Tuesday, May 12, 2009

View from the Post Office

The South Pasadena Post Office exists in large part because of the New Deal programs instituted by FDR in the 1930s. Federal Relief Agencies put many South Pasadenans to work on projects ranging from building the Arroyo Seco control channel to adding terraces and walkways to Eddie Park. In fact, during this decade, most stores and businesses in South Pas hung up National Relief Administration Blue Eagle placards with the slogan, "We Do Our Part."

Since the city's incorporation, the post office bounced around from temporary place to place. It operated for a while out of a hotel, for a few years out of the Alexander Building. At one point it was a branch of the post office in Los Angeles and at another point it belonged to Pasadena. But in 1936 -- after some bickering with the federal government on architectural design standards -- South Pasadena finally got its very own post office building: the grand white structure still in operation today at the corner of Fremont and El Centro.

And who says big government programs can't work well! Not only did the city get a large, functional building, but it got beautiful art to adorn it. The Treasury Relief Art Project commissioned artist and former postal clerk John Law Walker to paint the mural in the new post office lobby. The scene represents a Concord mail coach -- a subject familiar to the brand new South Pasadena postmaster, George Hugh Banning. He had written all about the mail vehicle in his book Six Horses.

It gives me great inspiration to buy stamps here and think about how so much utility and beauty came from using governmental ingenuity as well as the talent and labor of the citizenry to demolish the chains of the Great Depression. We could learn a lot from our recent past.

14 comments:

San Diego Farmgirl said...

Yes, but does it have that great Post Office smell?

Judy Williams said...

Oh I love the mural with the Native American cross legged in the corner!!!

JAMJARSUPERSTAR said...

That's one fancy mural you've got there! I think it must be lovely to have such a well decorated post office. All the post offices in America seem really big - here they're really tiny so art doesn't come into consideration!
Ciao

Scarlet xoxo

Dixie Jane said...

The only art I have ever seen in a post office comes under the heading of, "wanted." And these thugs are hardly art. How fortunate for South Pasadena to have a lovely mural to look at while standing in line. We might do well in this country to instigate some programs comparable to the NRA and put people back to work. How good of you, Laurie, to focus on an obscure place to find art and at the same time giving us a history lesson.

Yakpate said...

Laurie, your love of community is unparalleled.

And your eye for beauty is truly a gift that inspires us all.

altadenahiker said...

Oh good, a new place I must visit. Funny how the Great Depression was directly responsible for many great pieces of art and craftsmanship. I marvel the beautiful riverrock guard walls lining Angeles Crest Highway, still in place after all this time.

pasadenaadjacent.com said...

What I'd really love to see happen is some money put forward to properly clean and restore this mural. It's darkness can be traced to decades of people standing in line puffing on their Pall Malls.

I did a post today with a South Pasadena connection linking us

Shanna said...

That is very inspiring, Laurie. So many walls, so little art on them. Sigh.

Yak, I didn't really answer your question yesterday. I think it is surprising to find those pieces still there. And I am all for spending money on art!! More sales, please!

Jean Spitzer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean Spitzer said...

I love this example of depression-era public works--and I like the post office, too.

Jean Spitzer said...

It's really cool that you found a coach mural to go with the coach wheels.

Laurie said...

Hi people,

Thanks for taking time to comment today! I am so fond of our little post office -- and its place in history.

Pasadena Adjacent, I was wondering about the darkness of this mural. It would be lovely to restore it, wouldn't it? I recently posted some rather sad Los Angeles marathon mural shots on my overflow/other/alternate/extra stuff blog Glancing About. I was so pleased to read about Kent Twitchell's court win regarding artists and murals. But I digress.

Jean, thanks for noticing the wagon motif!

Altadenahiker, I didn't realize those stones were part of a works project but it makes sense. This is something that I want to bring up when I hear revisionist rightwing talking heads say that the New Deal was a bad idea or somehow responsible for prolonging the Depression. The works and programs from that time have had such a lasting and powerful impact in so many different ways. The buildings and parks built are still used and enjoyed. But I digress again.

Scarlet, most post offices in the US are not beacons of artistic delight. In fact, a lot of them are downright depressing. That's why this one makes me so happy.

ANd I hope all of you are feeling happy. Until tomorrow...

pasadenaadjacent.com said...

Next time your there maybe you can speak to someone up high about it. I could hook them up with a professional.

Andrew said...

Photos have come really nice..keep going..great work..

Nice photo...wonderful thoughts....

Thanks for sharing...

_________________
Andrew
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