MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Jamal Thomas marveled at the two large stone slabs on the wall. These aren't mere decorations taking up space, but one time symbols of division in the old Kress department store.
The marble slabs have two prominent holes where separate water fountains used to be. The word white appears on one slab while colored is clearly seen on the other. The displays are now one of unity.
They were unveiled during the grand re-opening of the historic Kress building in downtown Montgomery Thursday morning.
"Oh my God, this is so amazing. It represents where Alabama has come from," Thomas said.
"May it teach us something," developer Mark Buller said to the grand opening crowd.
The big reveal was the crown jewel of a two-year renovation project costing close to $25 million.
"Rather than downplay it we decided to feature it and let people talk about the differences and how much better things are today," Buller said.
Buller didn't go into the refurbishing job with the intent of stumbling upon a relic of the past, but it evolved after construction workers found them.
The work inside brought the past to the present - brass elevator doors, the original floors salvaged along with the original ceiling in many parts of the building. There is plenty of retail space and most of the loft apartments have been rented out.
One of the remarkable details about the Kress building renovation job is this was Mark Buller's first rodeo with this type of construction.
"I don't want to tell you how terrified I was, but we got some comments from local people that said 'you're doing so much change and so much is different,'" he said.
Thomas couldn't be more pleased with the results and feels as though those who suffered the painful rejections in the past would be as well.
Buller founded his own construction company in New York City. He has locations in 55 cities including Montgomery and Canada.