Friday, June 25, 2010

Culture Corner: Uptown Post Office Murals

It's not too often that there are good things said about the Uptown Post Office at Broadway and Gunnison, but credit must be given:  the Depression-Era murals and art deco design make it a truly extraordinary building (it must be added, one that patrons usually have plenty of time to admire as they wait in the long lines in the lobby).

In 1933, the Department of Public Works of Art was created as a relief program for unemployed artists (part of FDR's New Deal).  From that arose the Section of Fine Arts, which sponsored Post Office murals across the country, although the artists hired were generally not unemployed or destitute.  The Post Office was chosen as a place to display art because of its democratic nature:  not everyone could (or can) afford to visit a museum, but post offices are available to all.

The artist behind the Uptown murals was Henry Varnum Poor.  The murals were created in his studio, were fired in his kiln, and are done on ceramic tiles.  (Interestingly, in contrast to other more recent, bloated-budget public works, the standard fee for a Post Office mural was $650-$750.  This included materials, installation and artists' fees.)

The panel on the south side of the lobby portrays iconic Chicago writer and poet Carl Sandburg, who described Chicago as "Hog Butcher for the World / Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat / Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler, / Stormy, Husky, Brawling, City of the Big Shoulders."  When he wrote these words, he lived less than a mile from the Post Office, at 4646 North Hermitage, now a designated Chicago landmark

The northern mural shows the city and industry arising from the plains, and features architect Louis Sullivan contemplating his Chicago jewel, the building on State Street that housed Carson Pirie Scott for many years.  Sullivan is buried in Uptown's Graceland Cemetery.  Both murals honor the working class, and are meant to depict that a city gains its strength from its ordinary citizens.

To read more (much more) about these murals and the related ones at the Lakeview Post Office, go to a group project from the School of the Art Institute, and for more about the Uptown Post Office's architecture, visit Compass Rose Cultural Crossroads.

UU Note:  A reader passes along the numbers of Post Office personnel for anyone who might need to contact the supervisors:
  • District manager is Gloria Tyson: 312 983 7800
  • Manager of Uptown Post Office is Lynn Johnson:
    773 561 4846


  1. FYI...

    $650 in 1934 would be worth about $10,300 as of 2009. (Which is as recent as my inflation calculator calculates.)

  2. Excuse me for posting off topic but worth a mention: Your dedicated District 023 Police Officers chased a gun carrying PUNK on a mountain bike, near Sunnyside mall 1030am today. I believe the punk made good his escape but the Police have his bike AND his handgun. Well done, Officers !

  3. I have always loved this building with all the art deco designs and murals. These fine extras help deal with waitng for hours in line and dealing with the rude staff each time I go there.

  4. >> "It's not too often that there are good things said about the Uptown Post Office at Broadway and Gunnison..."

    Even better than the murals is that self-serve kiosk. Those were some dark days before that thing was put in...

  5. There are other local post offices with interesting murals, such as Southport/Irving.

    BTW the last few times I've had to avail myself of the Lawrence/Bway facility I was waited on pretty quickly. Maybe the extended hours have something to do with it. (Longer hours = shorter lines throughout the day.)

  6. Wiseguy, I couldn't agree more.

    I look at this building and think what an incredible house it would make (transplanted on the lakeshore, or better yet in Malibu)

    I could be wrong, but the service at this station seems to be better lately.

  7. The only thing that sucks about this post office is the bum who holds the door open for people and then expects a "tip."