Last week, we took you off-limits inside the James A. Farley Post Office at the exhibition by Storefront for Art and Architecture. As urban explorers know well, even when you’re shown off-limits places, you know there are even more. The post office, across from Penn Station and the future home of Moynihan Station, supported 16,000 workers at its peak, but less than 200 today. You can imagine just how many abandoned spaces there are inside, a concept explored by the artist Katarzyna Krakowaik in the current installation.
We learned a lot about the James A. Farley Post Office on our visit to the opening of Storefront for Art and Architecture’s installation by Katarzyna Krakowaik, “The great and the secret show / the look out gallery.” First, the exhibit name became clear. The sound installation takes place in a former police corridor just above the service counters in the main hall. “The lookout gallery,” a name dubbed by the workers, is actually an extensive system of secret corridors that connected thousands of rooms in the old Post Office, with small eyeholes for postal policemen to control the working environment through an analog CCTV.
Starting this Friday at noon, Storefront for Art and Architecture will be producing a site-specific installation piece by Katarzyna Krakowiak in the James A. Farley Post Office (the future Moynihan Station). Of note to urban enthusiasts, the two parts of the show, called The great and the secret show and The look out gallery “guides visitors through a typically closed route of empty rooms and corridors across the building where past and present sounds of the postal service mechanisms and processes are performed, revealing some histories of its spaces, and reflecting on the vast urban scale of the building. The sound and resonating performance transform the walls of the hallway into a vibrating membrane, producing an intimate experience that synthesizes the past and the present of the Post Office.”
Rendering for a new Penn Station by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Yesterday, the New York City Council voted 47-1 to limit the permit for Madison Square Garden to just 10 years. MSG’s 50 year permit expired earlier this year. The owners of the Garden were pushing for a permit that would last for perpetuity, the Bloomberg administration aiming for 15 years. Madison Square Garden could apply for a renewal when the next term is up, or it could find an alternative location. This is actually the fourth incarnation of Madison Square Garden (the first gave its namesake, located at Madison Square Park), so it has a history of moving even if reluctant now.
Inscriptions on the James A. Farley Post Office near Penn Station (Image via Flickr user pepsiline)
Passing by the James A. Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street, we came across an inscription of Cardinal de Richelieu’s name in the top right corner of the facade along with a few other French names. Why is a 17th century French clergyman’s name inscribed on a U.S. Postal Service building?
I’m often asked what my favorite weird/obscure fact about New York City was. Ironically, as the founder of Untapped Cities, this question frequently proves difficult because there are just so many amazing things about this city. So I went back into my memory archives, thinking what about New York City impelled me to create Untapped Cities. The pneumatic tube mail system is top on that list.
The first pneumatic tube mail system was installed in Philadelphia (sorry New York) in 1893. New York City’s came in 1897. Each tube could carry between 400 and 600 letters and traveled at 30-35 miles per hour. In its full glory, the pneumatic tubes covered a 27-mile route, connecting 23 post offices. This network stretched up Manhattan’s east and west sides, from Bowling Green and Wall Street, all the way north to Manhattanville and East Harlem. Anecdotal stories indicate that the system may have extended into the Bronx, with sandwich subs reportedly being delivered via pneumatic tubes from a renown subway shop in the Bronx to downtown postal stations. The system even crossed boroughs into Brooklyn (using the Brooklyn Bridge), taking four minutes to take letters from Church Street near City Hall to the General Post Office in Brooklyn (now Cadman Plaza).