Depew Post Office
The U.S. Post Office, Depew NY, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Depew Post Office is located on the east side of Warsaw Street between Terrace Boulevard and Suffield Avenue in the Erie County village of Depew, New York. The building faces west to a small, triangular park. It is in a primarily residential area consisting of mostly late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century one- and two-family dwellings but is also part of a complex series of diagonal street intersections that include the village hall, the Depew High School, and a large public park. The post office is sited on a well-landscaped trapezoidal-shaped lot with mature hardwoods and hedges. There is a flagpole in the northwest corner and a parking lot to the rear of the building. The building retains its integrity to a high degree on the exterior; however, the interior has been considerably altered.
The Depew Post Office is a one-story, five-bay building with brick facades laid in common bond. The foundation of the front section is clad with granite and the rear section is clad with brick with a stone water table. Square in shape, the post office extends five bays to the rear and features a slightly recessed three-bay block which defines the interior workroom space. The building's front section has a copper-clad hipped roof. A flat roof covers the building's three-bay-deep workroom space. This section also contains an outside end chimney and a covered, partially enclosed mailing platform projecting from the rear of the workroom space. A boxed wooden cornice and plain, limestone-frieze encircle the entire structure. Bronze letters reading "UNITED STATES POST OFFICE DEPEW NEW YORK" are attached to the frieze above the main entrance.
The main facade of the Depew Post Office is symmetrically composed with three central bays slightly recessed between plain limestone pilasters. The main entrance, at the center of this ensemble, contains a pair of aluminum replacement doors and a high transom which has been filled in but originally contained a multi-light sash. On either side of the doorway are large single windows with fifteen-over-fifteen double-hung wood sash with plain limestone surrounds. The majority of the remaining windows on all facades are rectangular, with no lintels and stone sills. They contain primarily six-over-six double-hung wood sash except for two rear windows with a combination of eight-over-twelve lights.
The building is approached by a flight of six granite steps flanked by original iron railings and lampposts. (A central railing is modern.) The rectangular lobby is entered through a wooden, multi-paned vestibule. The lobby extends across the three central bays of the main facade. The postmaster's office is located in the southwest corner, and the workroom occupies the majority of the remaining floor space. The lobby was mostly altered in the early 1980's, but some original features remain, including the terrazzo floor, some of the white marble wainscotting, a plain plaster ceiling, wood vestibule and one customer table. Also, the woodwork and bulletin boards on the wall containing the postmaster's door are intact. The screenline is completely modern. The wall over the postmaster's office contains a mural entitled "Beginning the Day," painted by Anne Poor in 1941.
The Depew Post Office, constructed in 1938-9, is architecturally significant as an intact representative example of the federal architecture erected as part of the public works projects initiated by the United States government during the Great Depression. Its simplified design illustrates forms and decoration derived from American Colonial period architecture, specifically alluding to classical elements of the Greek Revival style. The Colonial Revival had become the accepted style for most post offices as well as other federally sponsored public architecture during the 1920's, 1930's, and early 1940's. Restrained classical forms, such as the pilastered entrance of the Depew Post Office, were frequently employed for post office designs of this period in New York State. The Depew Post Office is one of seven virtually identical buildings erected in New York State between 1935 and 1942. The use of a standard pattern for these buildings reflects the increasing simplicity of design and standardization of form which are characteristic of post offices of this period, the most prolific era of post office construction in the nation's history. There are approximately eighty post office buildings in New York State that represent this phase of federal design programs, which was largely under the direction of Louis A. Simon, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department from 1933 to 1939. In addition to its architectural importance, the Depew Post Office is artistically significant in that it contains a well-preserved mural executed by Anne Poor in 1941 under the United States Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts. The Depew Post Office has been well maintained and retains much of its original integrity.
The village's population reached approximately 6,000 by the time the present post office building was authorized.
Depew's first post office was established in 1893. Prior to the construction of the village's first federal building, the post office occupied leased space at the corner of Main and Penora Streets. The Depew Post Office was authorized by Congress in the mid-1930's. It was one of more than 250 new post offices and post office extensions planned for New York State during that decade. As early as 1930, the federal government had implemented a massive post office construction program to help offset widespread unemployment caused by the Great Depression. By the end of the decade, however, with the onset of World War II, Congress postponed indefinitely the construction of most post offices not yet under contract. Fewer than thirty postal buildings were actually built in New York State in a five-year period between 1939 and 1944. The site for the Depew Post Office, which was vacant, was purchased for $5,000 in October 1938. Situated in a prominent location adjacent to the village park, village hall and high school, the area may have been laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted for the Depew Land Company, which helped develop the community. The construction contract for the post office was awarded to Mutual Construction Company of New York City on November 10, 1938 for the sum of $45,990. Excavation began at the site on December 30, 1938 and the structure was completed on September 29, 1939.
The Depew Post Office is one of seven post offices constructed between 1935 and 1942 that have virtually identical designs by Louis A. Simon. The other six post offices are in Dolgeville, Richfield Springs, Boonville, Lancaster, Cooperstown and Brockport. The simple design and symmetrical massing of these post offices reflects an interest in standardization which had been voiced by the Treasury Department as early as 1915 with the institution of a classification system for post office construction. In the 1920's and 1930's, several planned groups of post offices were erected according to standard designs. In New York State, these range from a group of thirteen identical modest buildings in the villages of Ticonderoga, Attica, East Rochester, Springville, Albion, St. Johnsville, Canajoharie, Harrison, Delhi, Delmar, Lowville, Orchard Park, and Little Valley to grander urban post offices such as the three in the small cities of Oneida, Norwich, and Herkimer.
Most of the post offices built in New York State during the 1930's were designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury under the supervision of Louis A. Simon. Louis A. Simon served as Supervising Architect from 1933 until 1939, but he had been associated with the office from 1896. Simon was Superintendent of Architects in the office between 1905 and 1933. From 1915 to 1933, during the tenure of Acting Supervising Architect James A. Wetmore, a lawyer and a political appointee, Simon was responsible for the direction of much of the design work. Most of Simon's buildings were designed in the Colonial Revival style and, on occasion, in a restrained or more stylized classically derived style.
The Depew Post Office is a modestly scaled simple Colonial Revival style building. Although it had appeared in federal design before 1920, the Colonial Revival, with its association with America's early history, became the most popular style for post offices in the 1920's and 1930's. The Geneva Post Office (1905-6) is the earliest Colonial Revival style post office in New York State. For the post offices, Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival forms were adapted for use on buildings serving twentieth-century needs. Details, such as fanlights, transoms, multi-paned windows, classical columns, eagles, and cupolas were arranged in a manner suggestive of eighteenth and early nineteenth century architecture without being imitative of a particular Colonial era building.
Colonial forms on the Depew Post Office include the typical multi-paned wood sash, red brick facades laid in common bond and hipped roof. In contrast to many of Louis A. Simon's Colonial Revival post offices in New York State, the design for the Depew Post Office emphasizes Greek Revival precedents. Most notable are the three recessed central bays of the main facade, which are divided by simple stone pilasters supporting a broad plain limestone frieze which encircles the entire building. This distinctive design feature links the seven buildings in this group together as a unit. Differences among these buildings are subtle and include only minor variations in window sash and lintels on secondary facades, deviations in brick bonding, and the varying use of cast stone, granite, poured concrete, or brick as foundation materials. More significant differences include the absence of cupolas on the Depew, Dolgeville, Brockport and Cooperstown Post Offices. In addition, the Cooperstown Post Office, the most divergent of the seven designs, also includes a central pediment and an unadorned low parapet. A wooden pediment was added at a later time above the main entrance of the Boonville Post Office.
The interior of the Depew Post Office is laid out in a utilitarian fashion with no ceremonial spaces. The public lobby, where postal business is transacted, is rectangular and modest in size. There is a postmaster's office to one side of the lobby and a large workroom to the rear. Although the public lobby was altered in the 1980's, the space still retains simple, but attractive, detail in wood, marble, and terrazzo. One of the most important features of the Depew Post Office is the mural, "Beginning the Day," painted by artist Anne Poor in 1941 under the auspices of the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts. The Section of Fine Arts sponsored eighty murals and sculpture projects in New York State between 1935 and 1941, the commissions usually being won through competitions. The Depew mural is one of hundreds commissioned by the government during the Depression that show views of contemporary life and local history.
Anne Poor was born in New York City on January 2, 1918. She received her education at Bennington College and at the Art Students League in New York City. Poor received assorted grants and awards throughout her career and painted murals in other locations including the Gleason Post Office in Tennessee and the Free Meeting House in South Solon, Maine.
MAJOR BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES
New York State Historical Association. New York: A Guide to the Empire State. New York: Oxford University Press, 1940.
Scott, Harley E. and Mikula, Edward J. Tales of Old Lancaster. Cayuga Creek Historical Press, 1981.
White, Truman, ed. Erie County Vol. I. The Boston History Company, 1898.
Who's Who in America (38th edition),. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, Inc., 1974.
Sanborn Map Company. Depew: 1923; 1923-1949.