Wolf Wile Department Store/Gray Construction Building
10 Quality Street
This building stands as a remarkable example of modernist architecture. Its adaptation into the Gray Construction headquarters preserved the building’s historical significance while also carefully altering elements of the building to best serve its current purpose.
In the late 1940s, the United States economy was booming after the end of the Second World War. In Lexington, Kentucky, this economic boom manifested the demand for more retail access in the city. This need was noted by the Wile family, who decided to expand the Wolf Wile Department store. The department store had been in two prior locations but during the economic boom, retail space became increasingly crowded.
Together, the two firms designed the Wolf Wile Department store in the International style. This style is characterized by the new advancements in manufacturing that gave way to glass, steel, and concrete being used liberally in architectural forms. International style, along with modernism, was a turning point in architectural history as the style stripped away unnecessary aesthetic features that were prominent in styles that preceded it. Architects such as Walter Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe, and Le Corbusier contributed to the development and popularization of this style. In the case of the Wolf Wile Department Store, steel, concrete and glass were implemented to create the sleek modern look that the architects were going for. The architects also considered the history of buildings in the surrounding area and designed a brick veneer that appears to be a Flemish bond much like the surrounding historic brick buildings.
The Wile family retained ownership of the building and operated it as a department store until 1992 when it closed. Suburbanization that came between the 1940s and 1970s had pushed the boundaries of the city and decentralized commercial spaces. As neighborhoods developed away from the downtown area, so did small commercial areas that catered to the suburban residents. Many department stores in Kentucky and across the country were being outcompeted by stores such as Macy’s, Dillard's, and JC Penney. The Wolf Wile Department Store resisted this trend and was the last family-owned department store in Lexington.
In the 1990s, the space was purchased by James Gray to become the Gray Construction headquarters. Gray renovated the building from 1996 to 1997 to accommodate the needs of his company. The elevations facing Main Street and Quality Street were preserved. The rear elevation was altered.
|Street view, Wolf Wile, National Park Service||pdf / 1.09 MB||Download|