Sears building at former Salem Mall has shot at national historic listing

The Sears & Roebuck building at the former Salem Mall has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.

The one-story structure on 4.7 acres at 5200 Salem Ave. in Trotwood was built in 1966 and consumes about 125,000 square feet, according to registration records.

It closed in 2014 and was bought at auction by the city in 2019, records show. Sears has “undergone little modification, especially at the exterior, and maintains a moderately high degree of historic integrity,” records state.

There are mixed feelings, however, about how approval for a national register list would impact the property.

The site is in undergoing the three-step review process required for designation, said Barb Powers, Ohio History Connection head for inventory and registration.

A state advisory board has approved the Sears building and Ohio History late last month was finalizing its submission to the national parks service, which approves the designations, Powers said.

Trotwood officials are optimistic the Sears site will be listed on the national register and are working on its re-use, Mayor Mary McDonald said.

The designation by the national parks service would be a source of “community pride” and help “tie in the old with some of the new” developments in the city, McDonald said.

McDonald said the site has been earmarked for $2 million in funds through the help of U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton.

“We see it as an absolute plus along with the projects that we plan for inside … It speaks to the history of Trotwood, but also the future,” she added.

Trotwood officials’ vision for the building include it being the future home of the Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center, along with produce growers and “banking, office space and entrepreneurial programs,” McDonald said.

But state Sen. Steve Huffman said a national register designation may have some drawbacks.

“I spent a lot of time at the Salem Mall growing up, but I find it of no historical value and see no architectural uniqueness,” the Tipp City Republican said in an email.

“The problem I believe they will have if it becomes … on the national registry it will be very hard for them to ever tear it down” should a development Trotwood does not want be proposed, Huffman said.

The parks service decision will be based on “if the property meets national historic criteria, if the property retains historic integrity — meaning it has character-defining features in architecture, its materials or its design — that help to convey it’s place in history, its significance,” Powers said.

She added that the structure is “a very significant type of commercial building from the mid-60s and (that is) also expressed in some of its architecture.”

Powers said a federal decision is expected in late-June or early July.

“We’re excited about it because … it’s the last piece of the mall,” McDonald said. “And we found that that portion of the building actually did have some really strong bones to it. And we believe that we can keep that history and that piece alive there.”

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