In 1899, Detroit resident Sebastian S. Kresge invested $8,000 to purchase two five and dime stores. That was the start of the Kresge chain that much later became K-Mart. By 1912, Kresge administered a string of 85 stores. Consider the communication, transportation and administrative challenges facing the head of such a chain. The development of excellent telegraph, then telephone, services were certainly helpful along with an efficient and fast rail system.
For the first decade or so of its existence, S. S. Kresge administered the chain from an office above the store on Woodward. Then business prospered and Kresge asked Albert Kahn to design an office building fitting the firm. Kahn, in this design, was strongly influenced by the innovative Chicago school of skyscraper architecture. Kahn used a steel frame for the Kresge Building sheathed in white brick. You might compare this building to the Dime Building designed by Burnham and just a very short walk away. Compared to many of his buildings, Kahn did not elaborately decorate the office structure for Kresge. There are modest embellishments with brick work on the lower floor and very attractively arched windows on the uppermost floor. The white panel at the top originally carried the Kresge name in clear, bold letters.
At first, the Kresge firm occupied only nine of the 18 floors. That changed as the firm expanded across the country. Indeed, in the mid-1920s, Mr. Kresge asked Albert Kahn to design a new and larger office building. This time, Kahn selected Art Deco as an inspiration for the massive building located on Second Avenue at Cass Park in downtown Detroit, a building that opened in 1927.
After Kresge moved their offices to Cass Park, the building you see was renamed the Kales Building. It became a popular and desirable location for medical offices and prospered for many years. About 1970, medical personnel began moving away and, by 1986, the last renter left.
When planning began for a new downtown baseball park in Detroit, it was originally assumed that the stadium would be located to the east of Woodward near Grand Circus Park. The Kales Building would have been razed. Later plans changed and the new Comerica Park was built to the west of Woodward. For some time, plans called for demolishing the Kales Building for a parking lot but that did not occur.
By the early 2000s, it became clear that downtown Detroit was becoming an increasingly trendy place to live, especially for those who worked either downtown or in midtown Detroit. A dozen or so older buildings were converted into condominiums or apartments. A firm, Mansur Real Estate Servuces, purchased the empty Kales Building in 2000 for $135,000. They spent approximately 17 million dollars in a renovation that created retail space at the gound level and 119 apartments ranging in size from 582 square feet to 1180 square feet. Rentals began in 2004 and, a few years later, the owners reported a 90 percent occupancy rate although the retail space was vacant from time to time. In the spring of 2013, the owners of this building defaulted on their mortgage and the holder of that mortgage, SSJ Properties of Ferndale, began to operate the structure.
This is one of many excellent examples of profitably reusing a structurally sound and appealing old building. Interestingly, the Kales Building stood vacant for 18 years and, for much of that period, many assumed it would be torn down.
The Kresge name is applied to quite a few other structures in the Detroit. There is the Kahn-designed former headquarters of the firm located at Cass Park. The impressive and large home that S. S. Kresge had Meade and Hamilton design for his family brightens at the corner of West Boston and Woodward. In 1972, the Kresge firm became K-Mart and moved their offices to Troy. The Kresge Foundation located its offices in a Greek revival farmhouse built in 1852 and located in Troy. Subsequently, the Foundation commissioned the Detroit firm of William Kessler and Associates to design an office building on the farmstead. There is also the Kresge Library on the campus of Oakland University in Oakland County, designed by Swanson and Associated and opened in 1963. There is also the Kresge Science Library on the campus of Wayne State University near the intersection of that university’s mall and East Kirby designed by Pilafian and Montana and opened in 1953.
Architect: Albert Kahn
Architectural Style: Chicago skyscraper
Date of Completion: 1914
Date of conversion into residential use: 2004
Use in 2013: Retail space and apartments
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Registry of Historic Places: This building is with the Grand Circus Park Historic District; #83000894; Listed in 1983
Photograph: Andrew Chandler, July, 2004
Description updated: June, 2013
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