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VOL. 121 | NO. 204 | Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Gruenberg Award Sheds Light on Kress Building

By Zachary Zoeller

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POLISHED AND PRESERVED: Architects Inc. recently received Memphis Heritage's Paul Gruenberg Commercial Rehabilitation Award for its preservation of the historic Kress building at 9 N. Main St. -- Photo By Zachary Zoeller

On North Main Street, old and new converge to create a feeling of revitalization and promise sprinkled with nostalgia.

The trolley rolls by Court Square as pedestrians toss crumbs to the birds, and ashes from the recently burned Lincoln-American Tower are swept up and carted away.

"For Rent" signs line the windows of condominiums built in the neighborhood's aging structures, beckoning passersby to pump new life into the buildings that were thought dead and gone in years past.

By the end of September, there were 390 condo sales year-to-date in Downtown's 38103 ZIP code, 246 more than at the same time in 2005, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com.

Old Downtown structures, such as the Claridge Hotel at 109 N. Main St. and the Shrine Building at 66 Monroe Ave., have been refurbished into housing, and other structures such as the Hunt-Phelan House at 533 Beale St. have been reinvented as hotels and restaurants.

'A tremendous honor'

Architecture Inc., a local architecture firm specializing in historic preservation, recently won the Paul Gruenberg Commercial Rehabilitation Award from Memphis Heritage Inc. for helping turn the Kress building at 9 N. Main St. into hotel suites for SpringHill Suites by Marriott.

"It's a tremendous honor," said Joey Hagan, principal of Architecture Inc. "Our goal was to fit a modern hotel and all its amenities into a historic building."

Architecture Inc. performed the adaptive reuse part of the project, which means conserving and restoring the historical aspects of a building and adapting the structure to new use. Michael Schuermann, Architecture Inc. principal and project design consultant, was the primary architect behind the conservation.

The Kress building was a five-and-dime store that operated from 1927 until 1994, lying vacant until August 2005 when the hotel opened its 50,000-square-foot annex.

Atlanta's Summit Management Corp. spent about $6 million to renovate the building, and the floor plan was designed by Bounds & Gillespie Architects of Memphis.

For June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage Inc., the Kress building was a must-save property.

"We've always been very concerned with the Kress building," she said. "It was a very important building for not only Memphis but the region."

S.H. Kress & Co. was founded in 1896 and built more than 250 five-and-dime stores in 29 states, often creating unique structures such as a Greek temple design in Montgomery, Ala., and a pueblo design in Amarillo, Texas.

Hidden treasure

One of the Memphis Kress building's most prominent features was a large staircase in its middle that led to the basement sundry, or a type of convenience store with a variety of consumable goods.

However, Architecture Inc. found out the stairs were not original to the structure when four marble staircases were found, one in each corner of the building.

At that point, Architecture Inc. had to regroup to decide what to do with the discovery.

"We went back to the drawing board and we saved them," Hagan said.

The marble staircases lead into the bottom level of the building, which is planned to become a restaurant and jazz bar, hotel employees said.

The ornate terra cotta façade of the building was left intact, which is the main requirement of the National Park Service when it evaluates buildings for historic tax credit, Hagan said. The purple, green and gold façade features eagle and lion heads, cornucopias and fruit designs.

The firm also found a room within the building's cupola, or an ornamental structure at the top of the front façade, which the hotel wanted to use as a machine room, Hagan said. But the architects persuaded the company to turn it instead into a room, and now it is a two-level penthouse suite.

Unimpaired vision

Paul Gruenberg, who in 1945 opened Advance Rubber Stamp Works with his brother, Bill, in the 89-year-old Gruenberg Building at 339 Madison Ave., made it the first adaptive reuse project in Memphis.

Since 1976, the Paul Gruenberg Commercial Rehabilitation Award has been given to recognize the adaptive reuse of historic buildings.

"The concept is so vital to the renovation of any Downtown area. You can look at a building - will it ever be what it was when it was built? What other use would it have?" West said.

Gruenberg not only opened his business in the building but moved his family there, too.

"(Gruenberg) was one of the first returnees living Downtown," said John Griffin, Memphis Heritage board member. "We honored him because he had the vision to bring a family Downtown."

Gruenberg sold the company to Tommy Davis in 1977, and in March 2005, Charlie Hodges bought the building and runs Advance Rubber Stamp Works and Accurate Graphics today.

Designed in 1913, the building's construction was delayed until 1917 because of World War I, Hodges said. The original hand-applied, detailed plaster, elevator and chandeliers hearken to the early days of the structure, he said.

Clear conscience

West said she believes restoring old buildings is vital to the city.

"We love it. It's obviously one of the best things that can happen for a preservationist," she said. "For the pure preservation component, it saves our historical architecture. "From an economic perspective, it increases the value of the property. It's a win-win situation."

But property and business owners must be willing to make it happen, she said.

"Because of the Downtown boom, it's attracting people who aren't used to thinking that way. They have to do it with a conscience."

PROPERTY SALES 97 418 8,253
MORTGAGES 112 508 9,293
BUILDING PERMITS 194 1,059 18,126
BANKRUPTCIES 46 208 5,367