Sibbert, Edward F. (1899-1982)
Edward F. Sibbert (July 1, 1899-May 13, 1982) was a Brooklyn and Miami architect best known for designing festive and elegant Kress stores, chiefly in the Art Deco style, across America during his 25-year tenure (1929-1954) as the lead architect for the S. H. Kress and Company chain of five and dime stores. During his years as Kress’s “vice-president for architecture,” at least 176 stores were built or rebuilt from his designs, coast to coast. In North Carolina he designed a dozen stores between 1929 and 1953, some built new and some identified by Sibbert as “major rebuilding.” The best-known surviving examples of his characteristic work in North Carolina are the Kress stores in Durham and Greensboro. Much of the information contained in this entry comes from recollections by Sibbert in 1977 and 1979 (see note below).
Edward was the son of Edward F. Sibbert, Sr., a carpenter born in New York of German parentage, and May (Margaret) Schaefer, who had married in 1898. The United States Census of 1900 showed the couple residing in Brooklyn with their son, Edward, Jr., 11 months old, and in 1905 a New York State Census showed Edward and Margaret with their children Edward, 5, and Margaret, aged 2. The mother died when the children were young. In 1910 and 1920, Edward and Margaret lived in the Brooklyn household of their widowed father. dward was educated from 1917 to 1922 at the Pratt Institute and Cornell University. In 1921 he married Bertha Klos (Clos) in New York. He worked for about six years with a series of architectural and engineering firms: Kiehnel and Elliott in Miami; Pancost and Sibbert of Miami Beach; and E. H. Fails and Company and W. T. Grant and Company in New York. His work in Florida, he recalled, consisted mainly of “costly residences including some in Miami Beach,” while his work for W. T. Grant included that firm’s store in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1930 the census noted that Edward, Jr., an architect aged 31, was living with Bertha in her brother Fred Clos’s household in Brooklyn along with their mother, Anna Klos, aged 58 and a native of Germany.
In recalling his career with Kress, Sibbert remembered that he began work for the S. H. Kress firm in New York in 1929 after answering an advertisement in a New York newspaper. Earlier in his career, he had worked in cities that displayed the newest trends in architecture, including the popular Art Deco mode in resort architecture and skyscrapers. Sibbert said that no particular examples in Miami or New York determined his designs, but he was aware of the trends of the day. When he began work with Kress, he recalled, none of the firm’s previous buildings was in this style; in fact, the pre-1929 Kress stores often featured a somewhat classical character. (The Kress Building of 1926-1927 in Asheville, N. C., designed by E. J. T. Hoffman, is an example.) It was Sibbert who introduced the new type to the company.
In response to the query, “How did you happen to choose the art-deco style? Is that how it was considered at the time?” Sibbert responded, “Never used the term art-deco. If that was a style we knew it not. We tried to use good composition, simple ornamentation and coloring which we thought was significant of a Kress store, in average American towns.” He explained, “No specific style was followed. We did lean toward simplified modern (not modernistic). Tried to have our buildings stand out in the community but not too much. Avoided classical styles.” No two designs, he said, were exactly alike, and no other buildings were used as models. Design motifs were inspired by a variety of “books, plates, etc., of ornamental design.”
Sibbert recalled that the basic form of the building was set by the size of the intended store and the lot, but the rest was up to the architecture division. The design process “usually worked like this—I would make a very rough thumb nail sketch—I think we called it an ‘esque’ in school—and the architectural designer would develop the set of sketches which we would play with until the right effect was found.” With the design agreed upon, “the final sketch then went to the draftsmen who made the working drawings with plenty of supervision.” After that, “When a contractor was selected he was required to submit full size details, color samples, etc. These when approved were used by manufacturers and workmen to produce what we ‘imagined’ when the problem first came to us.”
The Kress stores were distinguished by their extensive use of glazed terra cotta, which was fabricated in New York: “I believe it was the Atlantic Terra Cotta Co. with a plant at Tottenville (?), Staten Island, N. Y. We used Terra Cotta because it was durable, easy to clean, and liked by Mr. C. W. Kress, President.” Bright colors, including red, green, orange, blue, and sometimes gold animated the intricate, individualized decoration inside and out, with motifs that ranged from floral and animal to geometric and abstract and included Mayan and Egyptian themes.
Under Sibbert’s leadership, the Kress architectural division of as many as 20 to 100 employees supplied designs for the dozens of buildings under construction: “All architectural, structural, mechanical design was done in our own office except on large stores when we needed extra man power on structural and mechanical designs,” reported Sibbert. He recalled Elwin Seeley, a structural engineer, and Jaros, Baum, and Bolles, mechanical engineers, all of New York. Kress had “its own staff of Building Superintendents who were assigned to different districts,” and no local superintendents were employed. Construction usually took about 8 to 12 months per store. Despite the difficulties in construction and obtaining materials during World War II, Sibbert continued to design for Kress until his retirement in 1954.
After retiring Sibbert lived for a time in Greenwich, Connecticut but eventually moved back to Florida, where he died in Pompano Beach. His death index reference in Broward County, Florida, gave his dates as July 1, 1899-May 13, 1982. His obituary in the Fort Lauderdale News of May 15, 1982, noted his education at Pratt and Cornell and summarized his career “as an architect and engineer in independent practice until he joined S. H. Kress and Company in 1929. He became Vice-President in 1944 and retired in 1954.” He was a member of various clubs and organizations including the American Institute of Architects. His and Bertha’s graves are in the Boca Raton Municipal Cemetery and Mausoleum in Boca Raton, Florida. In his notes of 1977, when asked if he had any particular favorites among his works, he wrote, “Yes—the Kress Store on 5th Ave., N. Y. C. and [the one] in El Paso, Texas.”
Note: Many secondary sources give Sibbert’s birth year as 1889, but this is not accurate; official death records give it as 1899, which conforms with census records. The primary published study of Sibbert’s work nationally is Bernice L. Thomas, America’s 5 & 10 Cent Stores: The Kress Legacy (1997 The website http://www.roadarch.com/dept/knc.html features images of several North Carolina Kress stores cited to Sibbert.
Note: Much of the information, including the quoted material, contained in this entry comes from correspondence with Edward F. Sibbert by H. McKelden Smith III in 1977 and Catherine Bishir in 1979 as facilitated by Hobart E. Lias (director of buildings, S. H. Kress and Company) and F. Edgar Kerby of Lantana, Florida. This correspondence provided first-hand recollections from Mr. Sibbert in response to written questions from Smith (February 28, 1977) and Bishir (March 27, 1979).
At Sibbert’s request, his associate, F. Edgar Kirby (1977) listed the following Kress Stores as Sibbert’s designs, with “major renovations” identified as “MR”: Charlotte, 101 S. Tryon St., 1941; Durham, 101 W. Main St., 1929 (1932-1933?); Fayetteville, 113 Maxwell St., 1929 (MR); Gastonia, 111 W. Main St., 1930; High Point, 141 S. Main St., 1940; New Bern, 307 Middle St., 1951; Raleigh, 102-104 Fayetteville St., 1953; Rocky Mount, 162 S. Main St. (1934); Salisbury, 300 S. Main St. 1936 (MR); Wilmington, 11 N. Front St., 1930 (MR). The Sibbert correspondence is held in the Catherine W. Bishir Papers, NCSU Libraries Special Collections.
The Building List here includes Kress stores designed by Sibbert for which images show his characteristic Art Deco style. The website http://www.roadarch.com/dept/knc.html features a few other Kress stores of simpler architectural character, including those cited above in Rocky Mount and Salisbury. Additional research may uncover more information. Others have been lost including those in Raleigh and Charlotte. Unfortunately, North Carolina newspapers on newspapers.com generally do not extend into the period when Sibbert was active in North Carolina.
1932-1933Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:
101 W. Main St., Durham, NCStatus:
The project list with dates provided with Edward F. Sibbert’s correspondence cites the Durham building as 1929. However, Claudia P. Roberts (Brown) and Diane E. Lea, The Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory (1982), dates its construction as 1932-1933 and states that it was built just a few doors from an earlier building originally occupied by the Kress company. The 1932-1933 date appears to be more accurate.
1930Location:Gastonia, Gaston CountyStreet Address:
111 W. Main Ave., Gastonia, NCStatus:
CommercialImages Puslished In:
“North Carolina Kress Stores,” RoadsideArchitecture, http://www.roadarch.com/dept/knc.html.Note:
Less elaborate than the Greensboro and Durham stores, the Kress Store in Gastonia features white brickwork and terracotta accents.
1930Location:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:
208 S. Elm St., Greensboro, NCStatus:
CommercialImages Puslished In:
Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (2005).
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).Note:
Considered to be the premier example of Sibbert’s Art Deco Kress store designs in N. C., it is also among the earliest; its brilliant terra-cotta ornament features citrus colors. According to local information, the drawings for this Kress store were the first to bear Sibbert’s initials (Jim Schlosser, “‘Dime Store Deco’/A look at the Kress Store and its Outstanding Architecture,” Greensboro News and Record, July 12, 1997).