A Brief History of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalog Building and its Historic Wood:
The Sears Catalog was officially first published in 1887, dubbed the “Greatest Supply House on Earth.” By 1897 the Catalog contained more than 800 pages with specialized catalogs available separately. The farmer was the initial targeted consumer, but the “audience” base widened dramatically as their products diversified.
After years of expansive growth, Sears constructed a central catalog-order processing center in Chicago, Illinois, in 1905. Construction took thousands of workers a full year at the cost of $5 million. The resulting Catalog Building was the largest wood-frame construction structure in the world, as well as the largest office building at the time - the Catalog Building itself was nine stories high (plus a 14 story tower, from which world-famous radio station WLS used to broadcast), floor space was approximately 3,000,000 square feet, and was 2 city blocks long. The entire complex including the Catalog Building and Administration offices covered nearly 40 acres of real estate. Richard W. Sears, founder of the company, aptly called it a “city within a city” where approximately 9,000 people filled orders for five million customers – especially rural Americans – within its first year. The huge timbers of Heart Pine that made up the majority of the massive building were harvested from virgin forests near Bogalusa, Louisiana, over 104 years ago.
The Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalog Building processed nearly all of their catalog orders until 1994 when the facility was decommissioned, and subsequently demolished the following year (only the tower from the building still stands as an Historical Landmark). Between the years of 1906 and 1994, the Sears Catalog was a veritable institution that brought big-city convenience to those outside of the urban centers of America’s cities. The Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog division brought to rural America previously unheard of conveniences, which included amenities such as clothing, toys and kitchenware. They also sold farming equipment, barns, schoolhouses, and even houses (one of the most notable accomplishments the Catalog made), including furnishings, décor items and privies. It was once said by a member of the Moscow Bureau of the Associated Press that the phonograph record and the Sears Catalog were the two greatest pieces of foreign propaganda in Soviet Russia, with the Catalog being at the top.
Vern Hartvigson has acquired the last of the furniture grade lumber that was reclaimed from the decommissioned Catalog Building. That beautiful and historically significant wood is being used as part of a project to preserve a segment of one of the greatest early American industrial success stories with the Historical Preservation Series.
Wood of this caliber is rarely seen, regardless of species. This Antique Heart Pine is remarkably dense and of premium quality. It has also become richer in color with age. Many of the Mini Chests include beautiful knots - some even have nail holes left from the actual construction of the building, remaining as important reminders of where this historic wood originated.
The Historic Preservation Series currently has two different lines - the Antique Heart Pine Mini Chest, and the new Antique Heart Pine Mini Bungalow Chest.
The original Mini Chest utilizes traditional joinery in a unique and elegant fashion. The Mini Chest uses dovetail construction, coupled with endbells acting as side bolsters and anchors for the lid's two solid brass pins.
The newer Mini Bungalow Chest uses construction reminiscent of the visionary Greene & Greene techniques - an exposed form of joinery seen frequently in Bungalow homes constructed in the earlier part of the 20th Century. The shape of the Mini Bungalow Chest even is similar to a bungalow with its gabled top and distinct exposed joints, and, like the original Mini Chest, features solid brass pins for the lid's pivots.
To view specific information regarding the two Antique Heart Pine lines of Mini Chests, as well as more detailed images of the products, please click on the image just below.
Below, we have been privileged to have been granted permission from the company that dismantled the Catalog Building. Brandenburg Industrial has allowed us to use photographs taken from the Sears, Roebuck & Company Catalog Building prior to and during the demolition and reclamation project. Photos were taken between 1992 and 1994.
The Sears Catalog Building in 1992, prior to demolition.
Most of the Sears Catalog Building has been removed in this image.
The Catalog Building seen from the intersection of Homan and Arlington.
Gigantic timbers that have been removed from the Catalog Building site. Over 12 million board feet of lumber was used in the mammoth building.
An aerial view of what was left of Sears' Catalog complex. Huge stacks of timbers reclaimed from the building await removal in this lot.
All images and designs © C. LaVern Hartvigson, except demolition images on this page which appear courtesy of Brandenburg Industrial.
Unauthorized use of any kind is prohibited by Federal Law.
Hartvigson's is not affiliated with Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Photographs of the Antique Heart Pine Mini Chest and Framed Photo by Frank Flavin.