The Montgomery Ward Building in Corpus Christi: A Relic in Retail History

Most likely, there's a historic building in every mid-sized town across America once named Montgomery Ward, Kress, Marshall Field's, Macy's , or Sears. These department store buildings-- most of which are either vacant or used for another purpose today-- stand as relics to a monumental shift in the shopping experience that began in the late 19th century. We're thrilled to be a part of the rebirth of one such relic: the Montgomery Ward Building in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Founded in 1872 in Chicago by Aaron Montgomery Ward, the business began with mail-order catalog sales-- the first the world had ever seen. Purchases were backed with a full money-back guarantee. Items for sale were originally marketed toward farmers in rural areas, but the offerings grew quickly after the immediate success of the catalog. To meet the demand, the company constructed a giant warehouse in Chicago in 1908-- now a National Historic Landmark. It was one of the first, it not the first reinforced concrete buildings in Chicago of skeleton construction.

Other mail-order companies soon followed suit, including Sears, Roebuck & Company and Speigel. After World War I, Montgomery Ward altered their strategy and began opening retail stores. By 1930 there were 556 Montgomery Ward retail stores across the country. The 1934 Montgomery Ward Building in Corpus Christi represents the company’s standardized corporate architectural style employed by the Ward’s Construction and Engineering Department at the time. The subject building’s Classical Revival style was used by the company on new stores across the country in the 1920s through the 1930s. Other extant Montgomery Ward Buildings employing the same Classical Revival elements (particularly the massing, fenestration, and ornament) are located in Sheboygan, WI, Spartanburg, SC, and Evansville, IN. Robert Rowe, an architect with Montgomery Ward from the late 1920s through the 1930s, is credited with this often-used design.

The Montgomery Ward Company played with different styles for its thousands of stores across the country (it's important to note that over 500 of them are listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Some have a Renaissance Revival or Mission Revival flair, and the mid-century designs leaned more heavily toward Modernism.

The differing designs of the store were simply an attempt to stay current with trends. After all, Montgomery Ward was in the business of selling whatever was new and appealing at the time. Keep an eye out the next time you're driving around in a historic downtown-- you'll probably see an old Montgomery Ward's repurposed for a new use-- thanks in part to historic tax credits. Former Montgomery Ward's buildings across the country have been rehabilitated as apartments, offices, and retail. The same goes for the Corpus Christi Montgomery Ward Building. It's well on it's way to becoming a vibrant mixed-use space. Keep in touch on Instagram as the Corpus Christi Montgomery Ward moves forward!

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