By the late 1920s, Reno had outgrown its first federal post office, located on the north side of the Truckee River. After much discussion, a site south of the river was chosen, requiring the demolition of the Carnegie Free Public Library that had been constructed in 1904.
The new post office was built between 1931 and 1934 as a combined post office and federal building to house offices for federal agencies. Local architect Frederic DeLongchamps designed the building in the Art Deco style. The architectural styling, both inside and out, is lavish in detail. The exterior is pale green terra cotta incised to resemble quarried stone. The aluminum panels over the entrances salute transportation and are integrated with patriotic and American Indian motifs in the interior.
The first-floor lobby has spectacular highly ornamented, dark marble walls highlighted with cast aluminum. A fourth floor was planned but never built. Until the area was enclosed to house the HVAC units, the central portion of the ceiling was a large skylight that was open to the first floor. The hallways on the second and third floors opened onto the area the architect called the "light court."
Federal offices filled the two floors above the ground floor post office. One year after it opened, these included the offices of the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Public Works Administration, the Veterans Administration, and the Weather Bureau. Within a few years, they were joined by offices of the FBI, the IRS, the Social Security Administration, the Marine and Navy recruiting stations and other federal agencies.
The building functioned as Reno's Main Post Office until 1975, when it was replaced by a new, larger facility near the airport. The downtown building retained a postal function, but as a station, providing post office box and window counter service. The work area of the main floor was extensively renovated in the mid-1980s to continue this function. By this time, the federal agencies once occupying the building had moved elsewhere.
The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. In August 2012, ownership of the Reno Downtown Post Office was transferred from the Postal Service to a local development group, 50 South Virginia LLC, which carefully restored the building's original skylit central atrium. In 2015, The Basement opened with a mix of retail and dining below ground, and in August 2016, the national home goods retailer West Elm opened on the ground floor.