Monday, August 8, 2011

Another sign of the times: Historic buildings commissioned during the Depression are disappearing


Are you aware of the steady loss of historic post offices in this country? Built as symbols of pride during the New Deal, these historic buildings are following the rest of this country’s crumbling infrastructure.

American pride has taken a public beating during the last two weeks. You may have noticed that the story of these disappearing historic sites has gone largely uncovered in the mainstream media.

According to the website Save The Post Office:

Fifteen of them have recently been put up for sale, and there are 35, as well as several pre-1933 buildings, on the closure lists released last week by the Postal Service.

The post office contains nine original wall murals in the lobby, commissioned by the Treasury Relief Arts Project. The oil paintings were done in 1937 by Ray Boynton, with the assistance of several local artists, and they depict agricultural scenes: plowing, sorting and harvesting grapes; irrigating orchards; meat and cheese packing; grain harvesting and feeding cows.

Also known as the Modesto Federal Building and the El Viejo, the building was always occupied by a post office, but in 1967 work on a new postal facility was completed and downtown Modesto was demoted from a main post office to station status.

It’s unlikely that the El Viejo is going to remain an active public building.  Non-profit groups, working through county officials, did express interest in buying the building, but the GSA decided to auction it to the highest bidder.

That’s the saddest part of the whole story.  The federal government built thousands of beautiful buildings during the early decades of the 20th century as part of the City Beautiful movement, and the New Deal put up over 1,100 during the depths of the Depression.  These buildings were intended to be a source of pride and they symbolized the power and prestige of the federal government.

The post office on 1125 I Street in Modesto, California, closed on June 3, 2011, and it’s been up for auction since June 9th.

You can follow the bidding today at GSA auctions page

UPDATE: The GSA has extended the auction again and again.  It's up to $777,000, and supposedly ending today, August 8, at 7:06 p.m., but they'll probably extend it again.

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