Saturday, April 9, 2016

Reno's historic post office found a new beginning

Historic United States Post Office, Reno, Nevada
Reno's downtown post office between South Virginia Street and South Center Street has been underused for many years after a Vassar Street facility became the city's main post office in 1975. Finally, the United States Postal Service sold this landmark structure, which now has been restored to its former glory.

At the bottom of the northwest corner of the gray building you will find the name of the architect engraved: Frederic De Longchamps—variously spelled Frederick DeLongchamps and Fredric DeLongchamp elsewhere. Reno-born in 1882 and the official Nevada State Architect since 1919, he not only designed buildings in Washoe County and Nevada, but also in California and Florida [1].

The downtown post office was built south of the Truckee River between 1931 and 1934. Longchamps designed it in a modern art deco style. The exterior is ornamented with motif panels. A meander band wraps around the former bureau cuboid. Rock-sculptured versions of the Postal Service's eagle logo “soar” majestically near the roof. A small panel, displayed within a basement exhibit, describes the Attention to Detail for the composed interior design in the following words:

“The flooring installed throughout the building is composed of approximately forty tons of Tennessee maple. The intricate inlaid pattern on the ground floor was created without the use of a single nail. The lobby is an exuberant showcase of black marble, terrazzo floors, and gleaming cast aluminum details. Federal emblems include American eagles and banners punctuated by stars and stripes. Above the interior doors inside each entryway are images of period airplanes and the winged Roman messenger god Mercury, commemorating progress and commerce.” 

Underground in Reno, NevadaA local development group, 50 South Virginia LLC, has ownership of the once federal downtown building since August 2012. The group carefully restored the original skylit atrium and opened The Basement [2]. The latter features community-oriented work areas and commercial spaces, where you can get coffee, juices or pralines and may see a barber to update your hair style. A Basement board says: “This retail experience is an urban fabric of local merchants who evoke an alternative lifestyle. Welcome to Reno's new hangout.” I like the broad, lighted work tables in the community area as well as the living-room sides with smaller tables crafted from machinery scrap with transparent plates on top. Here, you may want to lay out and discuss your next biggest little project or play your favorite board game—all underground.   

The post office is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places [3].

References and more to explore
[1] Online Nevada Encyclopedia: Frederick DeLongchamps [].
[2] Mella Harmon: Reno Downtown Post Office [].
[3] Photographies by the National Register of Historic Places [].

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