Post Office Sales—Our New Deal Legacy at Stake
On this page:
- Gray Brechin's Comments on Civic Responsibility and the New Deal
- Crowdfunding Campaign for National Post Office Collaborate
- USPS Seeks Buyers for New Deal Treasure in the Bronx
- Breaking: A Ray of Hope as Congress Tries to Slow Down Sales
- An Overview of the Issues We Face
- National Post Office Collaborate Challenges Bronx Post Office Sale
- Overview of Preservationists' Efforts to Save Post Offices
- Private Owner of California Post Office Appropriates Public Art
- Postal Service Moves to Sell New Deal Treasure in the Bronx
- Historic Post Offices with New Deal Murals Sold or For Sale
- Petition For Reasonable Funding Requirements for the U.S. Postal Service
- Commentary on Legal Issues Around Post Office Closures
- Links to Other Articles and Websites
- National Organizations Devoted to Saving Post Offices and the USPS
- NNDPA President Speaks Out for Threatened California Post Office
- Illinois Post Office Mural Returned To Its Home
- Illinois Post Office Mural Slated For Reinstallation
June 29, 2014
I've just read a book on FDR as co-designer of six post offices near his home in Hyde Park in the Hudson Valley. Here's what I found:
"Another incentive for the accelerated building program was Roosevelt's belief that government-sponosred architecture in America left much to be desired. He intended to add high-quality federal buildings to the American landscape during his tenure in office.
Secretary of the Treasury Henry J. Mortenthau Jr. explained the situation in his speech at the dedication of the Rhinebeck post office. His department brought onto the staff in Washington twenty-one architects of recognized standing from different sections of the country, whose work was passed upon by four outstanding architects of national reputation. The aim was "not only to build buildings of maximum usefulness but to give them a character and a dignity that will be a genuine contribution to the advancement of architecture in the communities in which they have been built." All six post offices in the Mid-Hudson group were designed by one of the architects brought to Washington to fulfill the Treasury Department's mission. Secretary Morgenthau made a significant addition to his remarks in Rhinebeck: "In the ideas we have put into effect in the public building program we have followed the lead of one, whose enthusiastic interest in the project of building beautiful and serviceable and appropriate public buildings never flags." The person he was referring to was FDR.
Bernice L. Thomas, “The Stamp of FDR: New Deal Post Offices in the Mid-Hudson Valley,” Purple Mountain Press, 2002, p. 12
There's much more, but this speaks eloquently to the sense of civic responsibility with which FDR, Henry & Elinor Mrogenthau, Edward Bruce, George Biddle, and others intended public post offices to be invested, a responsibility entirely alien to those today such as Tom Samra and Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe.
Brechin is a past board member of NNDPA.
May 6, 2014
The National Post Office Collaborate is attempting to stop the sale of historic post offices through legal action. They have started a crowdfunding campaign, asking people to pledge online. The campaign runs through May 31.
A portion of the appeal follows:
In large and small towns throughout America, our historic post offices and their art illustrate the rich story of the triumphs and tribulations of our great nation. Now, they are being sold to private owners –ripped from the American landscape…forever. Stop the give-away! Donate to the National Post Office Collaborate. Your contribution will help us continue legal actions needed to keep our post offices.
Over 70 historic post offices have either been sold or are on the market for sale. There are hundreds more that are in danger. Sales are proceeding at lightning speed with minimal restrictions on development. Our historic assets are being privatized, abandoned and allowed to decay or are being torn down. They are often the heart of our vital and historic downtowns.
Listed on our National Registry, these post offices were built to show the American people that they were important to their federal government. Many include art from our finest New Deal artists. Taxpayer dollars paid for this art that shows the personality and heritage of our communities…Art that chronicles our journey…Art that informs and enriches this generation and every generation yet to come. Art that belongs to the people and is part of our public trust.
The National Post Office Collaborate has already made great strides in the federal court but there is much more work to be done. Our goal is to ensure that Post Office buildings in our communities are valued and that we can innovate new ways to live with the present while embracing history.
Feb. 5, 2014
In spite of Congress' efforts to slow down post office sales, the United States Postal Service is asking for offers on a large post office with important New Deal murals in the Bronx. This New Yortk Times article has the details.
Jan. 28, 2014
As discussed in this Washington Post article, the recent budget deal calls on the USPS to halt sales of post offices pending a federal review. Apparently local opposition to individual closures and sales has gotten the attention of a critical mass of members of Congress.
July 27, 2013
The email exchange below between Gail Jacobson of the La Jolla (Calif.) Historical Society and Cliff Laube, public programs specialist at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is presented here to provide an overview of the issues and threats facing New Deal post offices.
July 11, 2013
Dear Cliff Laube:
Thank you for taking my call recently. As you requested, here is a proposal to the Franklin D. Presidential Library for an exhibit and catalogue collection to highlight the historic New Deal Era Post Offices, murals and sculptures of the United States.
President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal built over 1000 beautiful post offices throughout the United States, many with spectacular murals and sculptures.
Today, however, many New Deal Era Post Post Offices, postal murals and sculptures are in jeopardy due to the announcement by Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in a press release on July 26, 2011 that due to fiscal challenges, the postal service will be closing, relocating and selling thousands of postal facilities--including our New Deal Era post offices throughout the United States.
News items of announcement of potential closure of 3700 post offices on July 26, 2011 which coincides with anniversary of when Benjamin Franklin appointed first Postmaster General, July 26, 1775
As you may know, these New Deal Post Offices were built with special care. They were built in the heart of a community and muralists were commissioned to create a scene reflective of the local area's history, scenery and labor.
Every community that has a New Deal Era post office is fighting to save their beloved buildings and murals because they are an integral part of the cultural and historic identity of their town.
Here are links to articles regarding the battles some cities are waging to save their historic post offices and keep them open as post offices with their murals intact:
These stories highlight communities fighting to save their New Deal Era post offices & murals from sale by the U.S. Postal Service:
La Jolla CA
Some historic buildings house New Deal Art:
I propose that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library create an exhibit as soon as possible that highlights the buildings and art created during the New Deal for the postal service. It would also be educational to enable the public to understand the purpose in mind behind the New Deal era art and postal buildings and their special place in the history and legacy of America for present and future generations. Every postal building and mural would be catalogued with photographs in a special collection to insure that this important aspect of the New Deal is remembered for all time.
The New Deal Era Post Offices and murals must be treated by those entrusted with them as important cultural and historic icons of our great American history.
However, at present, it appears that the postal service leaders are viewing these important buildings and art merely as real estate to be bought and sold. The New Deal era post offices and art have a unique place in our history because they were also built to uplift the people when they went to their local post office at a time when the country was pulling itself out of the economic depression. These buildings could be considered palaces of the people where they could view special art free of charge, the people's art. During the Depression years having such a beautiful post office also reflected the important fact that government could work for Americans in a time of need. It was the friendly face of government working for and by the people. These buildings were built at a crucial time when Roosevelt's vision for raising America up from the economic problems of the day included putting architects, artists, and sculptures to work creating something that would last for many generations.
Washington D.C. has its Smithsonian Museums, Jefferson, Washington & Lincoln Monuments, the White House and Congress. The towns and cities throughout the U.S. have their New Deal Era post offices and art. Congress would never allow the sale of the historic Congressional building. The President would never allow the sale of the White House. The New Deal Post Offices are just as important as these other buildings in many respects, and as you can see from the above links, every community that has these special buildings operating as post offices are fighting to save them. The proposed exhibit could also serve to remind Congress, the President, the Postmaster General, and the American people and press why we need to take greater care of our New Deal era post offices and art, not just for now, but for future generations and for our American heritage.
I look forward to hearing from you regarding my proposal.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.
July 12, 2013
Dear Ms. Jacobson,
Thank you for reaching out to the the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum with this request.
As I mentioned to you on the phone earlier this week, we just opened a new state-of-the-art permanent exhibition that contains two galleries devoted to the New Deal and its legacies. Part of the exhibits is an interactive display highlighting many New Deal projects Americans still see today throughout the country.
Additionally, we have developed a more comprehensive online database of New Deal projects -- while it's not yet as comprehensive as California's own Living New Deal project -- it is quite broad in its scope and we have included a feature that allows online visitors to populate the database. You can see it here:
Unfortunately, the Library is not in a position to complement these efforts with a special exhibition at this time. We have a full calendar of temporary exhibits over the next few years.
We certainly wish you luck in your efforts,
July 20, 2013
Dear Mr. Laube:
Thank you for your prompt response to my email and proposal for a special Exhibit and Catalog Collection of New Deal Era Post Offices, Murals and Sculptures at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.
Congratulations on the opening of your new state-of-the-art permanent exhibition that contains two galleries devoted to the New Deal and its legacies. I have used the link you provided in your email to me to access the New Deal projects collection online.
Thank you for sharing the link to the database on New Deal Era projects. If possible, I recommend that it would be helpful to include information in this database on all the New Deal post offices, murals and sculptures that were created as well as what has happened to them now in more specific terms. That way the public will know what happened to these buildings that were once post offices with public art and sculptures and where they might be able to go to see them if the building is being used for another purpose or even if it has been demolished as was the case with the New Deal Post Office in Virginia Beach, VA. I hope your database will list all of the post offices and art created during the New Deal, not just the ones that are still functioning today as post offices.
Also, if possible, it would be important to include photographic pictures of the Post Offices, murals and sculptures in your database as well as the general background in text form. It is helpful that you have provided links to the http://www.newdealartregistry.org/map/ that contains photographs of the New Deal Era Art. However, I did not find photographs of the New Deal Era post office buildings. A written description is helpful, but the photos are necessary to convey the beauty of these special buildings and art. In regard to the buildings, I suggest photos of the exterior and interior to show the great care taken to make these special palaces of the people. For example the Santa Monica post office has exquisite Art Deco designs within the lobby of the building as well as on the exterior. I realize that your new database is a work in progress.
Even though you mentioned that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum are unable to have another exhibit at this time solely on New Deal Era Post Offices and their art murals and sculptures, I sincerely hope that in the near future you consider this focused exhibit and catalog to chronicle the importance and purpose of why these buildings were created in the heart of each community to serve Americans as part of President Roosevelt's legacy of the New Deal.
Today, many citizens throughout the United States are fighting to save their New Deal Era Post Offices and murals, and they are deeply distressed at the cavalier attitude of the USPS to sell our public historic legacies to private individuals and enterprises despite the petitions of local communities to save their postal facilities and New Deal art. There seems to be a sudden rush at the USPS to sell off important public property, buildings and art which removes it from the public commons for all people to access and enjoy freely. Even though the USPS claims it has fiscal challenges, there is wide controversy regarding how the USPS has decided to "relocate" and then sell off these New Deal post offices. The amount of money supposedly "saved" through relocation and sell-off and lease back of other space does not always add up to longterm savings over time for USPS and for the local communities. Perhaps the museum and library may wish to launch a study of what is happening to our physical structures and art of the New Deal Legacy and why. The following article calls into question the methodology used by USPS to close, "relocate" and then sell historic New Deal post offices and art. Selling many New Deal era Post Offices which we already own may actually cost more money for USPS down the road when they attempt to carry expensive leases on "relocated" post offices within a community.
Here is an example of how USPS sold an historic 1916 post office office in Greenwich CT that contained an important New Deal mural, "Old Days of Greenwich," and replaced it with a horrible ugly leased structure. When asked about the mural inside of the historic post office, a USPS representative said, ""This is one of our treasures, and we do try to take good care of them all." However, "try" is different than "guarantee". There is no guarantee that the mural will remain in the public domain or be properly preserved for present and future generations by USPS.
It appears the purpose and vision with which the New Deal post offices and art were created are being snatched from the communities they have faithfully served since they were built in the 1930s. There has never been another time in U.S. history when so many New Deal post offices and murals have been sold despite the outcries of each community to keep them functioning as post offices. One would hope that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum would take a special interest in preserving not just the memory of these post office buildings and art, but the physical post offices and art themselves so that future generations can enjoy them and understand why and how they came to be created.
Here is a quote that I came across from a recent talk by Gray Brechin, Ph.D., historical geographer and author, and founder of the Living New Deal Project in California, regarding the sell-off of our beautiful historic post offices:
“The Post Office is the visible form of the federal government to every community and to every citizen. It’s hand is the only one that touches the local life, the social interests and business concern of every neighborhood.” Postmaster General John Wanamaker
The above quote from Postmaster General John Wanamaker highlights the great significance of the post office to its citizens. It is clear that FDR's vision of creating special post offices and art shows his great concern to uplift anyone who walked into their post office on a daily basis. The New Deal Post Offices demonstrate democracy in action where the public could enjoy their town's beautiful magnificent building paid for by them, built by them and used by them. However, these buildings that were paid for by Americans are being taken away against their will and sold. In the case of New Deal Post Offices such as Venice and Ukiah, those communities now have no more public art and no more uplifting New Deal Post Office to be the face of our democracy and of the New Deal built by FDR and his administration. Many Americans are looking for assistance to stop the sell-off of their New Deal buildings and art. I hope that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum can work in some capacity to help preserve these living legacies now before it's too late.
Best of luck with your projects and exhibitions for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. I am delighted to know about the wonderful programs you are hosting at the Museum and Library.
This New York Times article gives a good overview of the conflict between preservationists and the US Postal Service, with a focus on the threatened New Deal post office in Santa Monica, Cal.
The USPS sold the Venice, Cal., post office but retains ownership of the New Deal mural that was inside the post office (picture below). The new owner, however, has removed the mural and made it inaccessible to the public. Read the full story here.
The New York Times recently reported that the U.S. Postal Service has announced plans to sell one of the Depression-era post offices in the Bronx. This historic site features large murals by Social Realist painters Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson. To read the full story, click here.
The historic U.S. Post Offices listed below have been sold or are being offered for sale, and many are closing. Many are New Deal created structures with their historic and fine art murals all in jeopardy. Public buildings and public art created for and by the people between 1933-43 are mainstreet landmarks that have served the country on a daily basis over a number of generations. Is your post office on the block? Join NNDPA in their attempts to preserve these American treasures of service. More info about these post offices can be found on the website SaveThePostOffice.com
|Annapolis, Maryland||Berkeley, California||Bethesda, Maryland||Boone, North Carolina|
|Buffalo, New York||Burlingame, California||Camas, Washington||Charleston, Illinois|
|Cheraw, South Carolina||Eugene, Oregon||Fairfield Connecticut||Fernandina Beach, Florida|
|Firestone Station, South Gate, California||Fullerton, California||Geneva, Illinois||Gulfport, Mississippi|
|Greenwich, Connecticut||Huntington Beach, California||Kingston, Pennsylvania||La Jolla, California|
|Lakewood, New Jersey||Modesto, California||Norristown, Pennsylvania||North Little Rock, Arkansas|
|Northfield, Minnesota||Northport, New York||Norwich, Connecticut||Palm Beach, Florida|
|Palo Alto, California||Pawtucket, Rhode Island||Plymouth, Michigan||Princeton, New Jersey||Pinehurst, North Carolina||Racine, Wisconsin||Redlands, California||Reno, Nevada|
|San Rafael, California||Santa Barbara, California||Santa Monica, California||St. Joseph, Missouri|
|Somerville, Massachusetts||Stamford, Connecticut||Ukiah, California||Venice, California|
|West Chester, Pennsylvania||Villa Park, Illinois||Washington, D.C||Westport, Connecticut|
|Westport, Connecticut||Yankton, South Dakota||York, Pennsylvania|
At least 80% of the deficit in the USPS annual budget is caused by a Congressional requirement that it prefund retirees' benefits at a level far in excess what is required of private companies or any other government agency. There are different explanations of why this requirement was enacted in 2006. This petition, sponsored by CREDO action, makes political statements that are not officially endorsed by NNDPA, but we offer this link for the consideration of members and visitors.
Berkeley, California, is one of the post offices on the endangered list. Arthur Stopes, III of Berkeley presents a legal argument against post office closures. This piece is circulating on the Internet, with a contact phone number of 510-548-5238.
Dear Friends and Patrons of the Berkeley Main Post Office:
The people's concern for the fate of the Berkeley Main Post Office, may be augmented by Knowledge of the Legal LIMITS - imposed by Congress - of those who flaunt their "brief authority". Please note:
TITLE 39 - POSTAL SERVICE (United States Codes)
PART I - GENERAL
CHAPTER 1 - POSTAL POLICY AND DEFINITIONS
Sec. 101. Postal policy
(a) The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. ...
(b)… No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities. (Emphases of both subsections added.)
A. The Service (especially of a major post office) is required to continue to be operated; and,
B. If "no small post offices shall be closed", the Berkeley Main Post Office is required to remain open.
Thomas Jefferson exhorted us (regarding such public crises), to "bind (them) down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." This writer reminds the people to further hold them (the Postal "Service"), to their Codes, Rules, and Regulations, which must be in conformance with the "Constitution for the United States of America". (Emphasis added)
Arthur Stopes, III
- This photo archive has over two thousand pictures of New Deal post office art.
- Read our email bulletin about the loss of historic post offices
- Former NNDPA Vice President Gray Brechin commented on this trend in this article for the Guardian
- This blog at savethepostoffice.com focuses on New Deal post offices that are threatened, along with the art inside them.
- Eleanor Roosevelt biographer and scholar Brigid O'Farrell questions the criticisms of the USPS in this article.
- The La Jolla, Cal., post office has a PWA mural by a major Depression-era artist, Belle Baranceanu. This article tells about the mural, the artist and the struggle to save the building and mural. For updates, visit the website of Save the La Jolla Post Office.
For an overview of news on post office closings and other issues with the US Postal Service, SaveThePostOffice.com is highly recommended.
Our own Harvey Smith and Gray Brechin are active with National Post Office Collaborate, which seeks to stop sales of post offices.
NNDPA Board President Harvey Smith (right) spoke at a rally Nov. 5, 2011, in defense of the Venice post office, a New Deal edifice threatened with closure and sale by the U.S. Postal Service.
The lobby features a mural of Venice history painted by Edward Biberman in 1941 (below).
May 26, 2011
The mural in the photo above, titled “George Rogers Clark Confers with the Indians Near Herrin, Illinois” was painted by Gustaf Dalstrom and installed in the Herrin post office originally on May 27, 1940. It was rededicated May 26, 2011, after a 47-year absence. In 1964 the lobby was renovated, and the mural was noted as being destroyed during the project. The assistant postmaster at the time, Paul Popham (now deceased), salvaged the mural from the dumpster, however. As there seemed to be little community interest in the mural, Paul's son, Tom Popham, took the mural with him when he moved from Herrin. The mural eventually found it way to Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 1983. In 2005 the Southern Illinoisan published an article titled: "Missing Post Office Mural Provides Local Mystery." Tom Popham found the article online and immediately issued a press release indicating the mystery had been solved. He still had the mural in storage after all of these years. On October 14, 2008, Tom and his wife drove the mural from Oklahoma to Parma Conservation in Chicago. The mural was faced with Japanese tissue and Beva 371 consolidating adhesive to maintain the fragile condition of the oil painting image as we planned its future. The goal was to return the mural to Herrin in the best possible state of conservation.
Over the years, the Postal Service has been actively seeking grants to assist in the restoration and return of this mural to the community. In June 2010, at my request, Dr. Mary Emma Thompson, author and friend, made a trip to Herrin to visit with the mayor, Vic Ritter, the Ladies Group and other interested groups. The Ladies Group accepted the challenge of this project and were successful in collecting donations that made the rededication possible. The restoration award was given to Parma Conservation in November 2010. The mural was delivered by Parma Conservation a few hours before the May 26 dedication, closing the case of the missing mural.
The mural in the Geneva, Ill., post office will be removed for restoration. The plan is for the mural to be reinstalled once new retail space in the building is completed in late 2011.
(Submitted by Dallan Wordekemper, December 2010)