Published in The Vindicator on March 31, 2014 (Link)
By KAREN BELL
“I know buildings don’t last forever. We should just look at them as often as we can.”
That’s what Lindy Chambers told a reporter from the Enid News when the Kress Building in Enid, Okla., was torn down in December.
Now, it’s Youngstown’s turn.
The Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. said demolition will happen this month at the former Kress store building, 117-121 W. Federal St. The city agreed to buy the property for $500,000, which the CIC will use to pay for the cost of demolition.
The Enid News said the Oklahoma store was built in 1908. The Youngstown store dates to Sept. 15, 1925. However, by the second millennia, both were beyond affordable repair. In Enid, the brick-and-mortar exterior was in bad shape. The Youngstown building façade still has its white-tile terracotta, although it is laced with cracks and gapes where tile used to be. The rubble-filled interior also has a 4-foot gaping hole just inside the entrance.
“A number of engineers have looked at it and say it’s beyond salvage,” said Thomas Humphries, president and chief executive officer of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
In its heyday, the Kress store was a destination for Youngstown residents.
Laura Cherol, 88, work there in 1945. Her favorite section was the basement.
“Downstairs was material. And they had carpeting. And they had shoes. I remember shoes. That was about it downstairs,” Cherol said. “Upstairs, we had makeup, candy and there was a luncheon counter … we used to get our lunch there.”
Samuel H. Kress built the first store in 1896. The first stores were known as “5-10-25 Cent Stores.”
“The candy that we sell you for 20 cents a pound is just as good as any 80 cent candy on the market, and has the advantage of being placed fresh every hour,” states an advertisement in the Oct. 2, 1910, edition of the Tribune Herald in Rome, Ga.
This emphasis on value wasn’t the only promotion Kress used.
“S.H. Kress and Co. was a pioneer in establishing a company identity by means of a ‘signature storefront,’ ” wrote Bernice Thomas in her 1997 book, “America’s 5 & 10 Cent Stores: The Kress Legacy.” “It gave strong impetus to the idea of the building as an advertisement.”
Kress even had its own in-house architect department that designed the buildings. The best known and most valued were those with the gold-colored “Kress” logo emblazed on the building – like the one in Youngstown.
“During the 1930s especially, the S.H. Kress stores were conceived not just as efficient containers of merchandising and storage functions, but also as works of art, civic art that would contribute to the urban landscape,” wrote Richard Longstreth, an architectural historian and professor at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
The Youngstown store closed Jan. 9, 1959. By 1964, the company was sold to Genesco. In the 1980s, all the stores were closed.
Some Kress buildings were saved including those in Fort Worth, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; Daytona Beach, Fla.
Others, such as the one in Enid, would fall to the wrecking ball.
Lynn Popa, CIC’s facilities supervisor, said her agency made several attempts to develop the structure without success.
“When we got the building it was already too late,” said Popa.
“I really think for the sake of the buildings around – you know these ones that have life in them – I just think these buildings (Kress and the now-demolished Paramount Theater) are weighing them down,” said Popa.
Meanwhile, the CIC looks to the future. The group plans to renovate the Wells Building at a cost of between $6 and $8 million.
While some focus on the future, others are unhappy at losing a piece of Youngstown’s past. Rob Pilloli owns a salvage business and has renovated several structures including his home in Wick Park.
“Anything can be saved,” said Pilloli. “The building is built around a steel beam skeleton,” and that is enough to work with.
The biggest problem, Pilloli said, is money. The city gets money for demolition, not restoration.
Here are the numbers. The last renovation estimate came in at $8 million. The cost of demolition is around $400,00 or less.
Popa believes renovating the Kress was a lost cause a long time ago.
“When it’s going like that, it’s only a matter of time,” she said. “Somewhere in the ’80s and ’90s is when someone should have made the call.”
Meanwhile, the CIC has moved on to other projects. The group plans to renovate the Wells Building at a cost of between $6 and $8 million.
In Enid, a Hilton Garden Inn will replace the Kress.
“Buildings in a community create a sense of place,” Chambers told the Enid newspaper. “We will no longer have that building in our downtown, but we will have something else, and hopefully it will create a sense of place for future generations.”
Youngstown plans to build a parking lot on the Kress site.
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, The University of Akron, Cuyahoga Community College and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).