The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Enid Features

November 16, 2013

Remembering Kress

ENID, Okla. — It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to an old friend and move forward to something else.

More than 100 years have passed with the S.H. Kress & Co. building being a familiar sight in Enid. People stream past the building each day, many unaware of the nostalgia brought about by Kress buildings across the country.

The building, located at Maine and Independence, is scheduled to be demolished — along with Cherokee Strip Conference Center — around Friday. In their places, a Hilton Garden Inn and parking garage are to be built.

The facade of the Kress building originally was to be included in the design of the Hilton Garden Inn, but at a recent city commission meeting, LodgeWell, the company that will build and operate the proposed hotel and parking garage, said Kress’ original brickwork and mortar were badly decomposed.

Commissioners subsequently voted to demolish the building.

***

Enid’s S.H. Kress & Co. store was erected in 1908 and the variety store known to most as simply “Kress’” or “the five and dime” was a popular shopping destination.

“It’s beautiful, with its curved glass windows and its art deco architecture,” said Lindy Chambers. Chambers was the director of Main Street Enid for 12 years and has an active interest in Enid’s history. She now works at Downtown Kitchen Store, owned by her daughter, Jessica Andrew.

Enid’s Kress building was designed by architect S. Zeitner with Samuel H. Kress’ idea that the Kress buildings should enhance the city’s landscape — an idea that is coming back in popularity now as cities grow.

Enid’s Kress building, with its attractive design, has been a part of many memories for those who shopped there and even those who resided in Enid after the store closed in 1972.

“I remember shopping there with my grandmother and that all the five-and-dime items were like little treasures to a small child,” said Lana Billings, owner of Lana’s School of Dance in Enid. “I mainly remember the wooden floors that squeaked when you walked on them.”

“It was a whole experience to get to go to Kress,” said Chambers. “They had wonderful candy counters ... and the wooden floors that creaked when you walked on them.”

The Kress building housed Dollar General from 1972 to 1979 and was saved from demolition in the 1980s.

“Ruth Freeman and some other local historians saved it,” Chambers said. “She was one of my heroes for speaking up and stepping up to save it.”

The Kress building then became incorporated into Cherokee Strip Conference Center. Since its construction, the building, with its arches and curves, has been a visually memorable part of Enid’s downtown.

“It’s been the backdrop of events and parades,” said Chambers. “We just want to acknowledge this history of the building as a grand old dame of Enid’s history.”

“The name on the building is an important part of Enid’s history,” said Enid resident Jeanette Ratliff. “Kind of a ‘Norman Rockwell’ feeling.”

“Buildings in the community create a sense of place,” said Chambers. (The Kress buildings) are an important sense of place dotted across the countryside.”

Wade Chambers, a historian and Harvard graduate, grew up in Enid and had something to say about the nation’s Kress buildings.

“Kress stores have been preserved in Lubbock, Fort Worth, Tampa, El Paso, Charleston and at least 25 other cities,” said Wade Chambers. “The Memphis Kress store is now part of the SpringHill Suites hotel complex. The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., holds a permanent collection of Kress building ‘records,’ including thousands of drawings and photographs relating to the design, construction, and operation of more than 200 stores stretching from New York to Hawaii.”

Enid’s Kress building is reaching the end of its life, but not the end of its legacy. The building will be replaced by a new building, a new business, but it will continue to live through memories and numerous photographs taken in downtown Enid over the decades.

“Buildings in the community create a sense of place,” Lindy Chambers said. “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.”

Chambers said she drives by the Kress building every day, just to look at it as much as she can before it’s gone.

“I know buildings don’t last forever,” said Chambers. “We should just look at them as often as we can. They are part of what makes us uniquely Enid, Oklahoma.”

Chambers said she hopes people can learn to appreciate historic buildings now, rather than waiting until they are threatened.

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