News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 15, 2007

Historical Treasure: Downtown U.S. Post Office is a ‘classic’

By Linda Patrick

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” This quotation from Herodotus has become the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service.

This week’s historic treasure is a familiar feature to downtown Terre Haute — the U.S. Post Office at Seventh and Cherry streets. The present building is actually the second one to occupy this site. It replaced the post office and federal building that opened in 1887. The columns and pediment from that building were moved to Fairbanks Park to become part of the Chauncey Rose Memorial.

The three-story structure, designed by architects Miller and Yeager of Terre Haute, is art deco in style, considered the most modern at the time. It’s faced with Indiana limestone on the exterior and marble on the interior. Work on the building began in 1933 once the old post office was demolished. Funded as a Public Works Project from a grateful Franklin Roosevelt, construction gave jobs to citizens during the Depression. The building was completed on Dec. 1, 1934 and opened in 1935.

Some characteristics of the art deco style are hard-edged, low-relief geometric designs and figures (notice the eagles near the roof), an emphasis on the vertical (notice the windows), multicolored designs of zigzags, chevrons, spirals and scrolls, with machined aluminum detailing. Egyptian forms were popular (notice the papyrus reed pattern on the grill in the elevator area and in the borders). The elevator doors have raised stars on them, symbolizing patriotism. The building is undergoing renovation; the chandelier fixtures have been repaired and the exterior and interior have been thoroughly cleaned, once more revealing the white limestone outside and the brilliant turquoise borders and cream-colored ceiling inside. It’s a classic example of governmental architecture of the ’30s. If City Hall looks a lot like it, that’s because it was designed by Miller and Yeager, too.

Besides the post office, the building originally housed the Social Security Administration, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the federal court and other courtrooms on the upper floors. A point of interest in the federal courtroom is a 20-foot-by-20-foot mural, “The Signing of the Magna Carta” by Frederick Webb Ross of Shelbyville. Ross painted the mural in his New York City studio and shipped it to Terre Haute in pieces, where it was reassembled and mounted in the courtroom.

Indiana State University plans to relocate the School of Business to the upper floors, with the post office remaining on the first floor to serve the downtown area. There’s so much more detail to see, the next time you’re in the area, stop and take a look at a “classic.”