General Post Office,
569 Grand Concourse at northeast corner of E. 149th Street
Thomas H. Ellett, architect designer; Louis A. Simon, supervising architect Neil A. Melick, supervising engineer; murals by Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson; sculptures by Henry Kreis, and Charles Rudy
This prominent facility, located on the Grand Concourse was originally called the Bronx Central Annex, U.S. Post Office Department, was meant to serve as the Bronx headquarters of the New York Post Office. The need for this facility was long disputed even after the population of the Bronx swelled in the 1930s to over 1,500,000 (larger than many major U.S. cities) and despite the fact the federal government had specifically purchased property for it years before. With the New Deal initiatives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, the building’s construction finally came to fruition.
The General Post Office is a two-story high sheer gray brick building with high windows surrounded by white marble arches and patterned brick details. Additionally the building has a basement garage and an office penthouse that includes storage space. Its modified classical features blend with the modern style popular in the 1930s. Occupying the entire block from E. 149th to E. 150th Streets, the building is set on a granite terrace that follows the slope of the street and is enclosed by a balustrade. Shallow steps lead to the three post office entrances on the Grand Concourse.
Architect Thomas H. Ellett, who designed the post office, worked for the firm of McKim, Mead and White early in his career and was an award winning government consultant for public buildings. He and two other prominent muralists judged the submissions from the artists who competed to decorate the lobby of the post office building. Ben Shahn (Diego Rivera’s assistant) and his collaborator Bernarda Bryson were the successful entrants to receive the commission. One of only two New Deal murals that Shahn and Bryson collaborated on, their colorful egg and tempera murals include 13 large panels focusing on Americans at work. This theme took its inspiration from Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Working.” Shahn and Bryson hoped that their murals would show the people of the Bronx something about the country beyond their New York City experience.
The two sculptures attached to the outside of the building were selected in a 1936 national competition and blend with its architecture. “The Letter” by Henry Kreis shows a mother and child receiving a letter from a family member. While “Noah” by Charles Rudy brings to mind the post office’s challenging motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from their appointed rounds.”
The Bronx General Post Office continues to serve a function essential to daily life and commerce. In 1975, the building was designated a New York City Landmark; and in 1980 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Janet Butler Munch
Lehman College Art Gallery