Saturday, February 21, 2015

Nice Touches: Farewells for Retiring Postmasters

Exploring the Poconos in 2011 I came across this flyer at the Pocono Pines post office. It beautifully demonstrates what long-serving Postmasters mean to the communities they serve, particularly in rural areas. I'll let this invitation to a retirement party thrown by local residents speak for itself.

Honoring retiring Postmaster Fred Jabara:
It is with due respect and appreciation that we wish to recognize the 23 years of pleasant and committed service Fred has provided to over 1,000 postal patrons. His smiling face, friendly service and the personal attention extended to each one of us, made mail pickup a pleasant occasion. We are sorry he is leaving but honored to have had this gentleman as our Postmaster these many years. In his honor, a social and dinner evening has been planned, at which time we can pay our respects, offer our thanks and wish Fred and his lovely wife Judy, many happy healthy years of retirement.

Pocono Pines, PA post office, 2011:

The next month I visited the VA Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey to visit its Contract Postal Unit (CPU) in room 3-109. It was then I discovered that the CPU had closed just a couple of weeks prior. Evidently this was due to the retirement of the contractor. While technically he was not a U.S. Postmaster, John Curry was dedicated to serving his community just the same. I was heartened by the sign on the (then-former) postal door:

"Let's all come together and say farewell to Mr. John Curry, Postmaster for East Orange VA. 3rd floor, conference room 3-218. Wednesday, June 1, 2011, 11 AM - 2 PM."

When I was younger I recall our block throwing a party for Sal, our local postal carrier, who had served for more than 30 years. Has your community thrown a farewell party for your favorite local postal employee? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, February 16, 2015

You Can Bank on It: Westbrook, Maine

Okay, fair warning—technically, you can now bank in it. My father recently purchased a nice cover (envelope) for our postmark collection, and I couldn't help but scan it in and post it for y'all when I saw it. I love New Deal-era post offices and I love post office building dedication covers. This particular example is a souvenir from the grand opening of a building that was completed in 1936.

Westbrook, ME post office dedication cover

Westbrook, ME post office dedication cover

Westbrook, population 18,000, is located a couple of miles west of Portland, Maine's biggest city. The community's first so-named post office dates to 1881. Westbrook was one of approximately 20 communities in Maine to receive an all-new federally-funded postal facility during the FDR era. The Westbrook post office building was built along what is now Route 25, the town's largest thoroughfare, near the town's commercial district.

The building was completed in mid-1936. This "completion photo," housed in the National Archives, was taken August 14, 1936. (Astute readers will note that the building was dedicated the next day.)

Westbrook, ME post office, 1936

Soon after the federal Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts commissioned an oil-on-canvas mural to be installed in the post office lobby. The work, entitled "Woodsmen in the Woods of Maine," was painted by Waldo Peirce (December 17, 1884 — March 8, 1970) and installed in 1937. The work has since been relocated and can be found at the Portland Museum of Art. It appears to be well preserved and restored at least once. See a photo here.

As is the case with many communities for which historic post offices were constructed during the former part of the 20th century, the Postal Service has since relocated and the New Deal facility is now privately owned. The current building housing the Westbrook post office is USPS-owned and was completed in 1978. Like other postal buildings of the era, it is utterly utilitarian and in no way distinctive. Regardless, we have a photo of it! This was taken by our friend J. Gallagher in 1990.

Westbrook, ME post office, 1990

The 'new' post office is located just a few hundred feet east of the historic New Deal building, on Main St.

The address of the former post office building was, according to old federal documents, 19 Brackett Street, though its address is now 17 Westbrook Common. This map will give you a sense of the development presently surrounding the historic post office building. The building is now occupied by a bank, the Ocean Communities Federal Credit Union.

Thanks to the magic that is Google Street View, we can now see the repurposed post office complete with drive-through. From the looks of things (notably the recessed rectangle you can see at the bottom-front of the building), the Treasury Department cornerstone has since been removed.

'Til next time!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

North of the Border: Thunder Bay, Ontario

We haven't headed outside the States in a while. So when a friend showed me photos of the various iterations of the post office in Thunder Bay, Ontario, I couldn't resist a quick detour. There are many changes in the Canadian postal service (Canada Post / Poste Canada) these days; the price of a stamp has skyrocketed, a greater proportion of postal retail counters are being operated by private stores, and Canada Post is eliminating all home delivery—snowed-in "Community Mailboxes," anyone? (In the U.S. the term is "cluster box," though I could think of another apt word to follow "cluster" if USPS tries to put those everywhere in big cities as Canada is doing right now.)

Anyway. Here's Thunder Bay!

As you can see on the map, the closest metropolitan area to the population-100,000 Thunder Bay is Duluth, Minnesota. The closest cities in Canada (Winnipeg, Manitoba and Sault Saint Marie) are each an eight-hour drive. It's a 15-hour drive from Thunder Bay to Toronto. This means that Thunder Bay must have a federal building or two as well as a mail processing facility.

In the United States mail processing facilities go by a few names: "Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC)," "Processing and Distribution Facility (P&DF)," to name a couple. Canada's facilities go by the term "Mail Processing Plant" — MPP for short. Like some mail processing facilities in the U.S., there is retail service at the Thunder Bay MPP, which also serves as the community's main post office. This is located in the north side of the city along Harbour Expressway. Here's a photo from 2014.

Thunder Bay, Ontario: Mail Processing Plant / Main Post Office

The rest of the post offices in Thunder Bay are essentially what we'd call Contract Postal Units (CPUs) in the U.S.; they're retail counters located in stores, in this case branches of Shoppers Drug Mart, a large Canadian chain that you could think of as Canada's CVS. Here's a map from the Canada Post site showing its locations in Thunder Bay.

The Thunder Bay MPP didn't always house retail operations. For a long time after it was built in the 1970s, the facility was processing-only. Retail has only been added in very recent years. And this brings us to what makes Thunder Bay's postal history interesting: Thunder Bay was only established on Jan. 1, 1970, a merger between two other fledgling communities: Port Arthur and Fort William. The name Thunder Bay was chosen by a vote of its citizens; its name could just as easily have been Lakehead. (The Lakehead was also an option.)

Which brings us to the post offices. Both Port Arthur (north side of now-Thunder Bay) and Fort William (south side) had their own grand federal building / post offices. Postal retail operations were phased out as the counters in drug stores opened.

Old Port Arthur post office (32-3 Court Street S.):

Old Fort William post office (address unknown to GP):

Of further interest is Thunder Bay's Federal Building, at 130 Syndicate Avenue South (Port William side), which you can view on Google Street View here:

The Beaux-Arts building was designed and constructed under "the 1934 Public Works Construction Act (PWCA), which was designed to stimulate the economy during the Depression and to relieve unemployment." In other words, it could be considered a cousin of the hundreds of historic post offices constructed in the United States at that time under FDR's New Deal.

Stay warm, everyone! Thanks to Skip A., who contributed the photos in this entry.

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!