New York City is home to some of the most beautiful post offices in America (in our humble opinion). The embattled United States Postal Service operates hundreds of post offices across the five boroughs, from small mundane neighborhood outposts to grand buildings of distinguished architectural design. Inside some of these post offices, the country’s most talented painters created murals and sculptures.
In every financial crisis, the USPS re-emerges in the national dialogue. Is the post office a service, as stated in its name, or should it managed like a for-profit business? Those that support the latter favor the privatization of the postal service, which they argue will lower cost and increase efficiency. On the flip side, those that contend the USPS should be a service point out the many rural places where USPS continues to deliver where companies like FedEx and UPS do not. Our own visit to the smallest post office in America in Ochopee, Florida shows that even the smallest outpost services more people than it looks, truly providing an essential service.
Controversy over the United States Postal Service in 2020 around political concerns about mail-in voting, focused on actions taken by the Postmaster General DeJoy that resulted in the removal of sorting machines and mail collection boxes on streets. DeJoy’s proposal to freeze hiring and force early retirement put a question mark on the historical role the post office has served in offering Americans a rung into the middle class.
Financial crises don’t always result in the cutting of services, however. We should also remember that thousands of post offices around the country were constructed as part of federal relief efforts during the Great Depression, putting to work builders, craftsmen, and artists. Dozens of post offices in New York City were built as part of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and these notable buildings still stand today more or less providing their original function. Here are 10 beautiful post offices in New York City built from 1885 through the 1930s.
1. James A. Farley Post Office
The James A. Farley Building is New York City’s main USPS building, located in Midtown. In the early 1900s, the Pennsylvania Railroad proposed that the United States Post Office Department construct a post office across from the train station on 8th Avenue. The original structure began construction in March 1911. McKim, Mead, and White designed the Beaux-Arts-style building, which features a detailed Corinthian colonnade underneath the inscription: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The quote was adopted from Herodotus describing the couriers of King Xerxes, along with inscriptions of names related to postal history like Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XVI.
The ceiling of the front reception hall is decorated with carved national emblems or coats of arms of the United States, the United Kingdom, the German Empire, the French Third Republic, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Italy, the Kingdom of Spain, Belgium, Austria-Hungary, and the Netherlands. In the 1930s, Louis Lozowick, a Russian painter and art critic, painted two large oil painting in the lobby of the post office, and Triborough Bridge and Lower Manhattan can still be viewed today. The post office also features secrets like a number of abandoned spaces, remnants of a WPA mural, a secret postal tunnel, and a Postal Museum.
The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1966. Portions of the building have been converted into the Moynihan Train Hall for Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad. In 2020, Facebook signed a lease for all 730,000 square feet of office space in the Farley Building. The USPS will keep postal services despite the redevelopment of the James. A. Farley building.