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Farley post office’s abandoned quarters explored in new exhibition

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Photographer Margaret Morton captures the desolate realms of the iconic building as it gears up for its transformation into Moynihan Station

The former Postmaster General’s Office.
All photos courtesy Margaret Morton

For many New Yorkers, the iconic James A. Farley Post Office on 34th Street and Eight Avenue has been one of the city’s vital public service structures. Aside from its obvious architectural magnificence, designed by McKim, Mead, and White in the Beaux-Arts style, many folks have heavily relied on the post office over the course of its existence. Photographer and professor Margaret Morton is one of those people and felt a deep connection to the space that drew her even closer to the building as it gears up for its redevelopment.

Plans to transform the Farley building have been in the works more than a decade but it wasn’t until fairly recently that the reality of it actually happening became a thing. In September 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed his vision for a new Penn Station and with that we saw that the Farley building as New Yorkers and visitors alike know it would be gone. While the building’s exterior has to remain unscathed due to its status as a New York City landmark, much of the interiors will be revamped into a shiny new extension of Penn Station known as Moynihan Station.

A corridor of service windows on an upper floor where unclaimed or unaddressed mail would be deposited.

When Morton was granted access to roam throughout the post office, capturing photos of what lay beyond the grand lobby, she had no idea that she would stumble upon what she calls “a world within a world that we didn’t know about.” The spaces that dwelled behind what the public could see was in complete opposition to the grandeur of the main hall. It was raw and industrial, even more so now that most of the building is empty and in dilapidated.

During a private viewing of Morton’s exhibition, “Inside the Farley,” presented by Open House New York, we got a glimpse of the building’s inner workings and its postal operations as well as the desolation that has encompassed much of its space as it gets ready to take on new life.

Morton’s exhibition is befittingly held within the former Postmaster General’s Office, a suite with three rooms, all of which are interior landmarks and will remain as-is once the Farley becomes Moynihan Station. Though much of the photography depicts what appears to be long-abandoned spaces that have outlived their usefulness, they also piece together small tidbits of life for the postal worker within the Farley. Portraits of an empty mail processing floor and sorting cages still manage to resonate the importance of the work that went on within the room. There is also a certain sense of sternness within the photographs—pictures of postal police quarters, employee surveillance cameras, and medical offices—that suggests work life could’ve been strict and demanding.

The Postal Police offices

For some, there was a certain sense of sadness conveyed in Morton’s photos. The emptiness represents the end of an era as another piece of New York City as we know fades away. Nevertheless, developers have worked to preserve some of the Farley’s existence within their designs for Moynihan. There will still be a post office within the new transit hub, accompanied by new storefronts and the likes.

“Margaret’s photos of the building, of course, capture the history of the building and they are beautiful and historic. They also are very important because they capture this transition that’s happening and history of this building is something that we have tried to capture in the designs,” said Michael Evans, president of the Moynihan Station Development Corporation.

Check out a some of Morton’s photography from “Inside the Farley” and read her first-hand account on what it was like to explore behind the walls of New York City’s iconic post office.