Post Office (former) Murals – Des Plaines IL

The former Des Plaines post office and many other post offices, after having been commissioned by the WPA to create jobs, also lent their walls to the artists of the FAP, which commissioned around 1,200 murals and 300 sculptures for the public buildings. The citizens of Des Plaines and their post office got the work of James Michael Newell, born as James Erbin Newell in 1900 Carnegie, Pennsylvania2.

Before his work in the FAP, Newell was a marine fighting in WW1 at the age of eighteen5. Afterwards, his colonel recommended him for a scholarship to study abroad in Paris, where he began to develop his skills with fresco wall paintings at Beaux Arts2. Newell then returned to America in 1913, where he was commissioned by Potomac electric company for murals in Washington D.C. offices5. In the 1930s, Newell became a part of P.W.A.P. (Public works of Art) and worked on several fresco murals, including The Death of Pere Marquette, in 1940.

The fresco painting depicts the death of Father Jacques Marquette surrounded by what appears to be travel companions and on his left, Native Americans to his right and what appears to be a Native American medicine man chanting over the diseased body. The piece is done with realistic representation of shadows and lighting, with perspective used to show the Native Americans and traveling companions in the background, while the diseased Father lies almost at the center. Despite the naming, the Native American Medicine man seems to be the focal point. It is a piece of mourning, but also a piece filled with the harmless and compassionate natives who went so far as to help a stranger.

When joined together with the other fresco mural that had been placed on the next wall over, the viewer can assume Newell is making a commentary on how our American ancestors treated the Native Americans, despite their kindness to us. The second painting is titled Conquest of The Prairie Lands and though again, there is a Native American at the center focal point, the scene is not of a peaceful passing. Instead it’s a violent battle that, according to an article by Brian Wolf, is the Black Hawk War6.

The two contrasting images work well in showing how the greed of man knows no end, despite the kindness offered by the other side, which, given the events of the Great Depression, feels like a fitting theme. After all, the greed of men was what lead to the crash. Newell’s paintings hold that subliminal message without fully pointing any fingers, but it’s getting there. As an artist under the FAP, he couldn’t go ahead and make a fully comprehensive piece criticizing the current establishment, but what he did create worked just as well.

The Fresco’s today still sit within what used to be the Des Plaines post office – though now it’s owned by Journal & Topics, and the artwork is privately owned and only viewable during regular business hours0.

City Hall (Old Federal Building) – Sitka AK

Sitka, Alaska’s City Hall was originally constructed as the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse. Constructed during the Great Depression, the concrete-construction federal building was completed to replace a wooden frame structure that had burned in 1936. The two-story building was designed in the prevailing Moderne style with simple Art Deco details and was constructed for $168,000. It has been used as Sitka’s city hall since 1993.

Logan Square Station Post Office Sculpture – Chicago IL

Hildreth Meiere’s sculpture titled “The Post” was executed and completed in 1937. It can be found in the Logan Square Station Post Office. The piece is made primarily out of metal and is heavily influenced by art deco styles. This work depicts three figures, a mixture of male and female characters. The man in the center is depicted as an almost supernatural or godlike figure. Both his ankles and helmet have wings attached to them, implying flight. Above this powerful figure is a letter flying from one individual to another, all the while the middle figure has an arrow strung in his bow, ready to shoot. The figure in the middle can be seen as a protector of the mail system and the post office itself.

Hildreth Meiere, as well as her wall sculpture in the Logan Square post office, are significant for a variety of reasons. Meiere was an influence to men, women, and artists everywhere. Not only was she a well respected muralist, but she had also worked a variety of other jobs pegged as “men’s work.” A primary example of this would be her job working as a draftsman in the U.S. Navy.

Meiere was educated at New York’s Convent of the Sacred Heart, the Art Students’ League, and the California School of Fine Arts. She was commissioned to create countless works varying from one medium to another throughout her career. She eventually became the President of the National Society of Mural Painters as well as as the First Vice president of the Architectural League of New York.

The message presented in this piece isn’t ground-breaking by any means, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Sculptures and murals such as this were often commissioned and chosen by a number of local representatives via the results of a competition. They would pick whichever artist’s work best represented the space and town itself. Nonetheless, this sculpture is stylistically different from many of the other post office murals of the time. The use of metal and the employment of art-deco stylings make this piece truly unique and an important addition to Chicago’s artistic history.

Photos can be seen here:

Post Office Mural – Forest Park IL

The mural “White Fawn” by artist Miriam McKinnie (Hofmeier) was commissioned by the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts in 1939 to be placed at the Forest Park Post Office.

The history of the mural began in 1880, when the original White Fawn was built. The original White Fawn, a side-wheeler steamboat, was built by the sons of Ferdinand Haase, Leo G. Haase and William F. Haase, to be used as an excursion boat at the Haase home on the Des Plaines River. Ferdinand Haase, a pioneer settler who came to the area in 1851, founded Haase Park in 1880. A public park, predating Lincoln Park, Hasse Park was a rare attraction at the time, drawing sightseers from nearby Chicago to view the countryside. The Haase, Zimmerman and Schultz families of Forest Park living at the house offered accommodations to visitors along with boat rides. They were recorded as bringing as many as 30,000 people to the area on one Sunday. In addition to its depiction of the White Fawn, the mural features a suspension bridge in its background. Also built and designed by Leo and William Haase, the bridge was considered an engineering feat at the time. Hasse’s home, and the original docking site of the White Fawn is located on what is now Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, IL. (“Swimming Hole Lure For Young”; “Post Office Cleaning Reveals 1800’s Mural”; “New Mural At Postoffice”).

Upon receiving her assignment from the United States Treasury department to paint a mural for the Forest Park Post Office in September of 1939, Miriam McKinnie only knew that the mural must have some significance to Forest Park. In his meeting with the artist, postmaster Author H. Schuler brought four old photographs given to him by a descendant of Ferdinand Haase, Wilbert W. Haase. The photographs depicted the Haase house during the late 1800’s, life along the Des Plaines River, and the White Fawn. Upon request, McKinnie was taken to the original site of the Haase home and supplied with further details from Wilbert Haase. McKinnie then returned to her home in Edwardsville, IL to begin sketches of the mural. Once completed, the artist’s sketches were sent to Washington D.C, to receive approval from the Treasury Department. After approval, McKinnie began painting. The mural was completed in 1940. A bronze plaque to be hung with the mural, was donated by Wilbert W. Haase in 1940, but was never put up (“New Mural At Postoffice” 1).

The artist, Miriam McKinnie (Hofmeier), was born in Evanston, IL on May 25th 1906. She came from a family of artists, her mother was a “Sunday painter” and her grandfather was William Wells, a noted wildlife painter and head of the art department at the Chicago Tribune. McKinnie studied art at the Minneapolis School of Fine Art, the Kansas City Art Institute, and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. She also earned her Master of Fine Arts at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in the 1930’s. Her work was heavily influenced by the painter Anthony Angarola, whom she studied under for three years at his school in Chicago. One of McKinnie’s greatest skills was working in a variety of mediums, including: oils, caseins, lithographs, brush drawings, pen-and-ink sketches, and collage. After McKinnie married her husband, Donnell Hofmeier, she took on the role of a housewife and practiced as an artist second. Despite this, McKinnie pursued her career in art, becoming a teacher at Washington University School of Fine Art and an exhibitor and visiting instructor at Ste. Genevieve’s artist colony in Missouri. McKinnie’s style was unique and recognizable as Marquis Childs of American Magazine of Art said, there’s “a boldness to her work which is expressed in the richness of her color, dark in key, mysterious and compelling in its total effect”. She was known to use bright colors with bold dark outlines, with an overall golden glow achieved by glazing or applying multiple layers of browns and deep reds.

McKinnie was a member of the National Association of Woman Painters and Sculptors and the National Association of Women Artists, receiving a variety of awards for her work including metals from the St. Louis Artist Guild, Kansas City Art Institute, and the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in New York City. Her work has been exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute, Kansas City Art Institute, and at the Corcoran Gallery Biennial in 1947. The artist also produced New Deal funded murals in Illinois for the Edwardsville Public Library and the Marshall Post Office (“Paintings Sold Archive”; Kerr, Scott & Dick).

McKinnie’s mural, originally hung in 1940 upon its completion, was removed in the early 70’s and stored in the post office basement to allow the walls of the post office to be repainted. A Forest Park librarian, Cleis Jensen noticed the mural was missing in 1975 and brought it to the community’s attention. The mural was then moved from the post office basement, to a vault in the library where it stayed until 1993. The mural was again discovered in the library’s basement rolled up and suffering from considerable damage. The mural had water damage, ripples from being rolled up, and dirt and grime from years of smoking in the post office. The community, alongside the local historical society, began efforts to restore McKinnie’s work. The effort to raise money to restore the mural finally ended in 2004, when the money was raised and Parma Conservation of Illinois took on the project. The mural was originally adhered to the wall with lead adhesives and required gas masks to remove the toxic adhesive as well as the addition of a new back. The conservationists also restored missing paint and the missing upper left hand corner of the piece. On February 25, 2005 the mural was rededicated to the Forest Park Post Office where it now hangs (“Post office cleaning reveals 1800’s mural”; Lou).

In more recent years, the Forest Park post office has been at risk of closing down, putting the fate of the “White Fawn” in question once again. The mural is not only a living example of Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives, but also encapsulates the history of the Forest Park community. Created specifically for the people of Forest Park, it is vital that this historical document and unique work of art does not get forgotten.

Post Office – Northport NY

The historic post office building in Northport, New York was designed by Louis A. Simon in conjunction with the United States Treasury Department. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Construction began in 1935 and the building opened in 1936.

Federal Building/Post Office – San Antonio TX

Today this building is known as the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building, but a small post office branch is still operating in the building. The building was completed in 1936 and opened in 1937. It was built under the auspices of the Federal Works Program with Public Works Administration (P.W.A.) funding; the design process was under the direction of the Office of the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Its construction accomplished several goals–generating employment, housing all federal agencies in a single building, and streamlining San Antonio’s quickly expanding postal needs.

A skillful example of Beaux-Arts classicism, the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is indicative of the federal government’s goal of expressing democratic ideals through classically derived architecture featuring grand scale, symmetry, and refined details. The six-story building encompasses an entire city block and is constructed of steel and concrete clad in rich local materials–Texas Pink granite and Texas Cream limestone. The building is polygonal in plan, centered on a central light court. Its facade (south elevation) emphasizes a centrally recessed porch behind a screen of six monumental Ionic columns, rising to support an entablature that continues all around the building. ” Source:

The building was listed in the National Register of Historical Places in 2000.

Brechin: “History is Repeating Itself”

Gray Brechin’s latest on the Post Office and the role of the press in keeping the public under-informed about the crisis of the selloff of our common heritage:


May 28, 2013 /  In 1906, surveyor Stephen Puter wrote a tell-all book from prison, Looters of the Public Domain, which details how Puter transferred thousands of acres of prime timberlands in Oregon and Washington from public to private owners. This sort of hustle was common in the 19th century, when much of the public domain was enclosed and converted into private fortunes with congressional help.



History is repeating itself today with the nation’s postal service, and much of the press is asleep at the wheel.

The public in 1906 became aware of frauds like Puter’s because the U.S. then had a diverse and competitive media environment willing to

support gumshoe journalists as well as a president willing to investigate and prosecute criminal activity at the highest level — even U.S. senators of his own party. How times have changed as we now watch the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) looted like prime timberland. A venerable institution that helped build the country is being gutted. This is not, as the mainstream media slothfully claims, because the Internet has rendered it obsolete, but because it represents lumber ripe for the taking while what’s left of the press takes an extended holiday from curiosity.

Last July, the USPS succeeded in uniting a famously fractious town when it announced plans to sell Berkeley’s century-old downtown post office. Berkeley has, ever since, proved a public relations migraine for USPS management. USPS occasionally meets its legal obligation to take public comment on pending sales, and it did so in Berkeley on February 26 at a meeting where USPS representatives endured hours of abuse and outrage from an overflow crowd at the old City Hall. The city council and mayor unanimously condemned the proposed sale. Activists demonstrated at the historic post office, gathered petition signatures, and — in lieu of local press — leafletted town residents about what they were about to lose.

Perhaps because of that unprecedented resistance, Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe paid Mayor Bates the courtesy of a letter he said would “clarify the facts about the Postal Service’s financial crisis.”

That crisis, Donohoe claimed, has forced him to radically shrink his agency while selling properties paid for by U.S. taxpayers for over a century. Among those properties are architecturally distinguished, landmarked and centrally located post offices like Berkeley’s, many of them containing a gallery of unique New Deal murals and sculpture intended for and belonging to the American people. The handsome buildings marked by flagpoles are often the only federal presence in small towns where they double as community centers — and those public venues are vanishing under Donohoe’s watch.

The Postmaster General insisted that his agency’s nearly $16 billion deficit is notthe result of a “manufactured crisis.” He neglected to mention the Republican Party’s stated intention to “modernize” the 238-year-old agency by privatizing it. Nor did he cite the pro-privatization white papers churned out by right-wing and libertarian think tanks like Cato and American Enterprise, or the political contributions lavished on congressional representatives by private carriers lusting for the USPS profit centers, or that some of those representatives and their spouses would like to “reform” the USPS right out of existence.

Absent, too, was any mention of the ruinous Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act passed by Congress in 2006 that requires the USPS, within 10 years, to fully fund its retiree health benefit fund 75 years into the future while simultaneously barring it from offering services that would compete with the private sector. Donohoe instead fell back on the “Internet-made-us-do-it” meme so often parroted by the U.S. press when it bestirs itself to report on the postal crisis at all. He explained that in order to put the USPS back onto a sound financial footing, he had slashed the size of its workforce by 193,000 employees through attrition, pared some 21,000 delivery routes, and reduced operating expenses by $15 billion. Despite all this and his recent effort to eliminate Saturday delivery, he clamed that the leaner and meaner USPS had “provided increased access to postal products and services.” Tell that to postal customers and workers these days.


Read the rest of this essay here, on Alternet.


is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.