In a change from the usual UK focus of this blog, the next three posts all come from the United States of America, showing buildings from the west coast cities of San Francisco, Seattle, and Bellevue, which I recently had the pleasure of travelling to.
The first building is the ‘Rincon Annex’ of the former United States Post Office building, located at 101-199, Mission Street in downtown San Francisco, CA.
Originally built for the Post Office Department as a sorting office for letters and parcels between 1939 and 1940, the building was developed by the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.).
The W.P.A. was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ agencies, which provided job-seekers with employment on public works schemes across America.
The building was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood (1890-1960), who acted as the Consulting Architect on the scheme, in partnership with Louis A. Simon, the Supervising Architect.
Underwood is best remembered by his work for the Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, where he designed many of the original park lodges.
Today, the lodges are considered among the best examples of the National Park Service ‘Rustic’ style and are listed on the National Record of Historic Places (N.R.H.P.).
For the ‘Rincon Annex’, Underwood designed the building in a much more progressive ‘Streamline Moderne’ style. This echoed his other earlier work for Union Pacific, where he delivered the magnificent ‘Union Station’ in Omaha, NE., now a National Historic Landmark.
Construction of the new building in San Francisco was awarded to the George A. Fuller Construction Co., with groundbreaking taking place on June 1st, 1939. The new three-storey reinforced concrete building was opened on October 26th, 1940, with works having completed earlier that month.
Standing as a monument to the era of ‘Art Deco’ design, the building’s principal facade on Mission Street consists of eight vertical pillars, which rise to the top of the second floor, above which sits a single, more modest attic storey.
The colossal pillars are interrupted by double height metal casement windows, above which runs a frieze relief, with each block depicting three dolphins above a blue band of water.
The two sets of entrance doors are framed in black marble, whilst carved into the four pillars that flank them are eagles, set against the Stars and Stripes of the American flag.
The windows at either end of the building are concealed behind decorative metal grilles, executed in an ornate ‘Streamline Moderne’ style, and replicated both above the entrance doors and throughout the lobby area.
Arguably the most important part of the ‘Rincon Annex’ is its interior, with the double height “L”-shaped lobby finished with a mix of green faience tiles, and chrome fixtures and fittings.
Lifting the interior from one of architectural importance to national significance is “The History of California”, a surviving mural by the Russian-born artist, Anton Refregier (1905-1979), which runs the entire length of the lobby.
Working in the ‘Social Realism’ style, Refreiger was commissioned to produce 27 separate panels by the Section of Painting and Sculpture, which was administered by the Procurement Division of the United States Department of the Treasury.
Given the size of the internal area to be covered and the agreed rate of $10 per square foot, the total award amounted to $26,000, making it the Section’s largest commission to-date, both in physical and financial terms.
Depicting historical scenes from ‘Indians by the Golden Gate’, to the ‘Earthquake and Fire of 1906’ and ‘War and Peace’, the murals, which were finally completed after the Second World War caused great controversy, largely as a result of Refreiger’s Russian ancestry and the perceived link to communism.
Despite being less than 50 years old at the time, the ‘Rincon Annex’ was added to the N.R.H.P. on 16th November, 1979 as “one of the finest examples of a large public building designed in the Streamline Moderne architectural style in San Francisco.”
The United States Postal Service (U.S.P.S.), as the Postal Department became, vacated the downtown site in 1985, after which it was redeveloped. Today, the building is owned by Hudson Pacific Properties, with much of the office space let to Google.
Fortunately, the key elements of the ‘Art Deco’ interior including Refreiger’s murals, survive in their original form, having been preserved and protected, and available for all to see.
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