Signed, Sealed, Reimagined
Historic post offices adapted for new use
By Dennis Hockman | From Preservation | Spring 2013
Established in 1775 with Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General, what is now known as the United States Postal Service has, for much of its history, contributed significantly to lives of individuals, the productivity of businesses, and the prosperity of communities. Despite the importance of a federal service for delivering mail, people are visiting post offices less frequently today than ever before. That, combined with difficult financial realities, prompted the USPS in 2011 to propose shuttering some 3,700 post offices nationwide.
More recently the Postal Service has backed off this proposal, instead planning to cut services, in some cases decreasing post office hours to anywhere from two to six hours a day. Many post offices still could be threatened with closure, a reality that compelled the National Trust for Historic Preservation to place historic post offices on its 2012 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places and add the structures to its portfolio of National Treasures.
Although keeping all post offices open in the communities they serve is ideal, that won’t always be possible, leaving an uncertain future for what are often magnificent historic and architecturally important structures. Knowing that in the near future some of these buildings may need to serve purposes different from those for which they were originally designed, we’ve gathered a collection of photographs that illustrates how former post offices can be reinvented as hotels, restaurants, art galleries, offices spaces, and even residences.
Once Dallas’ location for every branch of the federal government, the 1929 United States Post Office and Court House at 400 North Ervay is now 78 luxury residences. Original details such as the marble stairways, terra cotta tile hallways, carved wood wainscoting, and fresco ceilings were restored or refurbished to maintain the authenticity of this grand federal structure.
Hotel Monaco is housed in Washington, D.C.’s original General Post Office, a National Historic Landmark. It was commissioned by President Andrew Jackson and designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument. Upon the structure’s completion in 1842, it was the first all-marble clad building in the capital city.
This residence is an adaptive reuse of a 1930s-era post office in Paintsville, Ky. The new great room occupies space in what used to be the mail sorting area, and iron grilles originally designed to separate the post office lobby from offices were preserved as part of the renovation.
Located near the base of Colorado’s Pikes Peak, the rustic Chipita Lodge was built in 1927 and first served as a general store, post office, community center, and land development office. The 1997 restoration and renovation of the log structure preserved original white pine logs and repurposed the original mailboxes to create a vanity in one of the guest rooms.
The 1908 Beaux Arts-style post office in Des Moines, Iowa, became a Polk County office building in 1975. That same year the north lobby of the building was restored to create The Heritage Gallery, an exhibition space for the visual arts.
The Manhattan Beach , Calif., post office was designed by local residential architect Jean Paul Jones and opened early in 1950. After the location closed, it became The Cookie Post bakery and various other restaurants before architect Stephen Jones designed a renovation that would recall the building’s history. The M.B. Post restaurant today features reclaimed woods, metal-paned windows, and an antique postal desk in the bar area.
Doty & Miller Architects is located in the former Bedford, Ohio, post office built in 1934. The adaptive reuse balances sustainable, green design and historic preservation. The original mural in the lobby was painted by Karl Anderson (brother of Winesburg, Ohio author Sherwood Anderson). The mural was removed when the post office closed. Although the U.S. Postal Service still owns the mural, Doty & Miller restored and reinstalled it as part of the building renovation.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is located in Nashville’s former main post office. The design of the 1934 building is a combination of two distinctive architectural styles that were popular during the Depression era: Classicism and Art Deco. The Frist’s current logo is derived from an Art Deco motif that was part of the building’s original cast aluminum doors.
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