URBAN SPACES

5 Photos/5 Facts: The Old Post Office

Form and function pair perfectly together at 815 Olive St. The historic masterpiece known as The Old Post Office now serves as a functional office space, private events hall and National Historic Landmark. Peek inside the space and dig deep into the building’s history in this installment of #mySTL 5 Photos/5 Facts.

ONE OF FEW

The Old Post Office—originally referred to as the United States Customs House and Post Office—was created as one of five grand post-Civil War Federal buildings. Others were placed in the four additional fastest-growing U.S. cities of the time: Boston, Cincinnati, New York and Philadelphia. The building was designed by Alfred B. Mullett, the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury; of his six buildings in this French Second Empire-style, the Old Post Office is one of two still standing. With a total construction cost of just under $6 million, it was (and continued to be for some time) the most expensive building in the city.

WATCH OUT FOR QUICKSAND

In 1872, while preparing the land for the building’s foundation, an unsettling discovery was made: quicksand. To fix this stability issue, more than 4,000 pine pilings, hundreds of bales of cotton and a four-foot concrete slab were used. The end result? No foundation cracks after more than 140 years.

DESIGNED WITH DISASTERS IN MIND

In case of a Great Chicago Fire-type disaster, the Old Post Office was carefully designed for ultimate fire protection, explains its 1960s National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form. “These features included the use of predominately fire-resistant construction methods and materials; a circulating hot air heating system, separate elevators for people, mail, and freight, and direct access from the main basement to an underground railway tunnel for mail service,” the document explains, noting the use of fairly new technology for the time. See all of the intricate, carved-looking details inside the Old Post Office? That’s cast iron, not wood; in addition to its fire protection, it made adding decor elements like that more affordable. Wooden handrails, used for the warmer touch, are one of the only exceptions.

MAIL IN THE MULTI-MILLIONS

The Old Post Office held its opening ceremonies on March 15, 1884, and it is reported that it handled “hundreds of millions of pieces of mail” by hand just in its first year. (Some claims say it was as much as 400 million pieces.)

MORE TO THE BUILDING THAN MAIL

From 1884 until 1935, the Old Post Office was also home to the Federal 8th Circuit Court. For part of the 1890s, this served as the largest circuit in the U.S. with a jurisdiction covering 10 states and 11 million people. The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, relocated into the second and third floor of the space in 2006—a move the Old Post Office redevelopment team explains as “an auspicious start to the building’s redevelopment.”