2. Bronx General Post Office
The Bronx General Post Office at 558 Grand Concourse was constructed between 1935 and 1937 and designed by Thomas Harlan Ellett and Louis A. Simon. The gray brick building almost camouflages into the streetscape but its real treasure lies inside, where there are thirteen murals by Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn. The paintings were inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem I Hear America Singing.
In one of the panes, Whitman points to a blackboard with a verse from his poem. Originally it was supposed to read – “to recast poems, churches, art; (Recast, maybe discard them, end them – Maybe their work is done, who knows).” However, a Fordham University ethics professor argued that the passage was an “insult to all religiously minded men and to Christianity.” As a result, Shahn took a different quote from Whitman’s poem, likely afraid his work might meet the same fate of an earlier mural he worked on – Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Center mural “Man at Crossroads.”
As the United States Postal Service struggles amid massive debt, it has started selling off its real estate. This includes numerous architecturally and artistically important locations, including the Grand Concourse location. One can only hope that even if the building is sold, its unique art will still be readily available to the public for generations to come.