Monday, March 28, 2011

The Farley Post Office Building

After a little hiatus and a lot of research, I'm back with the Farley General Post Office Building, 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)


Before I started working for the 34th Street Partnership, I knew of Farley primarily as "that one post office in midtown that's open 24/7." It's massive, and old, and almost looks out of place among the surrounding office buildings, and closest neighbor Madison Square Garden. The Farley building was conceived and constructed to replace the 1878 General Post Office, located downtown on Park Row and Broadway, and pictured below.

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:

NEITHER SNOW NOR RAIN NOR HEAT NOR GLOOM OF NIGHT STAYS THESE COURIERS FROM THEIR APPOINTED ROUNDS

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.

5 comments:

  1. interesting that the postmen are - it would seem - smiling. do postmen still smile like that?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hmm. Good point. I haven't seen one do that in a while. Maybe their lips are cramping up.

    ReplyDelete
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  4. I had an uncle who worked there. He was killed on the job when an elevator door crushed him in December 1918. I've been trying to track down records about this, but other than a tiny mention in the newspaper, I cannot find anything...any ideas? (I already contacted the National Personnel Records Center..they had nothing)
    thanks for any help.
    Patty

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    Replies
    1. Hi Patty, Aside form the National Personnel Records, maybe another division of NARA would have something --

      http://www.archives.gov/research/post-offices/

      Or, you could try the National Postal Museum, though I'm not sure how personal it gets re: employee records

      http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/

      There's also the Library of Congress. I'm not sure what division would have relevant holdings, but their phone reference librarians are usually pretty helpful.

      Delete