Main Branch Of New York Post Office Broadway, between Beekman and Ann Streets c. 1887
We return to one of the most striking and photographed structures of 19th century New York. The main branch of the New York Post Office which loomed over the southern end of City Hall Park for nearly 65 years.
We are looking north from Ann Street up towards Broadway (left) and Park Row (right).
The scene is typical of an average day in 1880s New York. We can see several trolleys at rest either having completed their runs or about to start them. Several delivery carts are scattered about nearby. A police officer stands in the middle of Broadway keeping an eye on things. A horse drawn hansom coach and driver are prominent in the foreground. Businessmen make their way about the city, many walking on the Belgian block street rather than the sidewalks. Telegraph poles and wires criss-cross Park Row and Broadway.
The hub of all this activity is the main branch of the New York Post Office, designed by Alfred B. Mullett and opened to the public on Sunday, August 29, 1875. Between 8 a.m and 8 p.m. it was estimated that between 20 – 30,000 people wandered into the new building. They passed slowly through its corridors gawking at the shiny new post office lock boxes, looking into delivery windows and buttonholing anybody who looked like an employee to ask questions.
Architecturally inspired by the French Renaissance style, the building proved to be wildly unpopular from the get go. Among the chief complaints about the Post Office was that it was ugly.
More importantly it was located in the wrong place.
What had been open space since the founding of New Amsterdam, and later part of City Hall Park was the site chosen in 1868 for the new Post Office.
In 1869, unhappy with the Federal government’s location choice, the city asked the Federal government to consider changing the building site. It was argued by New York City authorities that the new building would ruin the approach City Hall and be a nuisance rather than an ornament. A triangular plot of land in what was once part of City Hall Park also limited the size, shape and efficiency of the structure.The Federal government held firm and work slowly proceeded and went millions of dollars over budget.
Long maligned by architectural critics and the public alike, the main branch of the New York Post Office lasted here until 1938. When it was finally taken down it was unaccompanied by the typical sadness surrounding the passing of an old landmark.
After the Post Office was demolished a large portion of City Hall Park was reclaimed and rebuilt.
Looking at the Post Office through a 21st century lens it doesn’t appear that ugly. If it were still standing today the building would be looked at as a monument to Victorian folly.
And what became of Alfred B. Mullett who designed many buildings for the Federal government? After a failed $300,000 lawsuit against the Federal government to be paid for the State, War and Navy Building, Mullett committed suicide in 1890 at age 56.