Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Farley/Moynihan Post Office

The Farley Post Office, 8th Avenue from 31st to 33rd Streets.
It was announced recently that the James A. Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue from 31st to 33rd Streets will soon get a name change to honor late former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The 1912 building by McKim, Mead, and White, with it's Romanesque columns and unofficial motto of the Post Office carved on top, ("Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds), serves as a small reminder of the old Penn Station, a similar stately structure that used to be across the street where the rather ugly Madison Square Garden is now. For decades the only Post Office in the nation that was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, it started closing at 10 PM a little over a year ago due to the recession.

Since 1982, the building has been named for James Farley, the 53rd United States Postmaster General, serving under FDR. He also led the presidential campaigns of FDR and Al Smith, and in 1940 was the first Catholic Presidential candidate who had crossover appeal, when he contended the President's third term. House Resolution 398 of the 97th Congress, which bestowed the honor on Farley on March 2, 1982, stated " ... the life of James A. Farley should serve as an example for present and future generations of Americans of the vital contributions which individual citizens can make to the life of the nation through diligent public service ..."

However, I guess Congress has decided that Farley has been honored enough, and the stately building will soon be honoring former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was a long-time outspoken proponent of turning the building into a new and improved concourse for the Amtrak Railway, which it looks like will actually happen in the next few years.

Moynihan went through some pretty big changes to get where he did. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to Hell's Kitchen when he was a young child, where he grew up as a street kid in a poor neighborhood, shining shoes and attending a number of public, private, and Catholic schools before graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in Harlem. He then worked as a longshoreman before enrolling at City College, which at the time offered free admission. He spent a few years in the Navy where he got a degree from Tufts University. He went on to serve in four successive Presidential administrations (JFK, LBJ, Nixon and Ford), and then in the Senate for three terms, declining a run for a fourth in 2000. When he died in 2003, many praised him for being the last of a dying breed of politician -- the unapologetic intellectual, who defied party lines and believed strongly in heated debate and discussion without frills.

As the city moves forward to revamp this old building, the last reminder of the old Penn Station that was torn down in what became one of the biggest mistakes in the city's redevelopment history, whatever changes they make, I know the city now has a little more respect for its architectural past, and I just hope it's done quickly and painlessly (but, honestly, I think it will be slow and painful). "Freedom Tower". Second Avenue subway. Enough said.