Reno Downtown Post Office

The glorious Art Deco/Art Moderne Federal Building and Post Office opened in 1934.

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 opened in 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

Postcard This postcard shows the central location of Reno's Post Office Source: Nevada Historical Society
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. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1933
Art Deco The Art Deco Reno Downtown Post Office was a departure from the Postal Service's typical classical style buildings. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
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." Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1940s
DeLongchamps legacy The architect Frederic DeLongchamps is well represented in this view of the Mill Street fa├žade of the Reno Downtown Post Office and the Riverside Hotel at the end of the block. Source: Nevada Historical Society
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. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
Granite eagles Granite eagles symbolizing the power and strength of the government crown the entrances. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
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." Source: Philip Galbraith Date: 1953
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. Creator: Max Chapman Date: 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. Creator: Max Chapman Date: 2001
Post Office, 2005 The old post office building retains much of its original charm. Source: Alicia Barber Date: 2005

Location

50 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

Mella Rothwell Harmon, “Reno Downtown Post Office,” Reno Historical, accessed September 21, 2023, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/36.