Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sears - Christmastime in the O.C.

“The sun is shining, the grass is green.
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.


  1. Wow! That's a great picture!

    Merry Christmas to you and all of your readers!

  2. I bet if Irving Berlin was around Chicago this past Sunday when windchills felt like 30 below and the wind kicked up as awful as any blizzard, he would be pining to have a "Sunny Christmas" instead of a white one. I know I am!

    Merry Christmas, Dave!

  3. Like the old California postcards said, "You throw a snowball for me, and I'll pick an orange for you."

    I was just in that Sears a couple days ago, and time has not been kind to it. Of course, I suppose the same could be said of the whole Sears chain. Anyway, my childhood memories of the SCP Sears include the smell of freshly popped popcorn at the candy counter and a never-ending Winnie-the-Pooh promotional theme in the children's department.

    Thanks for yet another great post, and Merry Christmas.

    Chris (in sunny Orange County)

  4. Great photo! Did not know that about "White Christmas," interesting stuff. Love the "Wish Book Web" as well, I'll definitely be bookmarking that. Wonderful entry as usual!

  5. Pat - Same to you - hope you and yours had a great Christmas, and best wishes for the new year!

    Didi - After growing up with Chicago, sunny Christmases seem awful good to me!

    Chris - Thanks very much, and hope you had a great Christmas also. I think many of the classic Sears stores are in the same state as the SCP Sears you describe. The days of popcorn and Winnie the Pooh (which I vividly remember as well) were longer ago than we'd like to think.

    And thanks for all the great work you do on your blog and with the OC archives to make this great material available!

    Kendra - Thanks! I could spend a lot of time on the Wish Book Web, there's so much there. Regarding White Christmas, Bing Crosby omitted the opening verse on his version, which is of course the definitive recording, so it's been pretty much lost to time.

  6. Judging by the models of those cars in the parking lot, and visible signs of the Bullock's store being there (unless it was being built in the photo), I am willing to bet that this was actually around 1971, not 1981 as you mentioned.

  7. I love this picture. There is hardly any development around this center whatsoever!
    Now, it's so completely urbanized and the mall is dramatically different. I love it!

  8. Randy - I think you may be right on this. I've spent a bit more time looking at the cars, and see a lot of "boats" and no "downsized disasters". Also, the muted colors are more in line with early 70's cars colors as well. Not to mention the store is in such fine shape. The Orange County Archives shows a 1981 date for the photo, and when I have a chance I may ask Chris to verify it if possible.

    Scott - Thanks, I feel the same way!

  9. Annoyingly picky O.C. historical fact #349:

    This shopping center, rather than replacing serried ranks of deep emerald citrus trees like so many of its predecessors in O.C., was constructed on former lima bean fields belonging to the Segerstrom family.

    That's some rich growin earth underneath that place.....