Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Postal Summary

Welcome to Going Postal's fifth annual year-end summary. This year I visited 658 new active postal facilities across 12 states and the District of Columbia, bringing my grand total to 6,417. Actually, it's my lowest yearly count since we started; I've taken on some wonderful new projects this year. For the active and curious follower, here are the summaries for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Woot!

Here's the annual me-having-fun-in-some-corner-of-the-country photo:

Thank you to the Association of U.S. Postal Lessors (AUSPL) for having me to their convention in New Orleans this spring!

The above count, in addition to "regular" post offices (incl. stations and branches) and Contract Postal Units (CPUs), includes non-retail USPS facilities not generally intended for public access, such as mail processing facilities and carrier annexes. To wit:

Springfield, MA: Network Distribution Center (NDC)
Springfield, MA NDC

Washington, DC: Wards Place Carrier Annex:

The count doesn't include previously discontinued facilities, peripheral operations such as Detached Box Units, or Village "Post Offices" (VPOs).

Jackson, MS: Jackson Village Detached Box Unit (DBU):

The former post office at Louis Armstrong International Airport outside New Orleans:

I visited as many as 33 post offices in one day. State by state, counting only distinct active postal locations for the year:

New York: 154 post offices
Focus/Foci: Eastern Hudson River, Syracuse and Glen Falls

Massachusetts: 147
All of Cape Cod, southeastern and southern MA. I completed visiting all Mass. post offices west of the Connecticut River.

Louisiana: 91
Bayous south and east of New Orleans, Baton Rouge

Maryland: 82
D.C. Metro area

Pennsylvania: 41
East-central mountains

Connecticut: 61
Northeastern CT

Mississippi: 39
Southwest Mississippi and Jackson

District of Columbia: 24

New Jersey: 12

Virginia: 9

Rhode Island: 9

Vermont: 6

Delaware: 3

Neither rain nor snow stayed my postal rounds. Post offices can be very photogenic in winter. This month I journeyed to PA to photograph some POs and snag some views of hearty snowy fields on the side.

Eagles Mere, PA:

A highlight of my year was the summer I spent outside Washington, DC by the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The facility has boatloads of fantastic historic photographs and documents related to post offices/federal buildings and the New Deal artwork they so frequently house.

From the National Archives photo files:

Ilion, NY post office (1936):

Wewoka, Oklahoma (1936)

Old Houston, TX post office (1900):

Abingdon, IL post office relief: "Post Rider"

The best part of the artwork photographs at the National Archives is that they're not under copyright restriction, so you need not feel compelled to use the nonsense "Used with permission of USPS" tagline that its lawyers and Permissions staff force on the public and museums alike.

I've photographed some wonderful artwork at post offices this year, including the 1937 hybrid relief/painting "Eliphalet Remington" in the post office in Ilion, New York, whose exterior 1936 photo was posted above.

Gorgeous, no? There are thousands more from the Archives where all these came from!

While in the D.C. area I also spent a wonderful day at the National Postal Museum! Believe it or not I'd been to more than 6,000 post offices before visiting the museum. Sacrebleu!

Scene from the National Postal Museum:

Speaking of #6,000: the Lakeville Carrier Annex of the Middleborough, Massachusetts post office.

Well, wishing you all a happy 2015. I hope to update the blog on a more frequent basis next year. Cheers!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Historic Post Offices of Louisiana, Part III: Baton Rouge

Oh my goodness, has it been this long since the first two of our trilogy? I had planned to write about how I was harassed by a misinformed U.S. Postal Inspector while taking the photo you'll see below (an Inspector who utilized the words "domestic terrorism" and attempted to get the U.S. Marshals to confiscate my camera; fortunately the latter knew better than to oblige)... and then describe the federal lawsuits that have resolved that it's perfectly acceptable to photograph anything visible from a public street, sidewalk, or plaza. But we're better than that. So, onward.

The downtown post office in Baton Rouge, also known as the main office retail unit, is located in a '60s-era Federal Building across the street from the old Main Post Office for Baton Rouge, which now serves as a Federal courthouse. (A third Federal building was constructed in 1990 next door to that.)

Let's take a look at a map of the downtown postal operations in Baton Rouge:

In the map, the 1930s old post office is located at the north side of Florida Street; the 1966 facility you see below, on the south side.

Here is my photo of the '60s post office / federal building taken from across the street. (The Inspector and two ill-trained rent-a-cops can be seen at the right side of the image. Here's the point at which I was about to have a very interesting afternoon.)

Here is a photo of the exact same building taken by a Google Street View car the same month. That driver's afternoon was probably less eventful.

There's not too much else to say about the 1966 post office building. It has a large carrier station in the back. The old building (now-just U.S. Courthouse) across the street is much more architecturally interesting. That's partly because I like the architectural flair of the 1930s. The General Services Administration (GSA), which manages the building, describes the nuances of the architecture as well as the building's historical significance. But first, here are a couple of images. The first two are mine from this past April. The next three are from the National Archives collection in College Park, Maryland. The cornerstone demonstrates that construction of the building began in 1932, during the administration of Herbert Hoover. The building was completed the following year, once FDR had taken office.

Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse

Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse Cornerstone

From the National Archives; photos taken upon building completion, May 12, 1933:
Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse, 1933

Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse rear, 1933

Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse detail, 1933

The Neoclassical building was designed by architect Moise Goldstein and built by the firm of Algernon Blair, contractor, whose company was responsible for the construction of at least 20 post office/federal buildings in Louisiana during this era. The building sits on a granite base though is clad in limestone. The total floor area is 57,000 square feet and the building underwent a substantial renovation in 1995.

The building's site has been owned by some government—initially state, then municipal, and finally federal—for nearly 200 years, serving as a state penitentiary, a park, and even a community center.

The GSA writes:
"The passage of the Public Buildings Act of 1926 precipitated a period of building construction that was unprecedented in the United States. The Public Buildings Act specified that the office of the Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury would be responsible for the design and construction of all public buildings. Due to the failure of over half the nation's architectural and construction firms in the Depression, many of these buildings were designed and constructed by local firms, as was the Baton Rouge building. Many of the federal buildings of this period exhibit streamlined design and lavishly finished interiors featuring marble and aluminum trim, and well-appointed courtrooms. The Baton Rouge Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is representative of this period of construction in the United States."

The GSA also posts a couple of low-resolution photos, taken 2003, to its website. Interior photography is prohibited within this building, so these images are the best we've got. Here: the ceiling, a pillar, a staircase, and a lamp.

I'll leave you now with a couple of architectural detail photos that I took, once the Marshals correctly determined that, from a legal perspective, everyone should leave the architectural tourist alone! I think the pictures came out quite nicely.

Let's admire the ironwork above the front door:

Now, let's look at the stone eagle above that (which, if you observe closely, looks just as it did 79 years ago in that enhanced photo from the National Archives that appeared earlier!):

Finally, the eagle in its setting above the front door. There's immaculate stone-carving work to accommodate the iron detailing as well!

For the sake of completion, the basement of the massive Louisiana State Capitol building contains a postal station as well. What's interesting about that building is that you can get a great panoramic view of the state capital region (and of one of the largest oil refineries in this hemisphere) from the wraparound terrace of the building's 24th floor.

Baton Rouge, LA: Capitol Station post office:
Baton Rouge, LA: Capitol Station post office

Well, thus concludes this Louisiana postal trilogy. I'll work to update this a couple more times by the end of the year. Until next time,
Evan the Traveler

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Historic Post Offices of Louisiana, Part II:
Thibodaux and Houma

During a trip this spring to Louisiana I came across several historic post office buildings that have since been converted to other uses. Out previous post presented photos of three post office buildings in Plaquemine, Louisiana dating from 1936 to the present. Today we turn to two good-size Bayou towns, Thibodaux and Houma.

Let's rekindle our geographic bearings:

Thibodaux, Louisiana

Thibodaux, population 14-15,000, is the seat of Lafourche Parish and its post office was established in 1840.

The old federal post office building in Thibodaux looks a bit different from most that you've seen before. It was constructed in 1925-6, before the massive New Deal post office construction push—the building is asymmetrical, it has small ventilation windows above the actual windows and its cornerstone is marble. In earlier photos the building is more striking; you'll notice the Spanish tile roof and (presumably) white stucco exterior.

The historic post office building is located at the south side of West 5th Street between St. Louis St. and Green St. However, it no longer serves as such; postal operations were relocated when a new federal building was constructed a bit less than half a mile south along Canal Boulevard, the city's primary north-south thoroughfare. The '20s post office building now serves as an annex facility for the offices of Lafourche County.

Old Thibodaux post office, 2014:

Thibodaux, LA: old post office
Thibodaux, LA: old post office cornerstone

Old (then-new) Thibodaux post office, Jun. 5, 1926:

Thibodaux, LA post office, 1926
Thibodaux, LA post office, 1926 (rear view)

The 'new' federal building along Canal Blvd. between West 9th St. and West 10th St.; the second photo also shows the 1966 Lyndon B. Johnson cornerstone.

Thibodaux, LA post office
Thibodaux, LA post office with cornerstone

Thibodaux also hosts a Contract Postal Unit at Nicholls State University. The operation is housed inside the Donald G. Bollinger Memorial Student Union.

Nicholls State University Contract Postal Unit, Thibodaux, LA

Houma, Louisiana

The county parish seat of Terrebonne Parish in the Bayou received two gorgeous buildings around the city's central square as a result of the New Deal (the south side of Main Street, between Church and Goode): (1) the 1934-5 former post office building and (2) the stately 1937-begun Parish Courthouse.

The old post office building at 7861 Main Street in Houma, LA was constructed in 1934-5 and served until the completion of the Allen J. Ellender Federal Building—a rather standard ugly mid-to-late century building, located a few blocks away, that will disappoint your retinas later in this post.

Here are two photos of the then-recently completed post office building taken May 17, 1935: Houma, LA post office, 1935
Houma, LA post office, 1935 (rear view)

The old post office is privately owned, and for some time served as a nightclub that was appropriately called "The Old Post Office Club." However, when I visited this spring it appeared that the building served no discernible public purpose. That said, the building appeared to be in good shape. Below, photos of the old Houma post office from this year, including photos of the cornerstone and an honorary (nonfunctional) postbox affixed to the right of the building's main entrance.

Old Houma post office, 2014
Old Houma post office cornerstone, 2014
Old Houma post office: old postbox, 2014

Here is the site of the current post office in Houma. The building at left houses various federal offices, while the post office is at the right.

Houma post office, 2014

There are three Contract Postal Units (CPUs) in Houma, but that's the subject for perhaps another post.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Where are They Now?
Historic Post Offices of Louisiana: Plaquemine

During a trip this spring to the Bayou I was able to find and photograph several historic post office buildings in southeast Louisiana along the way from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Each of these offices is no longer occupied by the Postal Service. As an added bonus, I will show you photos of each of these early-century buildings from when they were brand new, using photos recently scanned by yours truly at the National Archives.

As always, here's a map showing where we'll be for this and GP's next couple of posts: the cities of Plaquemine, Houma, Thibodaux, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Plaquemine, Louisiana

Plaquemine, population about 7,000, is the seat of Iberville Parish [Louisiana's equivalent of a county]. Its post office was first established in 1822. Located at 23430 Eden St., the historic 1935-6 Treasury Department-funded (New Deal) post office resides in historic downtown Plaquemine near Bayou Plaquemine [think: river that enters the Mississippi], though the building currently lies opposite a large vacant lot with the massive Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church looming just beyond.

Historic Plaquemine post office:
Historic Plaquemine, LA post office

Historic Plaquemine, LA post office

The historic building is now occupied by two high-end home décor shops: Cabinets Unlimited, which opened in 1990 and "specialize[s] in beautiful custom cabinets and furniture for new construction or remodels," as well as other custom wood carving products; and Garden On Eden, founded 1999, which specializes in "fine imports from around the world."

Unfortunately, since a lot of Garden of Eden's merchandise is outside the entire front of the property has been enclosed by a several-foot-tall iron fence. This means it's difficult to get up-close and personal with the old building and, for example, get a good look at the cornerstone on the right side of the building. But never fear! Your intrepid postal enthusiast was able to slip his camera at such an angle that he was able to get a couple of good looks for you one late March weekend.

Historic Plaquemine, LA post office

The rather obfuscated post office cornerstone:
Historic Plaquemine, LA post office cornerstone

There was no New Deal artwork in the old Plaquemine post office.

Going Postal suspects that the historic post office was sold as late as 1990, at which point Cabinets Unlimited moved into the New Deal building and a new post office building was constructed. (When exactly? It's not clear at this time. As our friend Kelvin has noted in the comments below, the structure you see here possesses ca. 1970 postal architecture.) Intrepid post office voyager John from Maryland took this photo of the Plaquemine post office in 2000:
ca. 1990 Plaquemine post office

Which brings us to now: The present Plaquemine post office is a USPS-owned facility about a mile south of the historic post office and has been occupied, according to USPS's Owned Facilities Report, since Aug. 2000. It is located just across the train tracks that (and yes, you and your car will have to wait if some cargo is coming through).

Plaquemine post office, 2014

The following never-before-publicized photos of the just-completed historic Plaquemine post office were taken for the U.S. Treasury Department on Nov. 3, 1936.

Plaquemine post office, 1936

Plaquemine post office, 1936