Reno Downtown Post Office

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.

Images

The Cornerstone ceremony

The Cornerstone ceremony

The cornerstone was laid at the new federal building by a contingent of Nevada Masons on May 13, 1933. The Masons in attendance wear the traditional apron representing the working apron of the ancient stone masons. The ceremony was attended by more than 2,500 citizens and dignitaries. Front and center is Postmaster George F. Smith, Sr., who worked closely with architect Frederic DeLongchamps to design the floor plan. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Postcard

Postcard

This postcard shows the central location of Reno's Post Office Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Art Deco

Art Deco

The Art Deco Reno Downtown Post Office was a departure from the Postal Service's typical classical style buildings. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

All access Post Office

All access Post Office

As Reno's only post office, the structure played an important role in local culture, including the city's famous divorce industry. As this postcard from the 1940s jokes, "Gagsters claim enough alimony has come through the Reno postoffice to retire the War Debt." View File Details Page

DeLongchamps legacy

DeLongchamps legacy

The architect Frederic DeLongchamps is well represented in this view of the Mill Street facade of the Reno Downtown Post Office and the Riverside Hotel at the end of the block. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Decorative detail

Decorative detail

The Reno Downtown Post Office is lavishly decorated in Art Deco detail. This view of the southwest entrance shows the intricate aluminum grille work. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Granite eagles

Granite eagles

Granite eagles symbolizing the power and strength of the government crown the entrances. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

1953 postcard

1953 postcard

The postcard reads, "Modern in every respect and conveniently located in the very heart of the business section of Reno is the Federal building and Post Office. Receipts in 1953 will probably approach the three-quarters of a million dollar mark, which is a satisfying indication of Reno's business trend." Image courtesy of Philip Galbraith View File Details Page

Post Office, 2001

Post Office, 2001

Dark green spandrels with a sunburst pattern separate the first and second floor windows, providing a striking contrast to the pale green incised terra-cotta walls. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Post Office, 2001

Post Office, 2001

The U. S. Postal Service moved out of the Downtown Station in December 2012. The building was sold to local developers who are lovingly and accurately rehabilitating the building for commercial use. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Post Office, 2005

Post Office, 2005

The old post office building retains much if its original charm. View File Details Page

Street Address:

50 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Mella Harmon, “Reno Downtown Post Office,” Reno Historical, accessed May 30, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/36.
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