Researching and sharing the history of buildings in our beautiful Downtown area on this blog has become one of my favorite things to do. I love digging into history and getting to tell forgotten stories that help to reconnect our past with our present.
So for my next research topic I just couldn’t help but choose the old Kress building downtown. I have always loved every minute detail of that building. However during my research I discovered an overwhelming lack of information on the building and it’s history. So I have compiled what I could discover here, but if anyone has any additional information on the building (especially access to images from the early 1930s when it was first built) I would love to hear about it! Now, on with the history:
SAMUEL H. KRESS
Born in 1863 Samuel H. Kress was the second oldest of seven children descending from German and Irish immigrants.
As a child he worked in the stone quarries until the age of 17 when he earned his teaching credentials which enabled him to begin work as a school teacher.
By 1887 Kress had saved up enough money to open his first store in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania selling stationery and notions. And as the business prospered, he used his profits to open additional stores, naming his chain “S.H. Kress & Co.”
Unlike most businessmen of his day, who chose to open stores in large developed urban areas, Kress made the unique decision to locate the bulk of his stores in smaller cities across the US that he felt had potential to grow. The stores he built in turn became the jewels of many of these small cities, most of which had only a dry goods or general store as their main retailer until that point.
However, these buildings would never have become the iconic city jewels they are without the work of one very important man: Edward F. Sibbert.
EDWARD F. SIBBERT
Born in 1889, Sibbert was a brooklyn-born american architect. And at the age of 35, after starting his career in Miami during the great Florida land boom of the 1920s, Sibbert returned to his hometown of Brooklyn where he answered an advertisement in a local newspaper.
Kress, who was in the process of dismissing his head architect at the time, George Mackay, hired Sibbert as chief architect for S.H. Kress & Co. And over the next 25 years the two would design a chain of stores spanning the United States, iconic for their consistent format and style, and instantly recognizable by their use of ornamental terra cotta.
S.H. KRESS & COMPANY
One of the 20th century’s most prosperous variety-store retailers, with just over 200 locations nationwide S.H. Kress & Co may never have been the largest retail chain, however it did manage to hold the record for highest per-store sales of any five-and-dime in the country for more than 20 years.
The reasons for this were simple, for Samuel H. Kress, his stores were always more that just another five-and-dime. Instead, he envisioned his stores as works of public art that would contribute to the cityscape. And the creation of an architectural division within his company played a key role in both attracting customers and facilitating sales.
Kress received retail branding success not merely through standardized signage and graphics, but through distinctive architecture and efficient design. Regardless of their style, from elaborate Gothic Revival to streamlined Art Deco, Kress stores were designed to be internal parts of their urban districts and helped define Main Street America.
S.H. KRESS & COMPANY COMES TO HUNTSVILLE
Huntsville was little more than a village for many years until the erection of Dallas Mill finally gave the Huntsville economy a solid base and spurred construction activity. By the year 1900 commercial development was well underway, but it was not until the 1920s that retail development really saw it’s boom. It was during this decade that national chain stores such as Penny’s, Sears, Wards and S.H. Kress & Co. began to open branches here in Huntsville.
Designed by S.H. Kress & Company’s head architect Edward Sibbert in the late 1920s and finished in 1931, the Downtown Huntsville Kress building is one of the finest examples of art deco architecture in Huntsville and since its construction has become an integral part of the fabric of the Downtown Huntsville area.
As a final note, if you are interested in leasing space in this historic building, our company actually has some space listed on the second floor! You can find all the information for that listing HERE.
And again, if anyone has anymore details about the history of the Huntsville building specifically, feel free to drop me a note, I would love to hear them!