This single level, Art Deco U.S. Post Office building was designed by Miami native Howard Lovewell Cheney and completed in 1937. Its unique design features a central, barrel-shaped section with the rest of the building extending down Washington Avenue and 13th Street. The circular lobby is home to a large, three-panel mural painted Charles Hardman entitled Episodes from the History of Florida that was added in 1940 and is situated above the numerous gold post office boxes. The lobby also contains a small, circular fountain that sits directly below a round light fixture that has been painted to resemble the sun set against a bright teal background.
the auspices of the Depression Era Works Progress Administration, the Miami
Beach Post Office was designed to blend in with the surrounding Art Deco
architecture. The understated design by
architect and engineer Howard Lovewell Cheney has also been called Art Moderne
or Depression Moderne. Lacking the
pastel colors usually associate with Art Deco, Cheney designed a circular lobby
with a cone-shaped roof and a tall, thin decorative copula topping it off. Cheney created a prominent main entrance with
double doors topped by a ten-foot high wall of glass block to permit natural
light to spill into the lobby. Sitting atop
the entryway is a sculpted stone eagle. The
remainder of the post office branches off from this central section.
lobby is dominated by the many gilded post office boxes and a large mural that
was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts that was, oddly, under the control
of the United States Department of the Treasury from its founding in 1934 until
its demise in 1943. It was, and still is,
simply referred to as “the Section.” As
many New Deal organizations, it was created to employ the many unemployed of
the time, in this instance, artists. It
was tasked with placing works of art in public places, primarily post offices
and libraries, for the masses to enjoy.
Commissions were awarded to artists through competitions that were open
to all. The artist was then given
guidelines or themes and instructed to create artwork that celebrated local
history and/or people. The Section
commissioned over 1,300 murals and 300 sculptures by the time it closed its
doors. Unfortunately, many of those
murals and sculptures have been lost to history.
Hardman, a native Floridian, was commissioned to paint a mural in 1940 that
held local significance for the Miami Beach Post Office. He then created a three-section mural that
still adorns the lobby wall. The
sections are entitled Discovery,
which portrays Ponce de Leon’s arrival in Florida in 1513, de Soto and the Indians, which depicts Hernando de Soto and his men
engaged in battle with Native Americans in 1539, and Conference, which shows General Thomas Jesup negotiating with
Native Americans after the Second Seminole War in 1837. Hardman also painted a mural entitled Indians Receiving Gifts for the post
office in Guntersville, Alabama.