AKA: Sears, Roebuck and Company, Warehouse, SODO, Seattle, WA; Starbucks Center, SODO, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - industrial buildings - warehouses

Designers: Blackwell and Baker, Architects (firm); Nimmons, George C., and Company, Architects (firm); Nitze - Stagen, Company, Incorporated (firm); Frank Lidstone Baker (architect); James Eustace Blackwell (architect); George Croll Nimmons (architect); Peter Nitze (developer); Frank Stagen (developer)

Dates: constructed 1912

9 stories, total floor area: 1,800,000 sq. ft.

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2401 Utah Avenue South
SODO, Seattle, WA 98134-1436

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Retailer Sears Roebuck and Company opened this facility in 1913, the second immense warehouse in what would be its national distribution network. Built in increments, this towered building has been an important landmark on the southern edge of Downtown Seattle for over a century. Sears founded a very popular mail-order catalog in the 1890s that fueled the company's early growth, and enabled it to build brick-and-mortar department stores nationwide. Seattle was the second Sears distribution warehouse in the nation, built seven years the first in Dallas, TX. The Seattle location's 1914 addition, designed by the company's in-house architect, George C. Nimmons (1865-1947), would set the stylistic standards employed in other Sears distribution centers built until the onset of the Depression. At the time it was built, the company claimed that this was the largest reinforced concrete building west of the Mississippi River.

Building History

Sears, Roebuck and Company, was founded in Minneapolis in 1893 by Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck. The two opened a branch in Chicago, IL, in 1893, that surpassed the MN store quickly, and the brothers decided to relocate the headquarters to Chicago by 1895. Roebuck sold his interest in the store to Aaron E. Nusbaum and his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenwald in 1896, while Richard Sears stayed with the company until 1909. Nusbaum and Rosenwald were equal partners, until the former sold his interest in 1901. Julius Rosenwald, a former clothing merchant, took command of the company, and increased its sales 5 times between 1900 and 1907, from $10 million annually to $50 million. Rosenwald devised the strategy of building regional catalog distribution stores to economically stock retail stores and to ship items purchased from the company's fantastically successful catalog business. At this time, Sears was in direct competition with Montgomery Ward, another large catalog-based retailer also headquartered in Chicago. Sears built its first huge distribution warehouse was in Dallas, TX, completed in 1906. The company, at first, rented warehouse space in Seattle by 1910, but decided to build its own immense warehouse by the next year. Warehouses were also built in Philadephia, PA, (1920, demolished) during this period of rapid growth. By 1920, Sears had sales of $235 million per year. In total, Sears built nine distribution centers nationally by 1929, including ones in Atlanta, GA, (1925), Kansas City, MO, (1925), Los Angeles, CA, (1926), Memphis, TN, (1927), Minneapolis, MN, (1927) and Boston, MA, (1929).

Erected in 1912-1913, the Seattle firm of Blackwell and Eustace designed the first seven-story wing in what would become a sprawling reinforced concrete warehouse. The firm was receiving bids from building contractors for the project in 05/1912. A newspaper article in the Seattle Times stated: "Bids will be opened tomorrow by Blackwell and Baker, architects, for the construction of a reinforced concrete store building for warehouse purposes to be constructed at Utah Avenue and Lander Street for the Sears-Roebuck Company. The building will cost approximately $300,000, and will be seven stories in height. The site was acquired from the Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound Company, and the building will be occupied by the Sears-Roebuck Company on a lease." (See Architect Will Open Bids for Big Building," Seattle Times, 05/23/1912, p. 18.) Originally, Sears paid rent to the Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound Company, a subsidiary of the Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound Railroad, itself a Pacific Coast subsidiary of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, known as the "Milwaukee Road," that built tracks that reached Seattle in 1909. Horace Chapin Henry (1844-1928) was in charge of the Milwaukee Road's western track extension. Doubtless, Sears had a very close relationship with the railroad, as it used it to ship goods west from its headquarters in Chicago.

Business was so good for Sears in the early 1910s, that less than two years later it announced plans to build a huge addition to the distribution center, completed in 1915. (See "Alteration" below.)

In 1964, Sears asked the City of Seattle to vacate South Lander Street between Colorado Avenue and Utah Avenue, to facilitate the expansion of its Catalog Store and make other improvements. According to the Seattle Times, "The city engineering department advised rejection because a 90-inch trunk sewer is in the street. Objections also came from the Water and Fire Departments." (See "City Affairs: Vacations Disapproved," Seattle Times, 12/24/1964, p. 25.)

Sears put the Catalog Distribution Facility and its 17 acres up for sale in 1987. Sears closed its retail store and neighboring auto center by 06/2014. Sixty-six employees lost their jobs at the store and 13 in the auto center. (See "Sears Closing Store, Ending a Century in Sodo Building," Seattle Times, 02/22/2014, accessed 12/10/2015.)

In 09/2007, it was reported that Starbucks Corporation had begun to outgrow its headquarters in the Starbucks Center, owned by Seattle development firm, Nitze-Stagen; it opened 668 new locations in the third quarter of 2007 and expected to open 2,600 more in 2008. Starbucks housed 3,600 employees in the old Sears warehouse and 400 more in a Pioneer Square facility. In the spring of 2007, Nitze Stagen asked the Seattle City Council to change zoning density rules governing a six-block radius around the current SODO headquarters, spurring rumors of the coffee company's imminent expansion.

Building Notes

Composed of two huge wings (the southern one built first), Sears's warehouse building contained 1,800,000 square feet of rentable space. It is the largest mixed-use building west of the Mississippi River, serving as the corporate headquarters for Starbucks Coffee and as the oldest Sears store in continuous operation.


In 06/1914, Sears announced its intention to add an $850,000, nine-story addition to the original building completed less than two years before. George Nimmons, Sears's in-house architect designed the addition, that measured 240x330 feet. Construction on this 800,000-square-foot extension was to begin by 08/1914. A Seattle Times article quoted H. Bowers, General Manager of Sears's Western operations: "Sears, Roebuck & Co. are ready to go ahead with this mammoth addition, made necessary by the phenomenal growth of their western business...." The addition, it was noted, would be "...as nearly fireproof at the builder's art can make it. Vitrified brick will be used for facing and the completed structure will be ornate among its kind. When the additions is completed, the Sears, Roebuck & Company's plant in this city will be the largest reinforced concrete building on the Pacific Coast." (See "Sears, Roebuck To Build Soon," Seattle Times, 06/30/1914, p. 17.)

In many ways, the 1914-1915 Seattle store addition set the standard for the other Sears distribution centers built elsewhere. Nimmons created a building typology that was followed in Philafephia, Kansas City and elsehwere, focused on a central tower, well-suited for company signage, flanked by, multi-story wings. The styling of these towers changed, (those built after 1923 were strongly influenced by Eliel Saarinen's entry into the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition), but the proportions and layouts remained consistent.

Sears utilized the first two floors of the distribution center's south side to open a retail store on 05/04/1925. This 1925 retail portion of the building contained approximately 60,000 square feet.

An addition was also made to the north side of the 1914 addition.

The facade of the building was altered dramatically after World War II, with a false front hung and the entire building painted a light color.

Sears Roebuck and Company made $2,500 in store alterations in 1947 to the Utah Street store. (See "$763,850 in Building O.K'd," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 05/08/1947, p. S12.)

Nitze-Stagen Company, Incorporated purchased the property in 1989. They renovated the complex before and after the 02/28/2001 Nisqually Earthquake; at this time, 400,000 square feet of warehouse space was converted to office use for the prime leasee, Starbucks. Repairs on the center concluded just before the re-dedication, 09/20/2002.

PCAD id: 8900