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Unlikely Allies Rush To Save A Bronx Post Office's Murals

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[Photos via New York Landmarks Conservancy/Colleen Heemeyer.]

Back in February, the city U.S. Postal Service decided to sell the Bronx General Post Office. A 1935-built full-block structure, it has been a landmark since 1976. That means its handsome, sculpture-clad exterior is guaranteed to be preserved no matter who the buyer is, but the interiors are another story. That high-ceilinged civic space, imbued with understated grace and grandeur, is the subject of David Dunlap's Times column this week. "[T]he post office felt like a throwback to public institutions of another time, where a patron's dignity was a given as was safety without intrusive security measures," he writes. "The [13 New Deal-era] murals around the room portray a field hand, mill workers, an engineer and hard hats on the job?'Resources of America.' Their faces are those of the postal customers standing patiently below them."

The cause has brought together politicians (like Bronx Democrat José E. Serrano, who recalls, "Ever since I came to the Bronx as a 6-year-old from Puerto Rico, that building stood out as something special") and preservationists (like the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the mural artists' son). They aim to get the inside of the building, which includes notable 1930s plaster frescoes by husband-and-wife artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn inspired by Walt Whitman's poem I Hear America Singing, landmarked before the end of the year. Dunlap hints that the space would be suitable for a big-box store or a restaurant, and landmarking the murals and other elements of the building's interior mean that, even though the postal service would still own them, "obligations for the protection and preservation" would get passed along to the new owner... whoever it is.
· High on Landmark Panel's List: A Post Office Lobby, Adorned and Ennobling [NYT]
· Working to Save Important Bronx WPA Murals [New York Landmarks Conservancy]
· Bronx General Post Office coverage [Curbed]