Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress – classic to “modern” and back

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress – classic to “modern” and back

Canal Street Architecture

canal street architecture

S. H. Kress Building, 921 Canal Street, 1959. (Franck Studios photo)

Canal Street Architecture – S. H. Kress

The S. H. Kress store on Canal Street opened in 1913. It filled the niche between the Maison Blanche building, built in 1908, and the Audubon Building, built in 1910. The store operated from 1913 until 1981. It is now, along with the Maison Blanche building, part of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Canal Street architecture passed through several phases, but the hotels return to the classic looks.

Kress – “five and dime” stores

Samuel Henry Kress opened his first store, selling “stationary and notations” in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, in 1887. The store was a success, enabling Kress to expand. He took the concept of “5-10-25 cent” stores to the Main Streets of America, such as Fifth Avenue in New York City, Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, and Canal Street, in New Orleans. While the upfront investment was considerable, the stores were successful. Kress made a good bit of money. He established a family foundation to give some of it back.

The 900 Block of Canal Street

new orleans architecture

900 Block of Canal, 1883. Robinson Atlas Plate 6 (courtesy New Orleans Notarial Archives)

In the 1880s, the 900 block of Canal Street consisted of the Christ Episcopal Church on the corner of Canal and Dauphine. Next was the Grand Opera House. Then several smaller buildings, leading up to the corner of Canal and Burgundy. In 1884, the chapter of Christ Episcopal auctioned their church to the highest bidder. The Mercier family bought the property. The church moved up to St. Charles Avenue and Six Street. This shift brought major changes to Canal Street architecture.

canal street architecture

900 Block of Canal, 1910. The Audubon Building is on the left, then the gap that used to be the Grand Opera House, then the MB Building. (courtesy LOC)

The Merciers demolished the church and built a five-story retail building. Simon J. Shwartz acquired the building in 1897. The Grand Opera House was demolished around 1900. In 1908, Shwartz demolished the Mercier Building. His “new” Maison Blanche opened in stages. Construction finished on it in 1909. A year later, investors acquired the buildings between the Grand Opera House and Burgundy Street in the 900 block.  They built the Audubon Building.  The Grand Opera House was demolished. A gap existed between the Audubon Building and MB for a couple of years. S. H. Kress bought the site of the Grand Opera House, 921 Canal Street. They filled in the gap with one of their five-and-dime stores.

Civil Rights and Kress

S. H. Kress segregated its lunch counters in Jim Crow states. Protesters in Greensboro, NC, targeted Kress as part of their first sit-ins. Protests and boycotts followed in other Southern cities, including Nashville Jackson, MS. Protesters in Baton Rouge targeted Kress for their initial protests.

The Kress store at 921 Canal avoided the protests of other cities. Civil Rights activists focused on the F. W. Woolworth store down the street. While I have no documentation here, I suspect Kress wasn’t targeted because it was next to Maison Blanche. The entrance to the Maison Blanche Office Building was right next to the Kress entrance. Blocking the MB entrance meant blocking access to the offices of a number of doctors and dentists, along with other professional offices. Perhaps activists considered this when choosing to picket Woolworth.

The front facade

Canal street architecture

The 900 block of Canal Street in 1976. The white porcelain covering on the Kress building is visible on the right.

Kress remodeled the Canal Street store in 1960. They covered the original building’s facade with a white, porcelain overlay. The original facade remained underneath. New owners removed the porcelain overlay in 1983. The building returned to its 1913 look.

Sale to Genesco

In 1964, the Kress family sold out to Genesco, Inc. The new owners dropped the Kress business model. So, they expanded the chain, moving into suburban shopping malls. Genesco closed Kress stores, starting in 1980. The Canal Street store closed as part of that first wave. The building passed through several owners. In 2000, the building became part of the footprint of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. While the front facade remains, the interior is now the parking garage for the hotel.