In 1910, work began on the United States General Post Office on 8th Avenue, across the street from the recently finished Pennsylvania Station. Three years later, and at a cost of more than five million dollars, the building was finished. Designed by the architect firm, McKim, Mead and White, the Classical style of the new post office mirrored that of the Pennsylvania railroad terminal across the road. It boasts one of the longest colonnaded facades in the world, and is well known for Ira Schnapp’s Trajan-style carved quotation from the Histories by Herodotus: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” The post office opened for business in September 1914 and was the largest in the country; operating twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the building was extended to 9th Avenue, under direction of the postmaster, General James A. Farley. From that point on the whole structure was known as the James Farley Post Office.
The Post Office had a staff of up to four thousand personnel, including a division of postal police, a dedicated medical staff, photographers, and Postal Office Inspectors that ensured everything was running smoothly. A train line ran underneath the building, which had its own access and by which mail was occasionally delivered. This mail was sorted in an enormous glass-covered mail handling hall that covered more than an acre of space. A network of pneumatic tubes was installed around the building and surrounding city, which allowed mail to be quickly distributed to Grand Central station. With this system, mail bags could be sent from the post office and reach their destination in about two minutes.
The granite building is as long as the railway station it is based on, stretching across the entire space between 31st Street and 33rd Street. Access is via a tall staircase that almost spans the whole length of the building. The facade is colonnaded with twenty Corinthian-style columnns, each one beautifully fluted. Inside, a main corridor runs the full length of two blocks. The walls are made with Botticino marble and decorative ironwork, the floors of Knoxville marble. A two-story high ceiling is decorated with ten different seals of countries that were members of the Postal Union. The offices are clad in white drywall and linoleum, and those of the Postmaster and Postal Office Inspectors feature mahogany wood paneled walls and marble floors.
In 1990, many of the buildings services were made redundant, so it started reducing its staff and closing many of the cavernous spaces within. Many of the building’s most interesting spaces remain vacant to this day, though there are plans to redevelop it as an extension of Pennsylvania Station: the Moynihan Station. Today, some portions of the building remain open and contain interesting objects from postal history: a green Irish post-box, a horse-drawn carriage for delivering mail, and a 1920s mail courier bike.