On October 28, 1964, Sears opened the largest store in its history up to that time, a 300,000-plus square foot colossus in Canoga Park’s Fallbrook Square Shopping Center, located in the western reach of the San Fernando Valley. Complete with a massive Disney World-esque underground warehouse and service infrastructure, the store represented a major acknowledgment on Sears’ part of the sensational population growth of the Valley.
The store epitomizes Sears’ “western look”, with an elegant, low-slung appearance, complete with palm trees towering through openings in the store awnings and a huge, upswept Sears logo sign. This basic design, in a variety of colors and building materials, was used in a large number the company’s Western and Southwestern (and Florida - not western but definitely with palm trees) locations from the late 50’s through the mid 60’s. To me, and to the extent that architecture can (many would argue a great extent), it truly reflected the optimism of the times.
The following firsthand memories come to us from Valley resident Tim of Vintage Disneyland Tickets, a great website dedicated to preserving the history of the famous bygone “Ticket Books” (among other things) that were a staple of Disneyland and later of Walt Disney World until the early 1980’s, and fondly remembered by SoCal residents and a good many out-of-towners as well. The phrase “E-Ticket” to describe something superlative originated from these books. Tim worked at the Fallbrook Square store in the early 1980’s when the store was past its prime, but many vestiges of its glory days still remained. In Tim’s own words:
“I actually worked at Sears Canoga Park, California, 1980 -1982. I worked in customer service so I got to see the whole store inside and out. It looked very much like your Sears in Phoenix 1962 photo with the Palm Trees and Green script, but bigger. Part of "Fallbrook Square" (an outdoor mall on a huge parcel of land) the Canoga Park Sears was built in 1964/65 (I think) and was supposedly the largest Sears store at that time. It was huge. Besides the main store and basement (which had everything: Vendome, a Coffee shop, a candy shop with Icees, hearing aids, optical, Allstate, and more!), it had a separate and huge Garden Center & Catalog building, a HUGE 48 bay Auto Center with a free standing Gas Station, a little key making building and we even had the LA area credit central building on the property. The warehouse part of the basement was GIGANTIC, it spanned the entire store plus 1/2 the mall parking lot and it connected the store to all of automotive and the Garden center. It was like its own city. "Upstairs" from the main sales floor was a large area the size of a school auditorium and was just for employees, it had its own full service cafeteria and a stage!!!”
“By the time I worked there it was in some decline, the "upstairs" was not for employees any more (they held microwave classes up there!) and the employee mensroom was the real sign of better times. I kid you not, it had 20 urinals and 15 stalls! and about 20 sinks! I would change from my school clothes to my work clothes before my shift and I would be the only one in there! In 1981 we replaced the old "cord board" switchboard, that was a sad day, I love working that board. We also had the Bell System chimer box. You would set it to discretely page the managers, the GM on staff was a "2-1".... "ding-ding, ding".... They took it out when they put in the new switchboard, I should have tried to keep it! The store closed in the 90's, was turned into a Kmart and it’s now a Wal-Mart with an awful facade! The Basement was turned into a Burlington Coat Factory and it still there. The Auto Center was torn down and is now a Ralphs (where I shop!) and the Garden Center building is still there and is a 24 Hours fitness center (it still has some of the Shale stone siding that the store had!). That Sears was so big it’s four places now!”
Tim also has a great story from his Sears days:
“In 1981, I had a lady try and return a pair of unworn white dress shoes that were at least 20 years out of style, the box itself was an antique. She said they didn't fit and she wanted her money back... We gave her money back, the current price for those type of shoes was about $25 and that's what she got. Amazing policy, I wonder if they still stand by that?”
Hard to say, Tim…good old Sears!
In 1996, Sears closed the Fallbrook location and moved to nearby Westfield Shoppingtown Topanga (known to purists by its original name, Topanga Plaza) in the former location of The Broadway department store upon that chain’s acquisition by Federated Department Stores, parent of Macy’s.