Almost 100 years ago, the Kress Co. opened what was known as a “Five and Ten Cent” store in downtown Columbia and, for decades, traded in everything from clothing to candy.
On Friday — weeks away from its latest incarnation as a dueling piano bar - the Kress building went before the Missouri Advisory Council of Historic Preservation in a bid for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
The council gave conditional approval and, once renovations to the building are finished, its nomination will be forwarded to the national level for final approval.
The building reflects an important place in the commercial and architectural history of downtown Columbia, according to Deb Sheals, a historic preservation consultant who prepared the application papers.
She said full approval can’t be granted until a concrete canopy is removed, which is the final step in renovations begun in July 2003. Owner Chuck Franklin said he hopes all renovations will be completed by early October.
Franklin and his wife, Sue, have owned the building for 22 years, and Eastside Live nightclub was the most recent tenant. When the building’s plumbing and electrical systems went beyond repair last year with the heating and cooling systems not far behind, Franklin began a major repair project. It wasn’t long until he realized he was in over his head.
Franklin consulted with Sheals to help him with applying for the national register. The Columbia consultant has worked on about 1,000 buildings around the state to get them into the register. Placement entitles owners to substantial tax credits.
Work has now been done with the help of project manager Bill Miller to restore the massive second-story windows, rehabilitate the parapet above the roof and remove a concrete canopy that was added in 1968. The plumbing, electric and heating systems and sections of the pine floor have been replaced.
The hope is to restore the building to look like it did in the 1940s, Sheals said.
“I was really fascinated by the (building’s) connection to the Kress Co. and that they employed their own architects responsible for the design,” Sheals said. “The fact that it is only a two-story building but is as tall as the three-story building down the street is just remarkable.”
With work on the first floor almost completed, a dueling piano bar called The Penguin hopes to have its grand opening Aug. 26, Franklin said. A dueling piano bar is a high-energy dinner show with a team of entertainers using pianos, comedy, singing and plentyof audience interaction.
Sheals is also working with the owner of the old Central Dairy building across from the Kress building on Broadway. She said it should be ready for consideration by the next council meeting three months from now. Downtown, 15 sites, including the North Ninth Street District, are on the national register. In the city overall, 25 sites are on the register.
Sheals said listing in the register will make the Franklins eligible for federal and state tax credits totaling 45 percent of the cost of renovations, which so far have cost an estimated $400,000.
When tax credits for preservation of historic sites became available in 1998, the number of buildings being restored and placed in the register escalated, Sheals said.
“There is definitely a trend towards preserving old buildings in Columbia,” Sheals said. “And I think historic architecture in downtown plays a big role in making our town unique. It helps make downtown what is.”
HISTORY OF THE BUILDING
Constructed in 1910, the building at 1025 E. Broadway is one of a dwindling number of Kress buildings. Samuel H. Kress founded the company in 1896. His department stores, including the one in Columbia, were known architecturally for their refined Classical Revival style.
Each Kress building was designed by Kress’ staff architects who were known for grand buildings that fit the local streetscape. At one point, the architectural division had about 100 employees to handle new construction and remodeling.
According to the University Missourian (now the Columbia Missourian) in 1909, Kress bought the prime location on Broadway near Hitt Street from Josiah Wilson Stone for $8,000 — a considerable amount at the time.
Mehornay Furniture bought the building in 1946 and occupied it until 1982.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ruth Haun worked at the Kress store in Columbia. In May, historical consultant Deb Sheals talked with Haun about her memories and included them in her review of the building.
Haun lived with her brother during the week so she could work at the store and go to school at night. She recalled that the Kress Co. kept a close eye on all operations, sending a regional manager for inspections every six months.
Long counters lined the aisles going from the front of the store to the back. Candy, stationery and toilet goods were near the front of the store; toys, hardware, hosiery (separate sections for men and women) and the music section were at the back.
Haun said there was a large record player where customers could preview their records, and it became a favorite hangout for the local boys waiting for their girlfriends to get off work.
The Kress store used a “Lamson” system, in which sales clerks sent cash up in small containers to cashiers in a balcony at the back of the store. The containers, attached to wires, would be returned with the correct change within.
Haun recalled working an average 54 hours a week, and some nights she worked until 9 p.m. By the time she left the job in early the 1930s, she had a weekly salary of $7.50.