The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,
and I am longing to be up north”.
--The usually omitted first verse of
Irving Berlin’s classic song “White Christmas”
Well, as you can see, it’s actually a bit overcast, but I’ll bet the grass is green. The orange groves were plowed up a while back to make room for legions of new suburban homes, shopping centers like this one and Disneyland, but there are a few carefully selected palm trees. And we’re not in Beverly Hills, but rather in Costa Mesa, right in the heart of Orange County. More than likely the photo wasn’t taken on Christmas Eve, but it’s definitely from the Christmas season, as evidenced by that hallmark of Southern California style - a gold garland Christmas tree, standing right there atop the Sears.
This photo, shown courtesy of the Orange County Archives, depicts the Sears end of the South Coast Plaza shopping center, which opened at the corner of Bristol Street and Sunflower Avenue in Costa Mesa, California in November 1966 and was still looking prime 15 years later when the photo was taken. Although the shopping center itself was designed by the legendary Victor Gruen, the architect for the Sears store was the firm of (the also legendary) Stiles Clements and his son, Robert. This was one of the very last projects to occur under the elder Clements’ watch, as he passed away in January 1966, while the store was still under construction. A huge store at over 338,000 square feet including the auto center, garden shop and other structures, the South Coast Plaza Sears was the chain’s largest store in the far west at the time of its opening. It still exists.
I recently heard from the grandson of George Scherquist, construction manager for Sears’ Pacific Coast territory from the 1940’s through his retirement in 1968. Mr. Scherquist presided over one of the largest and most impressive store development programs in retail history, and the South Coast Plaza store would have to count as one of his crowning achievements.
Speaking of Sears (and we were), at this time last year I mentioned the wonderful Wish Book Web site, where a fascinating collection of department store catalogs are scanned in full and available for your viewing delight. A number of the catalogs are Christmas editions, including an outstandingly beautiful 1966 Sears Christmas catalog, published the year this store opened. Many catalogs have been added to the site in the past year.