A Practical Treasure
When you think of your local post office, what comes to mind? I imagine most of you think of waiting in line to buy stamps or passport photos, or picking up your mail after vacation. In Fort Worth, Texas, and in many cities nationwide, the local post office is a New Deal relic representing a devotion to craftsmanship that hasn’t been seen in the building industry since.
These 1930s-era post offices offer a lot more than a place where your mail is sorted; they remain cultural touchstones, a source of pride for local citizens. They offer imposing presences and majestic auras.
As New Deal author and scholar Gray Brechin says, “…you go into some of these old Post Offices and they uplift you because they have amplitude, they’ve got great spaces, wonderful materials, great craftsmanship. And I found out that’s not accidental.”
“These are the physical expressions of the federal government across the nation, in every small town, and in cities they become palaces, actually… Too, it was required to provide universal service to bind the nation together and to do it at a very reasonable price. And it’s been doing that quite successfully ever since. But these buildings and the art in them, are unique, they’re beautiful and they’re precious. We can’t afford to lose them.”
History of the Fort Worth Post Office
Built in 1932 on the corner of Lancaster and Jennings downtown, the Fort Worth post office itself was part of FDR’s well-known Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative to give struggling workers jobs during the Great Depression. Unlike federal government projects from other eras, the WPA’s mission wasn’t to build buildings as cost-effectively as possible. The goal was to create jobs, and keep those people employed as long as possible. As a result, buildings built in this era tended to be grand endeavors, and the Fort Worth Post Office is no exception.
While the building is only 3 stories, high ceilings make it a taller, more imposing presence. This is only boosted by the 16 massive classic columns lining the north façade. The classic architecture is also covered in small details that reflect the town’s humble origins. Ornate reliefs feature depictions of local longhorn skulls and shorthorn cattle among classic Mediterranean features like acanthus leaves.
It’s the artistic features that make the Fort Worth Post Office truly special. Copper and bronze embellishments like lamp posts and metal inset wall plaques. Much like many of the WPA era buildings, there’s a real focus on artistry in construction. While it was built for a practical purpose, the building is elevated by the attention to detail and Beaux-arts design stylings.
Restoring an Icon
Unfortunately, some of the details that make the Fort Worth post office special also caused damage that needed to be repaired. Over time, the brilliant white exterior limestone began to discolor. Most of the discoloration was environmental, but the metal features developed patina, and the patina began to transfer to adjacent surfaces. The ornate carvings began to darken, obscuring some of the smaller details.
Restoration work began in 2015 to return the Fort Worth post office to its former glory. Decades of discoloration and wear was carefully and expertly removed and cleaned from the classic building. And well, the results speak for themselves.
History Worth Preserving
The Fort Worth post office is just one example of an important cultural landmark masquerading as the mundane. It’s one of hundreds of historic buildings built during the WPA era that represents a difficult time in American history where artisanship was rewarded and respected. But even the best craftsmanship needs to be loved and preserved. The Fort Worth post office proves that these buildings, even after years of less-than-perfect care can be brought back to their former glory.
Photos courtesy of BRW Architects and Ashley Tullis Photography