In 1913 the United States General Post Office designed by McKim, Mead & White was opened on Eighth Avenue, directly opposite their recently completed Pennsylvania Station. The facility was the largest post office in the country and, according to The New York Times, “possibly in the world.” But by the Great Depression even this massive structure was overtaxed.
The post office operated from the lower floors--with trains entering and leaving, a five-mile system of conveyor belts, and elevators and chutes transporting packages throughout the cavernous spaces--while the upper floors became home to Government offices. On March 4, 1934, for instance, The New York Times advised that those needing advice in completing their income tax returns could be assisted here. Other offices included the Veterans’ Administration Bureau; the Railroad Retirement Board; the Office of Veterans’ Unemployment Rights, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division.
Mail trains entered from the High Line into the facility on Tenth Avenue. Photograph by Jim Henderson
An often-conspicuous office here was the United States Conciliation Offices, where management and labor groups, unable to find contract compromises, hammered out negotiations. From August through October 1946, for instance, talks were held here during the strike of the American Communications Association, C. I. O. against firms like the Western Union Telegraph Company and Press Wireless, Inc. The Government intervened partly because the union had initiated a news “blackout,” refusing to telegraph news stories to the press from abroad. “The tactic has been acknowledged by the union as a means of bringing pressure against newspapers to force a favorable settlement of the controversy,” reported The New York Sun on August 14.
The Morgan Annex became the target of terrorists in 1967. On December 8, a postal worker on the fourth floor tossed a packaged addressed to Cuba and labeled “medical supplies” toward a chute. An explosion followed. The package bomb caused injuries to eight employees. Eight nights later a fire broke out in the conveyor belt area of the basement around 9:30. The Daily News reported it, “roared through Christmas packages and mail last night in the Morgan branch of the post office. For a time the blaze trapped scores of employes [sic] in upper stories of the 10-story building.”
On December 17, 1967, The New York Times reported, “Among the charred debris, the water-soaked packages and the sludge of fallen plaster mixed with water, firemen found a partly opened package in the Morgan Annex of the post office yesterday.” The contents, partially showing through the damaged package, sparked their interest. “They found $44,000 in cash,” said the article. “The money was in a box that had originally contained carbon paper. This was in a cardboard box and was wrapped in burlap.”
Whoever the group or person intent on destroying the Morgan Annex was, they tried one last time. Two days after that The New York Times article, J. H. Matson, chief of the Ninth Fire Battalion, discovered five separate fires burning in the "heaps of charred and water-damaged mail and packages in a fourth-floor room," as described by The New York Times. Luckily he found the purposely-set fires early on and they were extinguished within 20 minutes.
On June 26, 1968 Postmaster General W. Marvin Watson announced that the General Post Office on Eighth Avenue and the Morgan Annex would be combined into "the world's largest postal facility." The Morgan was to be demolished and the proposed $100-million complex would engulf the area from 28th to 30th Streets and Ninth to Tenth Avenues. The main post office, called "architecturally distinctive but functionally antiquated" was to be turned over to the General Services Administration." The project was slated for completion in early 1974.
The ambitious undertaking never took shape, however. A rehabilitation to the Morgan Annex included air conditioning and modern equipment. Little by little, as work was completed, certain areas resumed operation.
The Morgan was still mostly empty on the night of February 9, 1971 when postal inspector Edward Lyons confronted and arrested six employees whom he accused of pilfering mail. One of them, 60-year-old George Leo, however, refused to go quietly. In the scuffle that followed, Lyons's gun "accidently fired," according to The New York Times. Leo was shot dead.
On March 31, 1979, The New York Times reported, "The Morgan Post Office Station...unused since a fire in 1967, will remain closed indefinitely despite a $70 million renovation. It was announced yesterday that the building would require about $30 million more for the correction of design and safety deficiencies."
In 1992 a massive new facility was completed on the block to the south, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues and 28th to 29th Streets. The two structures were connected by a skybridge on 29th Street. With the Morgan Annex now only partially utilized, in 2019 the Postal Service leased the top six floors to the Tishman Speyer real estate development firm. The Postal Service continues to utilize the basement and first four floors.
Renderings of the roof garden in 2022. image via Tishman Speyer
Tishman Speyer, in compliance with the Department of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, renovated the upper floors to high-tech offices spaces with a 2.5 acre roof garden, a terrace on the eighth-floor, and 5,100 square feet of retail space on Ninth Avenue.
non-credited photographs by the author
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