A Rare Trip Inside the Sears Crosstown Building

A Rare Trip Inside the Sears Crosstown Building

For two years, I've been staring at the Sears Crosstown building's art deco facade from my home office window. The building, which has been empty since 1989, looms large and mysterious over my house. Like many Memphians, I've stared at it for years, wondering what it's like inside.

And today, I got to go in.

Sears Crosstown Building, Memphis, TN

Artist Robin Salant invited me to come with her while she checked up on the colored light project she's installing in the building (through a Crosstown Arts grant). The project is a series of moving, colored lights that go flicker nightly from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m.

Sears Letters, Sears Crosstown Building, Memphis, Tenn.

The building, which was completed in 1928, housed a Sears store, warehouse, offices and distribution center. After the building closed in 1989, it sat empty for years. Recently, several local organizations and developers have started trying to figure out how to revitalize the iconic building (and its surrounding neighborhood). There's no solid plan yet, but I have very high hopes for the building's eventual restoration and use.

Inside the Sears Crosstown Building, Memphis, Tenn.

Here are some photos I took on my trip inside:

There's a room in the tower that houses all of the elevator controls.

Elevator Control Room, Sears Crosstown Building, Memphis, Tenn.

Because there are so many broken windows and cracks in the building, nature has found its way inside.

A Tree Grows in Crosstown, Memphis, Tenn.

Tree in Crosstown, Memphis, Tenn.

Part of Robin's installation includes covering the south-facing windows in theater-grade light gels so that the illuminated windows are colored. Here's what it looks like from the inside:

Robin Salant Installation at the Sears Crosstown Building

Robin Salant Light Installation, Memphis, Tenn.

All of the lights are fluorescents or LEDs that are powered by batteries which are charged by solar panels on the roof.

Solar Panels, Memphis, Tenn.

In order to get to the solar panels, though, you have to climb through a window.

But once you're on the roof, the view is pretty awesome.

From the roof of the Sears Crosstown Building

Here are a few more pictures of the inside of the building:

Blinds, Sears Crosstown, Memphis, TN

Radiator in Orange, Memphis, Tenn.

The coolest part of the building is the top room of the tower (of course). It's not because it's the tower - it's because of what's inside. I don't know what I was expecting - maybe some sort of penthouse office - but here's what lives there: a giant red water tank.

The Tank, Sears Crosstown, Memphis, TN

You can't tell from the picture, but the tank (that's it on the right) is at least four stories high and 30 feet wide. It held the water for the building's sprinkler system.

Robin Salant on the Roof, Memphis, Tenn.

Thanks again to Robin Salant for taking me in the building today. You can see her lights nightly on the south side of the building and - sometime next week - in the east-facing tower.

There are more photos from the building on my Flickr stream.

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i had move to millington back in 1979 up until i had left in january 1997 i had remeber the old sears building which it's part of memphis landmark as well few other building that is part of memphis landmark it's great to see the pictures of them on line now as well few of the land marks in millington area as well.
October 12, 2011 1:15pm
Thanks for the pictures and report. My grandmother worked there in the 30s. Love that place.
October 12, 2011 1:28pm
sharon crawford
I just wonder, why? this is such a fascinating building and to have life in it would be a "greatnes to the beautiful city of Memphis. what could be done to restore life to it? thanks for allowing us to view what's inside.
October 12, 2011 1:41pm
Chris Cook
Thanks for sharing. I have always been fascinated with that building.
October 12, 2011 3:22pm
Akila Hamlettt
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October 12, 2011 6:47pm
Debby Cameron
Thanks!! I remember going there in the 70s. It's such a shame that it's empty now. Flashing colored lights are a lot better than a dead building though.
October 12, 2011 7:53pm
Thanks for coming out today, enjoyed your company, and your photos! :) facebook.com/crosstownlights
October 12, 2011 11:35pm
We used to go there sometimes when I was a kid, in the basement they’d have these giant clearance sales. The rest of the building was already closed off and seemed very creepy. I read in the Memphis Flyer in the past that people have wanted to buy it and turn it into apts but that would be a great undertaking b/c it is in such a state of disrepair and also asbestos issues. Thanks for these great photos. I'm surprised by all of the sunlight and that it appears rather clean, considering how long its been sitting there without any maintenance.
October 13, 2011 9:00am
Glad to see something awesome is starting to happen with that amazing building!
October 13, 2011 12:16pm
Jerry Hancock
WOW!!! Now that the Atlanta plant is seeing a renaissance, we hope and pray that this architectural masterpiece can get some much needed TLC as well! Thanks so much for sharing!
October 13, 2011 5:46pm
Talitha Franklin
This is random, but some of these pictures could pass as art.
October 14, 2011 9:26pm
Thank you so much for sharing this! For years I have wanted to know what was inside that building. I am glad it may be brought back to life in the near future!
October 25, 2011 4:37pm
Rebecca Wigand
Thanks for sharing these amazing photos.  My dad retired from Sears in 1980 after 35 years of service.  I remember having lunch with Pop in the "executive" lunchroom when I was a child in the early 60s.  It was very different then.  My dad was a buyer for the catalog division, which does not exist any more.
February 15, 2012 5:47pm
Latest SoKaN L…
[...] like a good plan to me.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day to perch on a lawn chair and ponder the historic Sears Building. My grandmother used to work there and I can’t drive by it without thinking of her.  I hope to [...]
February 23, 2013 6:31pm
Jeremy Crunk
I wish I could get inside this place for photos.   Dreamland for a photoshoot.  Thanks for sharing!
June 14, 2013 4:41pm
Maurice Trimm
We Shopped there in the late 40's and 50's. We live on Tulley, then Dempster.  Since pharmacy school I've lived in: Bluefield, WVA; Nashville; Ft.Baker; CA, Korea; and Texas. Thank you,   Maurice      
November 26, 2013 11:20pm
Maurice Trimm
We Shopped there in the late 40's and 50's. We lived on Tulley, then Dempster.  Since pharmacy school I've lived in: Bluefield, WVA; Nashville; Ft.Baker; CA, Korea; and Texas. Thank you,   Maurice      
November 26, 2013 11:21pm
Bobby Price
I worked for sears for alot of young life and i have       great memories of working those years in the crosstown store.It was the best place to work back then the company took great care of all its people.I am moving back that area i can see the from my home i am just so happy to see people are taking an intrest  in that great old building.
January 24, 2014 4:17pm
Bates Crabb
Holly, Could you ask Rebecca Wigand if she would be willing to share her Dad's name? Having worked many years with Sears Catalog and most of those years were there at the Crosstown location (495 North Watkins). Hey! We may have been good friends as well as co-workers. Sincerely, Bates Crabb
June 25, 2014 4:21pm
Howard Sage
Sprightly article, Holly. Are you covering the opening tomorrow, 2/21/15?   HS
February 20, 2015 9:26pm
Vanessa Fernandez
Yes I'm really interested in a tour of the Sears building I've been coming to Memphis for the last 6 years taking care of my mom she grew up here in Memphis and used to shop at the Sears building it wld be a great gift to my mom if she cld take a tour. Love Memphis❤
January 3, 2017 10:33pm