The Kress Building: A Depression-proof Dime Store Turned Luxury Lofts
THE KRESS BUILDING:
REPURPOSING THE DEPRESSION-PROOF DIME STORE, KRESS & CO,
INTO LUXURY LOFTS IN DOWNTOWN LONG BEACH.
By Lindsey Goodrow
The five-and-dime department store S.H. Kress & Co. was built on Long Beach’s Pine Ave in 1923, two years after the city struck a vast underground pool of oil on Signal Hill. This specific store marked location number 152 in the Kress empire - which would eventually grow to over 250 nationwide, with no town too small nor city too large to open one. While this dime store had fierce competition with the famous Woolworth’s, it was wonderfully unique in that each building displaying the Kress name had incredibly ornate architecture. Kress buildings were so mesmerizing, in fact, that they became demolition-proof, with many cities repurposing the buildings that once housed them.
Imagine what it must have been like to walk around the now Historic Pine Avenue in the 1920s, dropping into the city’s own Kress & Co. to buy an ice cream cone for one penny. Or maybe you would splurge on a sundae for five cents. Better yet, go crazy and grab a banana split for a dime. Then you’d eat your cold treat at the counter or perhaps take it outside in the Southern California heat and walk down to the Pike, which was then fitted with a wooden boardwalk, a two-track rollercoaster, a string of a thousand lights, a bathhouse, a fortune teller, an arcade, and more.
The Roaring Twenties swept through western society with all of its glitz and glamour, boosting the United States economy with the creation of mass consumerism. Along with the rest of the west, Long Beach was thriving with explosive growth in retail and merchandising. Everyone had money to spend, and this ultimately led to a surge in variety store franchises such as Kress & Co.
Samuel H. Kress was a business entrepreneur as well as avid art collector who opened his first variety store in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. Shortly thereafter, Kress stores were popping up in large cities and small towns all across America. Samuel H. Kress made the prescient decision to build his stores in cities that were on the verge of major development, often making it a town’s main attraction and therefore a wildly successful business. In order to set his stores apart from competitors, Kress employed an inhouse architecture firm to dream up, design, and build beautiful, streamlined stores that would make a lasting impression. And last they did.
Few businesses could imagine positive growth after Black Tuesday in 1929. But two months into the Great Depression, Kress & Co. celebrated opening ten more stores and hitting record sales. Kress & Co. became a safe haven for those hit hardest by the Great Depression, offering everything they might possibly need at incredibly low prices. The amount of disposable income any given person of this time had was little at best, so stores like Kress allowed them to spend sparingly but efficiently.
A century later, Kress & Cos around the country have survived threats of demolition and destruction due to not only their historical significance but their ornate wonder. Kress’s love of art and all things beautiful meant that each store was an architectural treasure. These buildings showcased sleek modernity with streamlined form, strong verticles, curved glass, sleek marble, and an ornate typeface on the classic Kress sign.
As department stores moved out of buildings on main street and into large indoor shopping malls in the 1980s, the great era of Kress & Co came to an end. Because of their architectural splendor, however, these depression and demolition-proof buildings have been repurposed as bookstores, movie theaters, bars, restaurants, business spaces, antique markets, and condos. Long Beach has repurposed and reinvented their own historical Kress & Co into luxury loft apartments.
In 1992, developers Peter Janopaul and Anthony Block transformed the Kress building downtown into 49 spacious and sleek luxury lofts. The intricate Kress sign was repainted with bold colors, pointing down now to a communal rooftop patio with enviable views of the downtown harbor.
The next time you are strolling down Historical Pine Ave., look up at the ornate cornice of the Kress Building, kept intact with attentive care. Gaze at the painted mural enticing you to schedule a viewing of the dreamy lofts that the building is now home to. An appreciation for Long Beach’s colorful history shines bright from this building as does a desire to continue to build and live boldly.
Painting by Jamie Tablason