Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Beautiful Post Office: Dubuque, Iowa

Dubuque holds a special place in history: It is, per its website, "Iowa's oldest city and is among the oldest settlements west of the Mississippi River. The first permanent settler to the area was French-Canadian fur trader Julien Dubuque." The region contained rich deposits of lead, and Mr. Dubuque worked with the native Mesquakie to mine it until the time of his death in 1810. Dubuque is also home of what was the first post office in Iowa! Per The Annals of Iowa: "The postal system in Iowa dates from 1833 the first postoffice being established in Dubuque (then called Dubuque's Mines) on May 27th." The City of Dubuque was chartered in 1837 and has had a post office by that name since that time (replacing the Dubuque's Mines P.O.). By 1837 two dozen post offices had been established in the territory, and by the time of Iowa's 1846 statehood there were dozens throughout the territory.

A great early history of the Dubuque post office, particularly during its early years, can be found at Encyclopedia Dubuque!

First, let's have a look at the former Custom House and Post Office building. Long gone, it was located at W 9th Street and Locust Streets. This image was taken ca. 1902:

Old Dubuque post office

Here is the current post office as of last year:
Dubuque post office

Dubuque's current post office is stately, located at West 6th Street across from Washington Park. I'll let Wikipedia tell the tale:
As Dubuque expanded during the 1920s, the post office was not large enough to handle the increasing volume of mail. Rather than enlarge the existing building, city officials decided to construct a new post office. Congressman Thomas J. B. Robinson led the effort to secure a more appropriate postal facility. Officials determined that the new building would function as both a post office and courthouse, and the building continues to serve these purposes today [author's note: I find no direct evidence that the courtroom is still in use by the Northern District of Iowa; the building does, however, serve other Federal functions].

The building was constructed with funding from the 1926 Public Buildings Act, in which Congress appropriated substantial resources for Federal buildings throughout the United States. Dubuque received approximately $650,000 for site acquisition and construction costs. Renowned city planner John Nolen intended for the building to be part of his civic design, "Administrative Center at Washington Park," which he developed in 1931. City officials hoped to construct a city hall, courthouse, and park adjacent to the post office, but these plans were never realized.

The Courthouse was designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect under James A. Wetmore, who received input from Iowa architects. Among the local designers was the office of Proudfoot, Rawson, Souers & Thomas, a highly respected Des Moines firm. This venerable firm (including earlier variations of the founding office) had a long of history of designing high-profile public buildings in Iowa, including the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines and buildings for Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Although little is known about the Dubuque architect involved in the project, Herbert Kennison, he likely served as an onsite consultant and provided the valued contribution of a designer who was also a local resident.

The building's cornerstone was laid in 1932, and a dedication ceremony was held the following year. The building was occupied in early 1934. In 1985, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource within the Cathedral Historic District, which encompasses historically significant residences and public buildings.
Building cornerstone:
Dubuque post office cornerstone

Beyond the fact that the structure was built by Chiabi & Garriup Construction Co., Wikipedia actually seems a more reliable source than the National Register of Historic Places nomination form that includes this federal building, which wrongfully states that the building was built in 1930; was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—which wasn't around at the time of its construction; and featured artwork by just one artist. A URL on the GSA cited by Wikipedia is no longer valid, so let's continue our discussion of the two Treasury Section (New Deal) murals with the Wiki text!

The interior features ... important murals in the lobby vestibule. The murals were funded with $2,000 of the original money allotted for construction of the building. Although a competition to select an artist was held, officials intended to select Grant Wood, the famous Iowa painter of "American Gothic," to complete the murals. When Wood did not enter the competition, William E. L. Bunn was selected. The selection was subsequently overturned in favor of a painter named Bertrand Adams. As a compromise, both Bunn and Adams, who each studied and worked with Wood and were friends from the University of Iowa, were allowed to paint murals. Adams painted "Early Settlers of Dubuque" in 1936 and 1937. The painting depicts several symbols of the city's pioneering days, such as the Julien Dubuque Monument and the Mesquakie Native American village. Adams also represented impending industrialization by painting the Dubuque Shot Tower and a bridge. Bunn painted "Early Mississippi Packet 'Dubuque III'" (also referred to as "Early Mississippi Steamboats") at the same time. His mural illustrates life in Dubuque in 1870, when steamboats were a primary method of transportation in the Midwest. The two murals show a harmony of scale and color use.
Bertrand Adams: "Early Settlers of Dubuque"


William E.L. Bund: "Early Mississippi Steamboats"


I am totally digging those radiator grilles at the bottom; aren't you?

Postlandia bonus: Compare the final artwork with an initial "cartoon" by the artist! (Note: The perspective on the modern image is a bit warped, and thus not exactly to vertical scale.)



My favorite part of the vestibule is the plaque describing the murals; specifically:
Commissioned for the American people by the United States government

Imagine that.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The 2019 Calendar of Post Offices and Places

Welcome, welcome, welcome! It's that time of the year again—time for a brand-new iteration of the Postlandia Calendar of Post Offices and Places! I'm super-excited for the 2019 edition, which features 12 all-new images of wonderful post office buildings from across the country. I've taken most of these images during the course of my travels spanning all 50 states, and I'm delighted share them with you now.

The 2019 edition takes us thousands of miles: from Hawaii to New England, Utah to Appalachia, and the Northwest to the Heartland, we'll visit a dozen new post offices large and small, urban and remote, each with a distinctive story.

The images are printed in high-resolution on high-quality paper. The dates include not only U.S. holidays but dates significant to American postal history. And, yes, you can write on it! Your ink will not bleed through to next month's organic / fair trade / hand-crafted / barrel-aged post office photo.

Postlandia Calendar cover:


With Postlandia I've always brought you the stories behind the post offices and communities of America, and here you can explore another wide-ranging cross-section of the nation. These photos take you not just from time zone to time zone, but span history as you explore photos from two centuries (from more than 100 years ago to the present).

Where else can you find the post office with ten-minute parking—only for bicycles? Or the post office with a block-long light fixture? How about the 1870 Gothic P.O. that's now a restored event space? There's an archival image of a post office that Franklin D. Roosevelt had a hand in designing, as well as some New Deal artwork. There are also great images of some of the nation's smallest post offices! And more. As always, here you don't just get photos, you get the story behind what makes them unique.

Rhode Island: the post office with its own postage stamp


Kentucky: Lost Americana


Crossroads of America: Postal Gothic

Again, there's so much more where these came from. I hope you experience as much enjoyment with this calendar next year as I've enjoyed curating it. Remember—I've trekked to thousands of post offices so I can bring you some of the very best, anywhere.

Dozens of calendars have already been sold so far this year, and I thank everyone for their support! (It really does make a dent in my gas money bills!)

This is the perfect gift for the special USPS employee in your life; a perfect purchase for philatelist and stamp collectors; and generally speaking, just the perfect post office calendar. The calendar is available here, at the secure website of the high-quality printer Lulu. Everyone I know who's purchased either the 2017 or 2018 Postlandia post office calendar has loved it!

BONUS!!

Do you love those historic 1930s post offices, more than 1,000 of which house beautiful examples of New Deal artwork? This year I'm introducing a second Lulu calendar: New Deal Legacy! It starts with a bit of postal goodness from the FDR era, but goes way beyond to highlight some of the myriad of accomplishments put forth by various New Deal agencies across the country, including: the Works Progress Administration (WPA); Public Works Administration (PWA); and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

2019 New Deal Legacy Calendar cover:
The projects range from massive developments, to magnificent artwork, to minor local projects that have stood the test of time.

Michigan: Art Deco goodness


Utah: State Capitol grandeur:


The high-resolution images—which range from the 1930s to the present—include the stories that make each one image significant. They are printed on thick, high-quality paper and will hold up to all of your writing-on-your-calendar needs. Again, here is the link for the New Deal Legacy 2019 calendar.

Thank you for your continued support!!
Evan

Monday, September 17, 2018

Z is for Zanesville

Ohio is great for alphabet enthusiasts. It has communities (read: post offices) beginning with all four of the rarest letters of the English language: J [Jackson, Jackson Center, Jacksontown, Jacksonville, etc.], Q [Quaker City, Quincy], X [Xenia], and Z [Zaleski, Zanesfield, Zanesville, Zoar]. (How do you know they're the four rarest letters in the English language? Look at the values of their Scrabble tiles.) Here we look at the post offices of Zanesville, which was named after Ebenezer Zane, "who had blazed Zane's Trace, a pioneer trail from Wheeling, Virginia (now in West Virginia) to Maysville, Kentucky through present-day Ohio." (Zanesfield, for the record, is named after Ebenezer's brother, Isaac.) Zanesville is located along I-70, about 55 miles east of downtown Columbus, and has a population of about 25,000.

Zanesville is roughly trisected by two rivers: the Muskingum and Licking. Where the rivers meet is an interesting structure called Y-Bridge: literally, it's... well, here's a satellite view. The Muskingum River is the wider one, flowing from north to south. The Licking River comes in from the west. Downtown Zanesville is located east of the Muskingum River.



As Exploring the Ycity puts it, "This bridge is allegedly the only bridge in which you can cross and still be on the same side of the river."

The Zanesville post office was established in 1801, at which time "enough people settled in Zanesville that the Postmaster in Washington, Ohio wanted a post office to be placed in Zanesville. At the time, McIntire had dubbed the town Westbourne, however the Postmaster saw that the town intersected the Zane Trace and that Ebenezer Zane had originally owned the land, so it official became Zanesville, Ohio and the name has stuck ever since."

Downtown, at the northwest corner of South St. and S 5th St., stands a stoic a building. Stone eagles stand watch over the entrance. Its pillars are wrapped with vines, as is one of the domed lighting fixtures out front. The historic United States Post Office and Federal Building was built in 1904; while the Beaux Arts-style building is presently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its NRHP file does not appear to have been digitized, making additional information (beyond the rudimentary) difficult to come by. In any case, the building presently serves no discernible function, appearing largely abandoned, possibly since 1965, when the current Zanesville main post office was occupied.

Zanesville: old Federal Building

Zanesville: old Federal Building

The 36,000-square-foot main post office, at 900 McIntire Ave., is located north of the Licking River and I-70. It's a standard-issue '60s design and effectively functions as a carrier annex—retail functions have since relocated.



Main retail operations have been located at 1035 Zane Street, a 7,800-square-foot facility by the eastern edge of the Muskingum River, since 1998. The facility alternatively goes by "Zane [Street] Station" or "Finance Station." Zane Street post office

Finally, three miles north of the MPO is a mall post office, located inside the front entrance at Colony Square Mall. I found the clerk (and the Postmaster, who dropped by) to be very friendly. Bought a bunch of stamps from them!

Colony Square Mall entrance

Colony Square Mall Station post office

'Til next time!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Postal Tour: Duluth, Minnesota

Map of part of the Ticket to Ride board. Because this blog is awesome.

Duluth is so much more than an important city in Ticket to Ride. (Note: the board places Duluth where Minneapolis actually is. Let's have a look at a real map.)



Duluth hugs the shoreline of the very western edge of Lake Superior, which makes for wonderful dawn vistas because the city is largely built up the slope of a hill facing east. To wit: here's a 3-D rendering via Google Earth, and a photo from my stay's bedroom window.




The Minnesota Historical Society wrote in 1955 of the early establishment of the Duluth (and neighboring) post offices. Duluth's has been in operation since July 6, 1857. "Between May 13, 1856, and December 31, 1943, sixteen towns adjacent to Duluth maintained their own post-office establishments before they were discontinued and made either branches or stations of the Duluth post office." This is modest compared to the "hundred and sixty-five post offices have existed at one time or another in St. Louis County since it was established on March 3, 1855 ..."

That article presents the following as Duluth's first post office:



The GSA writes about the need for a permanent federal building: "Duluth's sawmills thrived by the end of the nineteenth century, and the city became the nation's fifth busiest seaport. In 1892, the city's first federal building—a post office, courthouse, and custom house—was constructed."

It was located at W 5th Ave. and 1st St. The building has since been destroyed, but here's an image from around the time of its completion:



GSA:
"As the city continued to expand, officials decided to create a civic center and in 1907 invited prominent architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham to develop a plan that would include a new county courthouse, city hall, custom house, federal office building, and plaza. A pioneer in city planning, Burnham was responsible for the layout of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as well as city plans for Chicago and San Francisco. His plans emphasized the relationship between buildings and their sites. Burnham's design for Duluth, which the city commissioners unanimously endorsed in 1908, incorporated components of the City Beautiful movement, which espoused the use of formal arrangements, axial streets, and monumental, classical public buildings in city planning.

The county courthouse and city hall were constructed first. In 1916, the federal government purchased a site within the civic center for the construction of the new federal building. The U.S. Post Office, Courthouse and Custom House was designed in 1928 by James A. Wetmore, acting supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, after Congress approved a $1.2 million appropriation. Construction commenced the following year and was completed in 1930."
This image from the National Archives shows the Civic Center post office ca. 1930.



Most postal operations have moved to a new facility south of downtown, though a modest retail operation can be found on the first floor. You have to pass through security to visit it. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside, but here's the Federal Building, and its cornerstone, as of last autumn.





The cornerstone is located around the side of the building [northeast corner]. Since the building is built on a slope, you have to look up to spot it. Its text reads: "A W MELLON / SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY // JAMES A WETMORE / ACTING SUPERVISING ARCHITECT // 1929".

Primary post office operations relocated from the Civic Center to a location about two miles south, in 1970. You can see the post office from I-35; it's just about right off the S 27th St. exit. The 133,000-square-foot facility was built to house retail, mail processing, and vehicle maintenance operations.

Duluth had been the processing hub for mail from metropolitan area, the Iron Range (north interior Minnesota), and the North Shore (along Lake Superior). However, mail processing operations were moved 160 miles down I-35 to St. Paul in 2015. In addition to slowing down local mail (which would have happened anyway, at least in part, due to a nationwide change in service standards), it caused mail collection times to get bumped up in the region. As Duluth News Tribune reported, "The last mailbox collection time in Duluth will be 3:15 p.m. ... Previously, the last collection time at that box — the latest in the area — was 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 7:45 p.m. on Saturdays." Community and other elected officials (including then-Senator Al Franken) were opposed to the change.

The following photo was taken by the author at a distance of one mile(!) along a hill road called Skyline Drive, which overlooks the city. The Duluth main post office is the red building in the exact center with vertical white stripes. I-35 can be seen behind it, and in the background are massive ship/rail transfer facilities, including two 2,500-foot-long rail piers.

Duluth, MN main post office

In addition to the Civic Center Station, the Duluth post office oversees operations at several other post offices: Lakeside Station; Miller Hill Station; Mount Royal Station (a USPS-owned facility); West Duluth Station (located about four miles inland); and the Proctor Branch in the next city over. USPS also leases a modest amount of space (<100-square-foot) for P.O. Boxes at the Pine Lake Superamerica gas station, which also houses a Contract Postal Unit (CPU). Such an arrangement would not be allowed at new CPUs; this location is grandfathered in.

Photos of all the locations can, of course, be found at the PMCC's Online Post Office Photo Collection, which now features 29,000 photographs. I personally find Lakeside Station photogenic:

Lakeside Station post office, Duluth, MN

'Til next time,
Evan

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Old Post Office: Indianapolis

Ah, Indianapolis. Hoosier Central. There's a former building in Indianapolis that definitely deserves to be highlighted on this blog, and it is the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse smack-dab downtown. Inside I was only able to see the entrance (this building is not generally accessible to the public), but just the very corner of the building was remarkable. The building, as presently stands, was built in stages—the primary structure being built between 1902 and 1905, and the northern 'annex' being completed in 1938. Indianapolis's Main Post Office operations resided here for some time, but no postal operations remain here.

The building is packed with stunning examples of artwork and masonry, and fortunately the General Services Administration (GSA) and Federal Courts website have published a thorough Visitors' Guide to the building's architectural treasures. I could write all day about it, but seriously, go check it out. If you try to enter the building through the most public entrance you will get a glimpse of one of the Octagonal Rotundas—check one out on page 14.

(Fun fact: when you appreciate the building's architectural wonders, even outside, you will be monitored by federal security personnel! They might subtly observe you out front while looking at a smartphone, or peek out from behind blinds if you're around the side. #modernlife)

Here are some pictures of the Birch Bayh Federal Building from my visit there last summer.

1. Federal Building, from the southeast (front at left)
Birch Bayh Federal Building

2. Front of Federal Building. Note the inscription dating the building to 1903 (MCMIII). Grand, no?
Birch Bayh Federal Building

3. Two of four the statues by John Massey Rhind, flanking the SW front entrance
Birch Bayh Federal Building statues

The four statues are named "Industry," "Agriculture," "Literature," and "Justice."

4/5. Plaque and cornerstone, SE entrance/corner
Birch Bayh Federal Building plaque
Birch Bayh Federal Building cornerstone

6. One example of the building's New Deal artwork: a frieze, by David K. Rubins, above the northeast vehicle entrance.
Birch Bayh Federal Building frieze

This frieze, and its counterpart at the NW corner of the building, were part of the annex added to the building during the late 1930s. They were carved in place by the artist. And that's not even examining the fascinating carvings flanking the sides of the entrances!

More of my images can be found at the Living New Deal's pages for the building. Unfortunately I was not able to visit the murals inside, though they are shown in the Visitors' Guide linked to above.