Woodhaven Post Office. Photo via Queens Brownstoner
New York City has more than its share of art. Works of art can be found throughout the city, in museums, galleries, and even scattered across its parks. However, an often overlooked venue for art in New York City are post offices. During the Great Depression, federal agencies including the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, often confused and conflated with the WPA, hired painters and sculptors to “secure suitable art of the best quality available for the embellishment of public buildings.”
Between 1934 and 1943, the Section, as it was known, commissioned works of art for more than 1,100 post offices across the United States. While some of the murals and sculptures have been lost or destroyed, most of the ones created for New York City post offices can still be viewed in situ. With the USPS closing and selling off a large percentage of its post offices, highlighting these works of art commissioned for the public is more important than ever.
In 1912, the James A. Farley Post Office Building opened. The building, originally referred to as the General Post Office, was designed by McKim, Mead, and White to complement their nascent Pennsylvania Station. The 8th Avenue facade possesses an extended staircase rising to fifty-three corinthian columns topped by a frieze with a quote, often mistaken for the post office’s official motto. The quote, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom…,” was adopted, and amended, from Herodotus describing the couriers of King Xerxes, along with inscriptions of names related to postal history, like Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XVI.
In the 1930s, Louis Lozowick, a Russian painter and art critic, painted two large oil painting in the lobby of the post office. Triborough Bridge and Lower Manhattan can still be viewed today, although the lower portion of Lower Manhattan has been covered by a memorial plaque (the lower portion can be seen on the original drawing). There are also remnants of a mural at the Annex to the Farley Post Office Building, which is unfortunately inaccessible to the public. This may change however, as the plans to convert the Farley Post Office into a train station and Amtrak waiting room got another jump start from Governor Cuomo yesterday.
Next, check out some of the James A. Farley Post Office’s off-limits places.