an amazing space for an art gallery, or museum.

  6. Peter vT – @PvTFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 11:08am PST

    Yes, first thing I though when I read the headline… Art Gallery!!!

    I think it would be ideal and the location is just perfect!

  7. Tina HoangFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 11:47am PST

    In 2010 my friend proposed a brilliant solution when the City of Vancouver opened the floor to suggestions on how we can reach our 2020 Greenest City Targets. I think it’s brilliant:

    “Demolish Sears and replace it with a big green plaza

    “Downtown Vancouver lacks a central open space where people come first rather than cars. The green spaces that exist are all boxed in by cars on all sides. This creates an uncomfortable, noisy environment where nobody wants to stop and hang around.

    “Right in the middle of this, we have the Sears building: a gigantic, bland eyesore that is mostly empty. It blocks the view between several heritage buildings and adds to the claustrophobic feeling of downtown.

    “If Sears is demolished, an enormous space opens up from Vancouver Block to the Art Gallery. This could be modeled into a huge green multi-level plaza, which would become the focal point of downtown life. If in addition, Howe street is tunneled underground from Georgia to Smithe, including all the on/off-ramps for parking, a true car-free space develops that is nevertheless eminently accessible for both cars and transit.

    “It would be a place for food carts, European street-side patios, buskers, summer stages, and more.”

    Original Talk Green to Us entry:

  8. TomFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 11:54am PST

    Tear that monstrosity down and build something good there.

  9. Pamela WiseFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 12:34pm PST

    Nordstrom’s would be awesome, with a Target & Trader Jo’s too please.

  10. PhilippeFriday, March 2nd, 2012 — 1:06pm PST

    @Tina, love the idea of a downtown plaza! Vancouver is in desperate need of a central public square. Such an idea would finally put my Toronto/Montreal envy to rest, as both those cities have great public spaces open to all.
    But I’d even be happy with a slight reno to bring shops and a street life back to that section of Granville.
    That building is freaking ugly! And I think any change will be a welcomed one.

  11. Tim W.Friday, March 2nd, 2012 — 1:26pm PST

    Love Tina Hoang’s idea, but can’t see anyone going for it because it wouldn’t make money. I wanted to see an open square where the Future Shop building now sits, but obviously that didn’t happen.

    It shocks me that anyone approved plans for that building. Why do so many architects seem to have no grasp on what actually will look good at street level and be useable. A lesson many of them need to learn. Sometimes blending in is better than sticking out.

  12. SalSaturday, March 3rd, 2012 — 3:44pm PST

    This block truly feels like the heart of the city and I think this is a fantastic opportunity to finally create Vancouver’s greatest public space.

    When I heard about this news I immediately thought of one of the entries in the Vancouver Public Space Network’s “Where’s the Square” design competition. I’m not sure who the authors of the submission were (maybe Tina’s friend?), but it was for the creation of a much-needed public space on the south side of this block, accompanied by redevelopment of the north part.

    Here is some information from their competition entry for those who are curious —

  13. Robert DallSaturday, March 3rd, 2012 — 7:24pm PST

    Man that is going to be one hell of a Apple Store when it opens… 

  14. Best on the Net: Sears closure, Bill C-10 and Cactus Club | City CaucusSaturday, March 3rd, 2012 — 11:33pm PST

    […] posts some excellent historic photos of Sears over the last few decades. The photos are worth a look. She also […]

  15. David BrookfieldSunday, March 4th, 2012 — 7:28pm PST

    Here’s my proposal, and maybe it’s a little grand, but I think it would really put the city on the map. Let’s tear down the Sears building, and have Frank Gehry (he is Canadian after all) design an amazing mixed art and history museum that can compete with the likes of the Smithsonian and Guggenheim. Let’s get some proper international culture in the heart of the city – the kind of place people will come from all over to see, and locals love to frequent.

  16. TomSunday, March 4th, 2012 — 9:17pm PST

    i must say they should turn it into a park, i can remember when they tore down the hotel Vancouver there when i was young- they should of kept it, shame ruining the city’s history, well the should tear the sears building down anyways

  17. AlbertMonday, March 5th, 2012 — 7:55pm PST

    Since this is a historic centre of Vancouver, I suggest going back to the roots: Rebuild the Second Hotel Vancouver! This is a great opportunity to transform the entire block (by demolishing both the Sears and the ugly monster that is TD Tower!) and providing another great social benefit to Vancouverites and our guests. The rebuilt building should be of mixed use: retail, hotel with some residential component at the top. Also Vancouver Art Gallery may be able to more partially or fully to the building. In addition I would suggest building 3 floors underground as part of Pacific Mall expansion and connection to Skytrain. In addition, because of ever increasing impact of Robson/Granville intersection, a new entrance to Skytrain Vancouver Centre station should be built there.

  18. nickThursday, March 22nd, 2012 — 9:29pm PDT

    i think on the news they said theres word it could possibly be replaced by a nordstrom

  19. PavelMonday, March 26th, 2012 — 8:40am PDT

    Hey people, come on, no one is going to demolish the building (and no way TD tower goes down) – it makes money in any shape it is. I agree it is the ugliest building of the downtown but it is quite functional, especially its connection to Pacific Center. Opening up the ground level would be very nice – I would love to see more coffee shops looking towards Art Museum, Robson’s side will definitely benefit from street level boutiques as currently whole Robson shopping experience kind of stops after Robson Square. Granville’s side once opened up will be successful anyways as the passing by crowd is big.

  20. JennieMonday, March 26th, 2012 — 9:56pm PDT

    I would love to see it become a sort of indoor courtyard/mall type of experience. No Big chain stores but all of the mom and pop type places that have been forced out or shut down by high rents on Granville St and the like.
    Coffee shops, a centre courtyard with musicians with an open centre roof perhaps? I’ve been to some really
    cool shopping centres in Europe and would love to see this in Vancouver 🙂

  21. Alan LaytonSunday, September 2nd, 2012 — 9:07pm PDT

    I’m very late to this discussion, but I have seen a proposal for a Nordstrom’s that removes all of the bland siding and put’s in glass, much like the other glass buildings built downtown in the last 20 years. Personally I think with the new proposal for a massive, new Brentwood Mall and the fact that the city is aggressively making downtown unfriendly to cars, that retail will largely die out. It’s already declining and although it still has the best selection of higher end retailers it’s future doesn’t look good. There are so many malls to choose from that are easy to get to, have free parking and are located near the most rapidly growing population centers that the hassle of just getting downtown will be mainly for special trips. So I prefer the non-retail proposals in the comments, such as: a grand square or conversion/rebuild for an arts center. I’m sure Nordstroms will eventually populate other malls so once the uniqueness wears off it won’t be such a draw.

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