Friday, January 16, 2015

Under Construction

It's interesting to photograph post offices that are under construction, in the process of being opened. Nearly 100% of the time a new postal facility will be replacing one or even two other offices. I've come across this a handful of times, but never quite in the stage of construction my friend documented a new facility in Santa Cruz, California a few days back.

On January 12, the East Santa Cruz Station opened at its new location at 1148 Soquel Avenue after having lost its lease at its former location, 120 Morrissey Boulevard. Reportedly the landlord severed the lease so that a grocery store could move in. Here's USPS's local news release.

This photo of the old East Santa Cruz Station was taken by my friend John back in 2001.
Old East Santa Cruz post office
My friend Doug arrived the day before the opening of the new P.O., January 11, just as construction crews were hanging what appears to be a sonic eagle post office sign above the entrance to the new facility. He even witnessed them stenciling letters to the glass window and installing other materials. I think it's interesting to see the process in action.

Installing the presumably temporary banner:

The stencil lettering on the window of the new office:

Looking closely, you can see the new standard retail design theme for the counter area inside: faux-wood surfaces with rounded blue "marble"-grained countertops.

You can find more photos at Doug's photostream here.

I witnessed a similar event in Maryland back in 2012, though by that point the new post office—which was replacing both a historic New Deal facility and a primarily carrier facility nearby—had already opened. The workers were still putting the finishing touches on the new space.

New Bethesda Main Post Office, June 2012:

There's a post office construction project presently occurring in Brooklyn, New York that's been in the making for some time now. The Pratt Station, near Pratt Institute, slightly east of Brooklyn's downtown and south of its historic Navy Yard. The post office was informed that it would be losing its lease in October 2013 (think: developers + gentrification), and the building has been sitting largely vacant with a post office closure/relocation notice since October 2014. This moody photo of the building was taken last month:

Customers have been served by a USPS Mobile Unit located a few blocks up the road since October. The truck has been parked in front of the site of the new post office. Here's the truck:

And here's the site:

(There's a collection box located at the corner—as it should be!— just out of frame to the right.

The new post office is expected for retail services next month. The retail counter area is still under construction. For now, though, the Post Office Box lobby is accessible to box holders. When all is said and done there will two customer entrances to the post office storefront, one to the P.O. Box lobby and one to the retail area. The areas are separated by a lockable door. For now just the outer box lobby door is unlocked, and only during designated hours.

New Pratt Station: entrance to P.O. Box lobby:

Did you notice what the sign says about package pickup? This is apparently a lost customer convenience.

New Pratt Station: retail lobby under construction:

The retail area promises to resemble East Santa Cruz Station's—heck, all recent and current—areas in its design theme. However, Pratt's will likely feature transparent bulletproof barriers between the clerks and customers. That's just how it is at about 90% of post offices in New York City.

'Til next time!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Postal Summary

Welcome to Going Postal's fifth annual year-end summary. This year I visited 658 new active postal facilities across 12 states and the District of Columbia, bringing my grand total to 6,417. Actually, it's my lowest yearly count since we started; I've taken on some wonderful new projects this year. For the active and curious follower, here are the summaries for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Woot!

Here's the annual me-having-fun-in-some-corner-of-the-country photo:

Thank you to the Association of U.S. Postal Lessors (AUSPL) for having me to their convention in New Orleans this spring!

The above count, in addition to "regular" post offices (incl. stations and branches) and Contract Postal Units (CPUs), includes non-retail USPS facilities not generally intended for public access, such as mail processing facilities and carrier annexes. To wit:

Springfield, MA: Network Distribution Center (NDC)
Springfield, MA NDC

Washington, DC: Wards Place Carrier Annex:

The count doesn't include previously discontinued facilities, peripheral operations such as Detached Box Units, or Village "Post Offices" (VPOs).

Jackson, MS: Jackson Village Detached Box Unit (DBU):

The former post office at Louis Armstrong International Airport outside New Orleans:

I visited as many as 33 post offices in one day. State by state, counting only distinct active postal locations for the year:

New York: 154 post offices
Focus/Foci: Eastern Hudson River, Syracuse and Glen Falls

Massachusetts: 147
All of Cape Cod, southeastern and southern MA. I completed visiting all Mass. post offices west of the Connecticut River.

Louisiana: 91
Bayous south and east of New Orleans, Baton Rouge

Maryland: 82
D.C. Metro area

Pennsylvania: 41
East-central mountains

Connecticut: 61
Northeastern CT

Mississippi: 39
Southwest Mississippi and Jackson

District of Columbia: 24

New Jersey: 12

Virginia: 9

Rhode Island: 9

Vermont: 6

Delaware: 3

Neither rain nor snow stayed my postal rounds. Post offices can be very photogenic in winter. This month I journeyed to PA to photograph some POs and snag some views of hearty snowy fields on the side.

Eagles Mere, PA:

A highlight of my year was the summer I spent outside Washington, DC by the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. The facility has boatloads of fantastic historic photographs and documents related to post offices/federal buildings and the New Deal artwork they so frequently house.

From the National Archives photo files:

Ilion, NY post office (1936):

Wewoka, Oklahoma (1936)

Old Houston, TX post office (1900):

Abingdon, IL post office relief: "Post Rider"

The best part of the artwork photographs at the National Archives is that they're not under copyright restriction, so you need not feel compelled to use the nonsense "Used with permission of USPS" tagline that its lawyers and Permissions staff force on the public and museums alike.

I've photographed some wonderful artwork at post offices this year, including the 1937 hybrid relief/painting "Eliphalet Remington" in the post office in Ilion, New York, whose exterior 1936 photo was posted above.

Gorgeous, no? There are thousands more from the Archives where all these came from!

While in the D.C. area I also spent a wonderful day at the National Postal Museum! Believe it or not I'd been to more than 6,000 post offices before visiting the museum. Sacrebleu!

Scene from the National Postal Museum:

Speaking of #6,000: the Lakeville Carrier Annex of the Middleborough, Massachusetts post office.

Well, wishing you all a happy 2015. I hope to update the blog on a more frequent basis next year. Cheers!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Historic Post Offices of Louisiana, Part III: Baton Rouge

Oh my goodness, has it been this long since the first two of our trilogy? I had planned to write about how I was harassed by a misinformed U.S. Postal Inspector while taking the photo you'll see below (an Inspector who utilized the words "domestic terrorism" and attempted to get the U.S. Marshals to confiscate my camera; no, that didn't happen)... and then describe the federal lawsuits that have resolved that it's perfectly acceptable to photograph anything visible from a public street, sidewalk, or plaza. But we're better than that. So, onward.

The downtown post office in Baton Rouge, also known as the main office retail unit, is located in a '60s-era Federal Building across the street from the old Main Post Office for Baton Rouge, which now serves as a Federal courthouse. (A third Federal building was constructed in 1990 next door to that.)

Let's take a look at a map of the downtown postal operations in Baton Rouge:

In the map, the 1930s old post office is located at the north side of Florida Street; the 1966 facility you see below, on the south side.

Here is my photo of the '60s post office / federal building taken from across the street. (The Inspector and two ill-trained rent-a-cops can be seen at the right side of the image. Here's the point at which I was about to have a very interesting afternoon.)

Here is a photo of the exact same building taken by a Google Street View car the same month. That car's afternoon was probably less eventful.

There's not too much else to say about the 1966 post office building. It has a large carrier station in the back. The old building (now-just U.S. Courthouse) across the street is much more architecturally interesting. That's partly because I like the architectural flair of the 1930s. The General Services Administration (GSA), which manages the building, describes the nuances of the architecture as well as the building's historical significance. But first, here are a couple of images. The first two are mine from this past April. The next three are from the National Archives collection in College Park, Maryland. The cornerstone demonstrates that construction of the building began in 1932, during the administration of Herbert Hoover. The building was completed the following year, once FDR had taken office.

Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse

Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse Cornerstone

From the National Archives; photos taken upon building completion, May 12, 1933:
Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse, 1933

Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse rear, 1933

Baton Rouge, LA: Old Post Office and U.S. Courthouse detail, 1933

The Neoclassical building was designed by architect Moise Goldstein and built by the firm of Algernon Blair, contractor, whose company was responsible for the construction of at least 20 post office/federal buildings in Louisiana during this era. The building sits on a granite base though is clad in limestone. The total floor area is 57,000 square feet and the building underwent a substantial renovation in 1995.

The building's site has been owned by some government—initially state, then municipal, and finally federal—for nearly 200 years, serving as a state penitentiary, a park, and even a community center.

The GSA writes:
"The passage of the Public Buildings Act of 1926 precipitated a period of building construction that was unprecedented in the United States. The Public Buildings Act specified that the office of the Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury would be responsible for the design and construction of all public buildings. Due to the failure of over half the nation's architectural and construction firms in the Depression, many of these buildings were designed and constructed by local firms, as was the Baton Rouge building. Many of the federal buildings of this period exhibit streamlined design and lavishly finished interiors featuring marble and aluminum trim, and well-appointed courtrooms. The Baton Rouge Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is representative of this period of construction in the United States."

The GSA also posts a couple of low-resolution photos, taken 2003, to its website. Interior photography is prohibited within this building, so these images are the best we've got. Here: the ceiling, a pillar, a staircase, and a lamp.

I'll leave you now with a couple of architectural detail photos that I took, once the Marshals correctly determined that, from a legal perspective, everyone should leave the architectural tourist alone! I think the pictures came out quite nicely.

Let's admire the ironwork above the front door:

Now, let's look at the stone eagle above that (which, if you observe closely, looks just as it did 79 years ago in that enhanced photo from the National Archives that appeared earlier!):

Finally, the eagle in its setting above the front door. There's immaculate stone-carving work to accommodate the iron detailing as well!

For the sake of completion, the basement of the massive Louisiana State Capitol building contains a postal station as well. What's interesting about that building is that you can get a great panoramic view of the state capital region (and of one of the largest oil refineries in this hemisphere) from the wraparound terrace of the building's 24th floor.

Baton Rouge, LA: Capitol Station post office:
Baton Rouge, LA: Capitol Station post office

Well, thus concludes this Louisiana postal trilogy. I'll work to update this a couple more times by the end of the year. Until next time,
Evan the Traveler

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Historic Post Offices of Louisiana, Part II:
Thibodaux and Houma

During a trip this spring to Louisiana I came across several historic post office buildings that have since been converted to other uses. Out previous post presented photos of three post office buildings in Plaquemine, Louisiana dating from 1936 to the present. Today we turn to two good-size Bayou towns, Thibodaux and Houma.

Let's rekindle our geographic bearings:

Thibodaux, Louisiana

Thibodaux, population 14-15,000, is the seat of Lafourche Parish and its post office was established in 1840.

The old federal post office building in Thibodaux looks a bit different from most that you've seen before. It was constructed in 1925-6, before the massive New Deal post office construction push—the building is asymmetrical, it has small ventilation windows above the actual windows and its cornerstone is marble. In earlier photos the building is more striking; you'll notice the Spanish tile roof and (presumably) white stucco exterior.

The historic post office building is located at the south side of West 5th Street between St. Louis St. and Green St. However, it no longer serves as such; postal operations were relocated when a new federal building was constructed a bit less than half a mile south along Canal Boulevard, the city's primary north-south thoroughfare. The '20s post office building now serves as an annex facility for the offices of Lafourche County.

Old Thibodaux post office, 2014:

Thibodaux, LA: old post office
Thibodaux, LA: old post office cornerstone

Old (then-new) Thibodaux post office, Jun. 5, 1926:

Thibodaux, LA post office, 1926
Thibodaux, LA post office, 1926 (rear view)

The 'new' federal building along Canal Blvd. between West 9th St. and West 10th St.; the second photo also shows the 1966 Lyndon B. Johnson cornerstone.

Thibodaux, LA post office
Thibodaux, LA post office with cornerstone

Thibodaux also hosts a Contract Postal Unit at Nicholls State University. The operation is housed inside the Donald G. Bollinger Memorial Student Union.

Nicholls State University Contract Postal Unit, Thibodaux, LA

Houma, Louisiana

The county parish seat of Terrebonne Parish in the Bayou received two gorgeous buildings around the city's central square as a result of the New Deal (the south side of Main Street, between Church and Goode): (1) the 1934-5 former post office building and (2) the stately 1937-begun Parish Courthouse.

The old post office building at 7861 Main Street in Houma, LA was constructed in 1934-5 and served until the completion of the Allen J. Ellender Federal Building—a rather standard ugly mid-to-late century building, located a few blocks away, that will disappoint your retinas later in this post.

Here are two photos of the then-recently completed post office building taken May 17, 1935: Houma, LA post office, 1935
Houma, LA post office, 1935 (rear view)

The old post office is privately owned, and for some time served as a nightclub that was appropriately called "The Old Post Office Club." However, when I visited this spring it appeared that the building served no discernible public purpose. That said, the building appeared to be in good shape. Below, photos of the old Houma post office from this year, including photos of the cornerstone and an honorary (nonfunctional) postbox affixed to the right of the building's main entrance.

Old Houma post office, 2014
Old Houma post office cornerstone, 2014
Old Houma post office: old postbox, 2014

Here is the site of the current post office in Houma. The building at left houses various federal offices, while the post office is at the right.

Houma post office, 2014

There are three Contract Postal Units (CPUs) in Houma, but that's the subject for perhaps another post.