Inside the Kress Building

First Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

First Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

There’s an allure to walking around inside an old building. Paying careful attention a person might see clues to its historic past, touch woodwork of a bygone era and sometimes even smell the past. It’s an intrigue I’m sure many of us share. Think of the abandoned home you drive by on the way to work. It’s hard not to wonder who lived there, why no one moved in when they left and what of their lives were left behind. At least Tom Waits and myself have those kinds of thoughts.

A number of us visited J’s Mega Mart over the years when we needed a new wig or other item. Located on the first floor of a three-story former Kress Building, did you ever wonder what was going on in the remainder of the building? The short answer is that, like several buildings around downtown, the bottom floor is often the only floor currently in use. It’s often not good news for the building as the upper floors are often left to deteriorate.

First Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

First Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

First Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

First Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Patrick King, one of the gracious people from Henry and Wallace who allowed me to tour the Century Building before it was renovated agreed to join me to look around inside the Kress Building. I recently wrote about the plans for the building and I asked Patrick about those plans which included some components that caused me to scratch my head a bit. He said that the presented plans were simply one option and that the final build-out will depend on the tenants who lease the space. At the time we spoke he said no leases had been signed on the property outside the Bullman’s Gym space which I talked about last week.

The first floor looks significantly different already, which the removal of the low-hanging ceilings and covered-up columns from the Mega Mart era. The removal of the merchandise alone would impact the feel of the space, but the ceilings are now so much higher that the space feels much larger. The claustrophobic feel of J’s is gone and, with the back wall exposed, an opportunity to further alter the feel is revealed: bricked-in windows line the back wall. Those windows would open into Strong/Armstrong Alley and could be opened up to provide some light to the back of the space. Doors could also be placed to open into the alley, depending on the needs of the clients.

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Second Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

A small mezzanine level appears to have been constructed for offices and provides a wide view of the floor – a useful vantage to have in a department store – but it will likely be removed to make a more open space in the back. The floors in J’s were tile but, as you might expect in a building that age, there are hardwood floors underneath the tile that appear to be in good shape other than the glue from the tile which will need to be removed.

The most amazing characteristic of the upper floors is that the pressed-metal ceiling tiles are in amazing condition. Clearly, very little water has slipped in over the years and the ceilings looked to me as if they would require little, if any, restoration. It may be the most perfectly intact metal ceiling tiles I’ve ever seen in one place. It made me wish the upper floors could be something other than office space so more people could enjoy them.

Third Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Third Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Third Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Third Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Third Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Third Floor, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

The floors on each of the upper stories are the original hardwood and were not covered with tile, so they likely can be cleaned and will be ready for use. Some areas showed damage, but it seemed very limited. Large windows line the front and wash the floors in light. Custom shelving from some by-gone business lines much of the walls in each of the upper floors. It appears some of the remaining debris relates to early gaming systems.

Each floor is close to 8,000 square feet, so they are certainly large enough for more than one use adequate for a business that needs large amounts of space. I’m a little surprised condos weren’t considered, as that is what the company has done on the upper floors of the Century Building. That building contains twelve potential units, ranging from $299,000 to $479,000. Three are currently under contract. It will be interesting to track what happens on those floors. The top floor has what appears to have once been a large skylight which, if returned to its original use would provide amazing light.

Basement, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Basement, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Basement, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

Basement, Interior of the Kress Bldg, Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2015

We also walked through the basement space which is more utilitarian, with concrete floors and lower ceilings. It should be great as a gym. The most curious features on that level were the wall illustrations: Pac-man chasing pizzas and the venerable image of a creepy clown holding a pizza. Odd. I’ve seen online discussions of the lunch counter for Kress being in the basement, but I don’t think Pac-man and Kress overlapped, so I’m not sure what to make of it.

In short, it’s a great space that will serve someone well. Someone is going to do something very cool here. I’m anxious to see what’s next for this great building.

Comments

  1. I posted this yesterday, but for some reason it didn’t take.

    I recall the arcade, and ran across something about it just a few months ago while researching Worlds Fair arcade tokens.

    The arcade was Carnival World, $5 bought unlimited tokens for the day.

    • Ah. Carnival World.
      I was close, anyway.
      ~m.

    • I remember going to Kress’s for lunch on Saturdays. The food was delicious. The memories of the downtown Knoxville when it was alive and booming. The sidewalks were always crowded with shoppers. The bus stop was between Sears and JC Penny. Grants department store was on a corner and we had Lerner’s and Woodruffs. I can remember it all so well.

      • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

        Wow. Try imagining a half-dozen department stores downtown, now. The era of big department stores may be gone, but it would be so great to be able to buy the variety of goods offered in those stores in our downtown today.

      • What was under Grants at that time?

  2. My very first memory was in the Kresses building. I think I was turning four. I remember I saw a little multicolored metal reel type toy push lawn mower hanging up high in the toy section which was in the right rear of the store. I said I wanted it and was told perhaps for my birthday. I think I got it soon after. That would have been April 1956.

  3. Terrye Guthe says:

    Years ago – probably close to 30 – there was an amazing multi-level arcade downtown with all the old pin ball machines and skee-ball and a few ‘new games’, Pac Man being one of the main attractions. There was also food available. One of the most fun dates my husband and I ever had! I have thought about it over the years, and wondered where it was located, and it looks like you may have just solved that mystery! I wish someone would invest in a re-do. It would be amazing – everyone needs to play!

  4. I would love to see a climbing wall/climbing center in the Kress, similar to High Point in Downtown Chattanooga — something for kids and adults alike. Maybe Bullman’s could take it on. 🙂 🙂

  5. Great space for a restaurant on the first floor. Or, how cool would an Apple Store be in that space. Oh, sorry, I guess they are locked into the old West Town Mall scene. Too bad. Thanks for the inside views Urban Guy.

  6. The Kress building housed an arcade during the World’s Fair. I’m not certain, but I think the name was “Circus World.”
    ~m.

  7. Just John says:

    It’s great to see such potential uncovered–the wood floors, the ceiling tiles, the skylight and rear windows. I hope the rehabilitation lives up to that potential ! How much will they have to spend to get the spaces finished ?

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