City landmarks GPO murals

They may take away our General Post Office —but they will never take away our 13 murals hung inside its lobby.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) this month designated the famous 1930s murals by Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson inside the Grand Concourse building as an interior landmark.

Though the post office is slated to close amid nationwide cuts by the United States Postal Service, any new occupant of the space will be required to preserve the paintings.

New Deal Office

Constructed in 1937, the General Post Office is the borough’s oldest postal headquarters. The building’s exterior at E. 149th Street and Grand Concourse has been landmarked since the seventies and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The office was built during a nine-year-period between 1934 and 1943 when 1,100 post offices were constructed nationwide as part of the massive Works Progress Administration, which was part of legislation known as the New Deal.

Shahn and Bryson were chosen out of a pool of 198 applicants to decorate the building’s lobby, according to the LPC. They completed the murals by 1939 —and 75 years later visitors can still easily discern the designs, which depict scenes of American working life.

Work made art

“These striking, larger-than-life murals are not only well preserved, they remain in the same location where they were originally installed 75 years ago this month, thanks to the fine stewardship of the U.S. Postal Service,” said LPC Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney in a statement. “The lobby, which was completed during the depths of the Great Depression, remains a monument to the ideals of the New Deal-era public works programs to this day.”

The artists tackled their chosen theme, “Resources of America,” by portraying miners, steelworkers, hydroelectrical engineers, wheat and cotton harvesters, all at work.

In one painting, on the central panel on the north wall, are written the words of American poet Walt Whitman, heralding the onset of democracy while enthralled workers watch on:

For we support all

Fuse All

After the rest is done

and gone we remain

There is no final

reliance but upon us

Democracy rests finally

upon us

(I my brethren begin it)

and our visions sweep

through eternity.

After the Post Office announced in late 2012 that it was closing down, preservationists were concerned that the historic murals would be razed by whoever took over the building.

The LPC’s decision to landmark the murals ends a campaign to keep them alive.

The murals are the 117th so-called “interior” landmark in New York City’s five boroughs.

Ben Kochman can be reached via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742–3394

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