Monday, March 28, 2011

The Farley Post Office Building

The Farley General Post Office Building is located on the "superblock" between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, and 31st and 33rd Streets, within the 34th Street district in Manhattan.

N.Y.'s new Post Office (LOC)

It's massive, old, and almost looks out of place among the surrounding office buildings. A relic from a different time, its closest neighbor is Madison Square Garden. The Farley building was conceived and constructed to replace the 1878 General Post Office, located downtown on Park Row and Broadway.

Old General Post Office and U.... Digital ID: 809382. New York Public Library

Construction of the Pennsylvania Terminal Building, as it was called then, came on the heels of the completion of McKim, Mead & White's monumental Pennsylvania Station. In the photo below, taken in 1913, Penn Station sits in the foreground, with the Penn Terminal building just behind it, to the west, and, for a good measure of bizarre, a lone guy on the roof of the building in the lower right corner. He was probably counting Penn Terminal's colonnade of 20 Corinthian columns, designed to complement the facade of Penn Station. Both buildings were designed and built by McKim, Mead &White, Beaux-Arts kings in the early 1900s.

Photo: MCNY

Penn Station was completed in 1910, and that same year, ground was broken for the Penn Terminal building. Penn Terminal was finished in 1913, and opened for business in September, 1914. In this postcard, most likely issued shortly after the new post office opened, it's rendered quite majestically. The artist took some liberties with the gold-embellished columns, but it really was (and is) an impressive building.

Image: Pisark's Cards
In 1914, Ira Schnapp, who at the time was designing stamps for the Postal Department, was hired as a stone carver by the US Post Office Department to design, and hand-carve the famous quote on the building's front facade:


The quote comes from Herodotus' Histories 8.98, and refers to Angarum, the royal riding post in the Persian Empire. Schnapp had previous experience carving, having completed the front facade of the New York Public Library in 1911 when he was just 19 years old.

Around 1918, Penn Terminal was renamed General Post Office Building, and here it is in 1920.

Photo: NYPL Digital

In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed James A. Farley as the 53rd Postmaster General. Under Farley's leadership, a western annex was added onto the existing building in 1934, and The General Post Office building was extended all the way to Ninth Avenue, giving it superblock status. Farley served until 1940, successfully managing the postal service during the Great Depression, and greatly improving trans-continental mailing services.The next two photos are from the Smithsonian's flikr page, which is definitely worth a visit.

In this photo, taken on June 15, 1936, postmen exit the building to deliver the first round of  WWI "bonus army" checks. In 1932, WWI veterans demonstrated in Washington DC, demanding faster payment for their Service Certificate Payment. Click through the photo for more information.

Carriers Setting Out on Their Daily Rounds

Below, postmen storm the Eighth Avenue steps to deliver holiday packages in 1952, fourteen years before the building was designated a New York City landmark in 1966, and ten years before demolition began on its neighbor Penn Station in 1962 to make way for Madison Square Garden.

Letter Carriers in New York City
Smithsonian flikr

You can still see a good bit of Farley history in the Farley Museum, located in the north pavilion, as well as the building itself. I was fortunate enough to get a brief work-related tour of part of the building. Here are a few photos.

Detailed ceilings in the front foyer

Postal delivery bike on display

Carrier pigeon service, and pigeon capsules(!) in the museum 

  Filigree staircase

 Steel girders in the loading dock (probably original)

To read a more in-depth post about the history of the building, check out   Daytonian in Manhattan, and for a more thorough look at the inside of the building as it is now, before it turns into the new Moynihan Station,  check out  Scouting NY.

Friday, March 11, 2011

World's Tower Building: A 40th Street Gothic High-Rise in the Middle of Midtown Art Deco-land

A version of this post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

Recently, there was shift of offices here at work. I went from sitting in an open area, sort of a combo - cubicle/bullpen setting, to a room with four walls, a door, and two windows that actually open (rare for a midtown office building).  Being able to somewhat control light and temperature levels and tell when it's dark outside is very nice. Like many working archivists, most of my former jobs took place in dreary basement-level rooms with poor air circulation (great when you are sorting through 30 year-old Thermofaxes layered in dust, or rotting photographs reeking of developing fixer solution) and no natural light. Now, I look out the window and see this building.

Photo: A. Kumer
Photo: A. Kumer

The World's Tower, at 110 West 40th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, has 30 above-ground levels, and a glazed terra cotta facade. When this Neo-Gothic building was completed in 1913, it was the tallest of its kind, on an extremely narrow, 50 foot-wide footprint, and made a striking impression in mid-town Manhattan.

Photo: MCNY
The architecture firm, Buchman & Fox, was commissioned by budding real estate magnate Edward W. Browning. According to New York Times Streetscapes columnist Christopher Gray, Browning was eccentric, throughout his life, steadily acquiring adoptive daughters (and marrying one), as well as skinny mid-block high-rises. You can also see part of the Empire (Eltinge) theater in the bottom right, with Billie Burke (later to play Glinda the Good Witch of the North in The Wizard of Oz) on the marquee.

Photo: BPC Collection
Behold, midtown, more or less as we know it now. The above photograph, taken in 1935, and looking south-west from above and across Bryant Park, shows numerous high-rise buildings surrounding the Tower. The Union Dime Savings Bank building is in the lower right of the above photograph, and Bryant Park is just west, outside the bottom frame of the photograph.

**Note: The eccentric Browning link may not work w/o a NYT login. It's worth it though, so maybe get one and read the article anyway. Sorry!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tunnels Under Bryant Park, Part 2

This post also appears on the Bryant park blog.

During its long tenure as a public park -- 165 years, if you go all the way back to 1846, when the City ordered construction of a public park, then called Reservoir Square, next to the Croton Reservoir -- Bryant Park has seen a lot of construction. 

In addition to the erection of a temporary structure now and then, usually for a public event or activity, such as the Crystal Palace in 1853, and Federal Hall in 1932, and more recently, the Citi Pond at Bryant Park, there have also been two large-scale reconstructive efforts: one in 1934 under the guidance of Robert Moses, which transformed the park from a Victorian to a French Classical design, and another in 1988, headed by Bryant Park Corporation, which in addition to giving the park a much needed facelift, included the installation of  NYPL stacks under the lawn. 

Photo: NYC Transit Museum

The photo above, taken in 1924, shows a pedestrian view of 42nd street, on the north side of the park, during construction of the Flushing Line, now, the 7 train. Service began from Grand Central Terminal to Vernon-Jackson in Queens, on June 13, 1915. Over the next 13 years, the line extended to Flushing, Queens, and to Times Square. You can read more about it here, and of course, check out the more specific up-to-date 7 train line information here.

Running along 42nd Street, building the line turned much of the park into a construction site for about five years. 

Photo: BPC Photo Collection

Years later, while writing about the 1934 renovation of the park in the December 1, 1934 issue of the New Yorker, Lewis Mumford would recall " . . .those long dreary years, when it looked as if someone had struck oil there." Construction crews arrived in the park on June 2, 1922, and didn't leave until July 5, 1927.