Friday, July 8, 2016

Marck-et Research

The Early- and Mid-Century Federal Buildings of Bismarck, North Dakota


Bismarck, North Dakota is on the small side, as most state capitals go. With 55,000 residents the city ranks as the second most populous in North Dakota, though it ranks in the bottom-third when compared with other capital metropolitan areas across the country. Regardless, Bismarck is the largest city for 200 miles in any direction (Fargo, to the east, beats it out), and as such it is important postally speaking. Bismarck and Fargo house the only two remaining mail processing facilities in the state. The capital also boasts a historic early-century Federal Building, which we'll present here. In our next post we'll show vintage photos of the '60s-era facility that replaced it, inside and out.

North of downtown Bismarck lies the distinctive North Dakota State Capitol, at 242 feet tall the tallest building in the state. When it was constructed during the early 1910s, however, the then-new U.S. Post Office and Court House building was constructed at the west side of Bismarck's downtown district. It is located at 304 East Broadway Avenue and can be seen per 2011 Google Street View imagery here:


The building is described as part of a National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Bismarck's downtown district.
The federal government constructed this three-story building at the northwest corner of East Broadway and North 3rd Street in 1913. Architectural plans for the edifice were prepared by the Treasury Department's supervisory architect, James Knox. Upon completion, the Renaissance Revival-style building housed a Federal Post Office and District Court, one of only four such facilities in North Dakota. A three-story rear wing was added in 1937. The building was nominated to the National Register in 1976.

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is a steel framed structure veneered on the exterior by limestone ashlar. The Renaissance Revival character of the building is displayed by the rusticated stone work and large arch window openings at the first story; smooth stone finish and simple rectangular window openings at the second story; recessed window openings between paired stone columns at the third story; and quoin details at the wall corners. The building is also distinguished by a prominent hip roof, covered by red tiles and featuring wide eaves underscored by press- metal medallions. The design of the 1937 addition is sympathetic to the original.
Here, you can see the building both pre- and post-addition.



You can more easily see the dividing line between the original and extended structure from this rear photo, post-addition. Note how the style of the architecture blends largely seamlessly with the original.



Note: Unlike many other post offices/federal buildings that were expanded during the New Deal era, the Federal Building in Bismarck did not receive any lobby artwork.

The General Services Administration (GSA) and National Park Service (NPS) also feature descriptions of the building.

Now we move to the 1960s, to the precast concrete stylings of what is now known as the William L. Guy Federal Building. So renamed in 1999 after a former governor, this mid-century U.S. Post Office and Court House housed Bismarck's (at least non-processing) postal operations. Nowadays, the building houses the only classified (USPS-staffed) postal retail operation in Bismarck: the Downtown Station post office.

The facility was designed by architects Leonhard & Askew, and was completed in 1964. The building is located just two blocks north of the original Federal Building, and both facilities are managed by the General Services Administration. Many photos of the newly completed building are available at the National Archives, and they encompass both the interior and exterior of the building. Let's have a look!

Here is the building as photographed in 1964 (at NARA) and in 2011 (per Google Street View):




Inside, dry '60s-style right angles abound; though so do panels of marble and (at least back when) old-style P.O. boxes. The Archives feature completion photos of the elevator and P.O. box lobbies. As is custom in the Upper Midwest, the P.O. Box lobby (entrance at the 'right' of the building, is available to customers 24/7. (Don't abuse the privileges, though—the U.S. Marshals Service is housed in the building.







In the service lobby the counters are fronted with what appears to be Formica. (Can anyone with design chops confirm or correct this?) Ah, the 1960s. Compared with the federal buildings of the 1930s, the design is downright spartan. Though check out those vintage postal scales!





By this point you might observe that I am really not a fan of utilitarian mid-century architecture. So here's the work floor, lit by enough strings of fluorescent lighting to stretch something like halfway to China. The most interesting thing I see in these photos are the windows from the Postal Inspector catwalks above the floor.







In 1991 Main Post Office and mail processing operations relocated to this 45,000-square foot facility on the southeast side of town. Our friend John photographed it in 2005.



'Til next time!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sculptures and History in Ridgewood, New Jersey

Look closely while passing by the post office in Ridgewood, New Jersey, or you might end up doing a double take. At first glance, particularly from across the street, it appears as though the well-dressed mailman out front needs assistance delivering a letter! Alas, the sculpture "Special Delivery," [undated], created by J. Seward Johnson, is part of an outdoor sculpture initiative. Its placement at the Ridgewood post office, a New Deal construction that itself bears sculptures created with the goal of expanding cultural access in public spaces, is particularly apt.

Special Delivery, Ridgewood, NJ
Special Delivery, Ridgewood, NJ

The village of Ridgewood, located approximately 20 miles northwest of Midtown Manhattan in Bergen County, New Jersey, is home to 25,000 people. The Ridgewood post office was established in 1865. It received a federal New Deal facility during the Great Depression; construction began in 1937 and was largely completed at the beginning of 1939. Here, photos of the front entrance to the post office and its cornerstone.

Ridgewood, NJ post office

Ridgewood, NJ post office cornerstone

The ornamentation above the entrance to the post office is particularly stunning, and unlike that I've witnessed anywhere else during my travels. It is in apparently great condition and, as early photos you'll soon see show, it is original to the building.

Ridgewood, NJ post office: entrance ornamentation

A treasure trove of photos of the newly finished facility are available at the National Archives, a few of which are shown below.

This photo from February 1939 gives you a taste of the Deco ornamentation that encompassed the entire building. You can also see a then-newly-planted tree and numerous additional ornamentation details (above and below the windows, and along the roof line) on the post office exterior that have since been removed. The large tiles have also been replaced with brick.



The building just does not bear the same visual presence without them.

From January 1939: a photo of the post office lobby showing the large tiles, era lamp, and Deco radiator motifs. A second photo shows part of the work area at the same time.




One wonders who the two gentlemen at the right are!

Soon after completion the artist Romuald Kraus was commissioned by the federal Treasury Section of Fine Arts to create a pair of sculptures to be mounted in the post office lobby. Respectively, the untitled work (?) depicts a male and a female figure. The pair of metal reliefs were installed in 1940 and can still be viewed today.



As can be seen from the photo below (showing the sculptures in context), some of the interior magic of the lobby has since been lost, particularly in the replacement of the Deco radiator grilles and light fixtures, as seen above. Much of the tile design appears the same.



The Ridgewood post office is a site of some unfortunate infamy: in 1991, a recently fired postal employee committed four murders, including two at this post office. (You can read more details here, if you're so inclined.)

Three years later tragedy struck the post office again, when mail carrier Julio Cruz was killed after a tree collapsed onto the front of his mail truck. A plaque [visible at the right side of the above interior photo] in the post office was placed in memory of Julio. (The author believes a second plaque, to the left, honors the fallen employees from the incident in 1991; alas, he didn't know to check at the time so he's not certain.)

Facing south, the building is particularly photogenic on a sunny day. During such an afternoon you can snap a beautiful photo, from a high vantage point, of the south and west faces of the building from Van Neste Square Memorial Park. The park is located kitty-corner to the P.O.



I took a second look at Special Delivery out front. If you look closely, even the letters the carrier is delivering are parts of the sculpture. I'm not too sure everyone would like to be the recipient of these particular letters, however; if you inspect closely enough you can see that the letter is an official business envelope from the Internal Revenue Service in Atlanta, Georgia!



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hometown Post Office: Renovo, PA

First, welcome to first entry posted to this blog under our new name, Postlandia, and a simpler URL. Hope you like the modest changes!

Residents of the historic community of Renovo, Pennsylvania are proud of their New Deal post office. Renovo is a comparatively remote community in Clinton County. A town built by the railroad, it is nestled along a stretch of the west branch of the Susquehanna River. The town straddles the river along with twin South Renovo. Most of the community's development lies in the wide, three-block-deep grid of roads that was established during the 1860s. The community's present population is about 1,200.

To get some more of our bearings, let's go to the map! Note the comparative distances of Renovo from Erie, in the northwest corner of the state, and Philadelphia in the southeast.

Renovo, PA map

Former resident William Conti, a former resident, writes: "Renovo was built and incorporated as a railroad town by the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad, halfway between the two cities where their extensive Shops were constructed for building and repair of locomotives and other railroad functions."

A post office was established in what is now Renovo in 1851; however the town (and post office) were not so-named until 1863. The first post office, with Michael Stout as the first postmaster, was known as Drury’s Run.

Renovo's present post office was constructed toward the tail end of the New Deal. USPS's Owned Facilities Report lists the site occupation date as June 1941. (Most New Deal facilities were dedicated during the 1930s.) Conti notes that the building was designed in traditional "Colonial" style.

Thank you to Bill for providing multiple great images of the building. Here are a couple of views, old and new.

Renovo, PA post office:




[If you're like me and just happened to wonder where the wheelchair ramp is, some grainy Google Street View imagery suggests that it's located on the far (left) side of the building, with an entrance created only recently.]

The historic building houses an example of New Deal artwork. Harold Lehman was commissioned by the federal Treasury Section of Fine Arts and his oil-on-canvas mural, "Locomotive Repair Operation," was completed in 1943. It was one of the last works of art to be installed in our nation's post offices; funds that had been dedicated to FDR's New Deal efforts were put toward the growing war effort.

The mural depicts Renovo's hometown industry, and has a couple of fascinating facets visible to the trained eye. Watch Senior Curator at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg discuss the mural, at an exhibit dedicated to statewide New Deal post office artwork, here:



Thanks to Bill to supplying for a couple of great photos of the mural at the Renovo post office:


The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has posted a great webpage dedicated to the state's New Deal postal art legacy here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Signless in Seattle

New Broadway Post Office Still Rough Around the Edges


Don Glickstein from Seattle provides an account of the relocation of Seattle's Broadway Station post office. Broadway Station is located in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood, which has come under increasing pressure by developers in booming Seattle. Much like Silicon Valley, Seattle has benefited from the influx of tens of thousands of Amazon and other well-paid tech workers. Gentrification abounds and the progressive city continues to develop. Seattle recently expanded its Link light rail system to connect downtown with the University of Washington starting in March. One of the new stations is located in Capitol Hill across the street from the old post office. Ironically, reports Don, throughout the wealthy, young people's neighborhood is an influx of homeless citizens.

Broadway Station was the first post office yours truly visited in Seattle, during a two-week respite during my first road trip back in 2008. The former location closed Jan. 30, 2016; here are photos as it looked during my visit in 2008 and at the beginning of this year. Note: all the recent photos are Don's.

Seattle, WA: (now-former) Broadway Station post office (2008):



Seattle, WA: (now-former) Broadway Station post office (2016):




The photos suggest that the Postal Service and its landlord had not been heartily maintaining the building: The letters on the awning were peeling and the building had long been tagged with graffiti. According to Don these signs of physical deterioration occurred long before the landlord announced that the facility would demolished to make way for a more profitable mixed-use building.

The building had housed the Broadway post office since 1952. USPS's Leased Facility Report says that the 6,047-square foot facility had been leased for $135,000 per year under the terms of the most recent contract. The Leased Facility Report has not been updated recently enough to reflect information for the new location.



" The relocated post office opened a couple of blocks away at what had been an OfficeMax location. Capitol Hill Seattle reports:
With more than 5,000 square feet of retail area, the former OfficeMax space is small by box store standards but was likely too large for many independent retailers. USPS says it plans to occupy about 4,200 square feet of the space, leaving the potential for another small retailer to move in.
The smaller retail space reflects multiple changes that have been proposed to local mail service in this Seattle neighborhood. Consolidations would affect carriers, nearby P.O. Box customers, and the community at large; but they have not always been implemented. In 2013 CHS reported that "Broadway-based mail carriers — and their vehicles — would be moved to a new 'consolidated' facility at 4th and Lander." Furthermore, USPS "announced a plan to move the Central District's retail location at 23rd and Union to "a smaller, more cost-effective location" ... [T]he PO boxes from 23rd/Union are destined for a new home on Capitol Hill with customers being transitioned to the Broadway at Denny post office." While carriers have been consolidated, USPS maintains its presence at the latter location.

Don photographed the new Broadway post office on its opening day. While it was providing the usual postal services, the post office itself was still a work in progress: The old OfficeMax sign was still outside the building; there was no identification of the facility as a post office, even with standard stencil lettering on the door; and many of the rental boxes did not yet have locks on them. Furthermore, there was no blue collection box in front of the post office.

Below: the new Broadway Station post office on February 1, opening day (top), and in early May (center, bottom). The facility has since received its new signage and stencil lettering on the door.






There is nothing physically notable about the facility. It bears standard Retail Standardization, minimalist signage. The interior appears to bear some differences from the same modern blue-and-wood motifs that have been implemented at new facilities over the past few years. Capitol Hill Seattle features more photos here.

Unfortunately, the post office still hosts no exterior collection box. This violates the Postal Operation Manual, section 315.32: "Provide a regulation collection box at all ... classified stations and branches."

Broadway Station is open six days a week in this busy, urban retail and residential neighborhood. Operating hours, according to USPS's Locations tool, are: Monday to Friday: 9:00am - 5:30pm; Saturday: 8:30am - 3:00pm. No lunch hour closures are scheduled. (This was apparently an issue at one point.)

Thanks again to Dan for the information and photos; and to Capitol Hill Seattle for its great reporting.

Friday, May 6, 2016

25,000 and Counting: the Ultimate Post Office Photo Collection

Some long-time readers have observed that I don't post on this blog as often as I used to. One reason is that I've been involved in a far broader project on behalf of the esteemed Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC), a nonprofit organization with a philatelic museum in northern Ohio. Among the museum's treasures is a physical collection of more than 55,000 post office photographs. I've been working with other postal enthusiasts to expand that collection and digitize much of it for public viewing. The three-year endeavor has resulted in an unparalleled online resource, and the photos have collectively received more than 1.5 million views.

The U.S. Postal Service maintains no such catalogue of its own properties. Even the National Postal Museum lacks a similar collection. The PMCC's Online Post Office Photo Collection might not yet have a picture of your local post office, but it definitely features some from locations near you. As of the end of April the collection possesses at least one photo from every one of the 3,142 U.S. counties (/counties-equivalent), and now boasts 25,000 photographs overall.

Furthermore, every state is represented by at least 100 photos; five states (NY, IL, PA, TX, CA) presently boast more than 1,000 images.



Below: A choropleth map ("heat map") with shades of green representing the number of photographs our online collection possesses from each U.S. county as of May 1, 2016. The darker the shade, the more photographs we have posted. You'll note dense clusters encompassing some of the country's largest metro areas, including New York City; Boston; Philadelphia; Chicago; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; Phoenix; Miami; and Washington, DC. Each of the (27) darkest green counties is represented by at least 50 pictures.

County Counts

Note: © All rights reserved. We are pleased to present these photos online, but most of these images are under copyright and may not be re-used without the respective photographers' consent. Commercial usage is prohibited without the purchase of an image license. Contact me (email address in left sidebar) and I can help sort things out for you if you're interested.

Our domestic collection includes photos of mail processing facilities (P&DCs, P&DFs, etc.), carrier annexes, and Contract Postal Units (CPUs and CPOs). This is in addition to 'standard' independent post offices and classified branches and stations. [Note: Village "Post Offices" (VPOs) are garbage and do not qualify in my book.] Below: a cross-section of the different types of postal operations we've documented:



The majority of posted photographs have been taken during the past several years—more than 2,500 were taken during 2014 alone!—though the collection also features more than 600 photographs taken prior to 1950. These have primarily been digitized from the National Archives, where yours truly spent much of one summer on a research grant. Our oldest photo, from Parkersburg, West Virginia, was taken ca. 1878:

Parkersburg, WV post office, ca. 1878

More than 500 of our photos are of postal operations that have since been discontinued; more than 800 pictures are now-former sites of post offices that have since been relocated. Many of the buildings documented now serve other civic or private purposes, though quite a few old post office sites have been abandoned or demolished. Below: before and after pictures of the Greeley Square Station post office in Manhattan, which was relocated in 2013.

A Tale of Two Greeleys

Some Stats:
New York, the state with the most active post offices, is the state for which we have the greatest number of posted photographs (1,500 as of this writing). These include more than 300 photos from New York City [[guilty as charged]], which will be hosting the 2016 World Stamp Show later this month. (P.S. Yours truly is speaking there on June 3. Do drop by!)

Cook County in Illinois, home to Chicago as well as the venerable Steve Bahnsen, is our single best-represented county with 166 photographs as of this writing. Steve has contributed nearly all of these photos. Indeed, he's visited more than 10,000 post offices nationwide, with a focus on the Upper Midwest. A former Postmaster, Steve has been to every post office in Illinois and Iowa. He always keeps me supplied with batches of new imagery to post.

The PMCC's intrepid John Gallagher is responsible for a positively astounding 10,400 of our posted pictures. John might well hold the world record with well more than 30,000 post offices visited worldwide with at least 25,000 visits domestically. (Note: He's been at this longer than I've been alive.) John has also contributed photos from some ridiculously remote places such as the Marshall Islands in the south Pacific, the north Canadian territory of Nunavut, and every state in Australia.

Below: The post office in Brackettville, Texas, sole P.O. in remote Kinney County. Before John trekked out in February 2016 Kinney had been the only one of Texas's 254 counties that was not represented in our collection.



Ch-Ch-Changes
If you're interested in seeing how a post office has evolved over time, our dedication is your gain. Often I'll find that multiple contributors have taken images of the same post office at different times. (With 31,000 active post offices in the U.S. and 55,000+ photos, you can do the math.) When this happens I'll look for differences in the appearance of the building. If there's a notable or otherwise interesting difference (e.g. the addition of a handicapped ramp; a new paint job; or a change to the signage) I'll leave both photos online. If the building looks the same I'll post only the highest-quality image of the batch (unless the photos were taken more than, say, 20 years apart, in which each photo serves the historical record).

Below: a change in the appearance of the Grandview, Iowa post office between visits by John (2008) and Steve (2014):

Grandview, IA post office

The following trio of photos of the Idaho, Ohio Community Post Office (CPO) was taken by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, over the course of several years:

Idaho, OH Community Post Office

Conversely, some things haven't changed. In Yonkers, New York, the main post office building (constructed 1927) looks nearly untouched. Compare the building to its surroundings. (Where have all the electric trolleys gone??) This is the post office at its finest—a sturdy symbol of the federal government's commitment to its communities.

Yonkers, NY Main Post Office

Viewing the Collection
The PMCC Online Post Office Photo Collection homepage is:
http://www.postmarks.org/photos/

From here you can pick your U.S. state (or selected foreign country) of choice. This will take you to an alphabetical state index with a link to each photo listed. You can also sort the photos by county, if you prefer. Below: The start to our Ohio state list. Note the series of operations associated with the Akron Post Office. On the actual page those tiny thumbnail images at the left are clickable.



(P.S. Do you need a primer or reminder as to what the terms "Station," "Branch," "CPU," and "Carrier Annex" mean in the context of postal operations? Check out the PMCC's handy-dandy Postal Unit Glossary!)

Former postal sites and discontinued post offices are also noted on the lists. Also: Classified branches and CPOs are mostly listed under their respective community names, with the parent post office noted in [brackets].

Alternatively, you can access albums and other collections of images through our Flickr portal.

Here is the link to our primary Flickr page, at which you can view all our uploads chronologically, starting with the most recent:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/postoffices/

Here you can find our collections of albums (screenshot below):

Flickr Collections of Post Office Photos

Contributions:
Got a photo of a facility we don't have posted? (Especially if you're in the military! ...civvies can't access bases for postal visits like we used to.) The PMCC still has a large backlog of photos yet to be posted, but you're absolutely welcome to contact the author at the email address in the left sidebar to contribute your own.

    Photo Guidelines / Suggestions
  • If the post office is a standalone facility then the photo should feature the entire building (or as much as possible if it's large). Photos of just signage, or selfies taken in front of buildings, are not posted to this collection. Sorry, me at my 4,000th post office in 2012, this photo does not make the cut:

    A photo of a full building is preferred to one that clearly shows the text on its signage, especially if it's that tiny obnoxious white-on-blue sign found on most newer facilities (see above); thanks, USPS Retail Standardization department.
  • If the post office is part of a larger building, row of buildings, or in a mall or strip mall, try to provide a full picture of the front of the operation. I generally include some surroundings for context. The same applies for interior photographs of small post offices contained within larger facilities such as general stores.
  • Landscape orientation is greatly preferred to portrait orientation.
  • The dimensions must be at least 1200 pixels by 900 pixels. (This enables us to create a physical print for our physical museum collection. Note: photos are uploaded to our site at a somewhat lower resolution.)
  • We generally try to avoid including large vehicles in the photo if they obstruct the view of the building. (In my case this sometimes involves waiting around for a couple of minutes while trying not to look too suspicious. Sometimes people take a while and this isn't always possible.)
  • If you're a professional or otherwise concerned photographer, please do not include copyright text or watermarks. We're all in the same boat and I do make efforts to identify and resolve unauthorized photo usage.

We find that our favorite photos are taken at a bit of an angle—they include the front of the building and also grant us a sense of depth by capturing some of the side of the building as well.

(I often use Photoshop and other tools to crop, rotate, sharpen, and improve the lighting characteristics of our photos. Seriously, you don't want to know how much time has gone into this endeavor.)

Note: The author is particularly interested in working with libraries, historical societies, archives, and other philatelic groups to aggregate and digitize additional relevant photographic material! (I'm still not sure what I want to do with old postcards / postal view cards, though it's another interesting direction in which this collection could grow.)

The PMCC extends a big thank-you to Jimmy Emerson for allowing us to co-opt more than 1,700 photos from his astounding collection on Flickr. Jimmy is The Man when it comes to intensive road trips (he once put 7,500 miles on a rental car over ten days) and photographing New Deal post offices and the wealth of artwork therein.

Thanks to Kelvin Kindahl for his continued contributions from his postmark travels. We have many great regional contributors, including: Gary Splittberger, who sends in photos from the mountain states with a focus on Montana and North Dakota—see his great photos of Montana post offices present and of ghost towns past here. Mike Wasko submits loads of great photos from Georgia; Mark Gollnick from Florida; and Skip Are from Georgia and Minnesota. Bill Warwaryick has got us covered up in Alberta, Canada. Additional shout-outs to Norm Ritchie, Ray Sendejas, Mike DelGrosso, and Doug Greenwald. [Below: a moody photo of the Clyde Park, Montana post office by Gary; 2016:]

Clyde Park, Montana post office

For additional great photos of post offices, visit Jordan McAlister's amazing Flickr albums. He's strongest in the Midwest (Kansas, Nebraska, etc.) but has great photos from all around the country.

Whether you've submitted one photo or 1,000, thanks to all our photographic contributors!

And to everyone, thanks for taking an interest in the project. We hope you enjoy the collection as it continues to develop!