Thursday, November 4, 2010

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night

Given it's struggling presence amidst private delivery operations and an exponentially expanding system of electronic communication, it's hard to believe that less than a century ago the postal empire was a driving force of the American way of life. The 1930s re-branded this empire with new designs in everything from advertisements to architecture.

Post Office 9th and Chestnut

With the Great Depression bringing the private sector to its knees, cash was being pumped into social services. Around the country post offices, court houses, police stations, and railroad houses were being torn down and rebuilt. Art Deco, although discreetly less expensive than the garish Victorian styles that preceded it, became the symbol of a country reborn.

Sculpture Depicting Postman

Philadelphia replaced its main post office at 9th and Market with a post office and court house built in this new style. A new main post office in the same style was erected at 30th and Market where the new 30th Street Train Station would replace the Broad Street Station which sat across from City Hall.

Sculpture Depicting Postman

While many past styles have not weathered the test of time, Art Deco has remained relatively timeless since its inception. Victorian and Gothic styles, even City Hall, spent decades as eyesores in the eyes of the public, while these Art Deco public spaces have remained delightfully appreciated. While we look in disdain at Modernist incarnations from the 50s and 60s, and the cold Brutalism that ruled the 80s, we've continued to appreciate the soft lines of what this movement has left us.

Post Office 9th and Market

Even during an economic disaster worse than anyone today can ever imagine, architecture remained to be more than the set-construction we employ today. Even our generation's commercial spaces are rarely more than warehouses dressed up in plastic facades.

Sadly one might argue that this was the last architectural era that offered its audience an element of style where design didn't take a backseat to budget.

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