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Breathing new life into the historic Barbara Jordan Post Office.
Once the hub of the city’s U.S. mail system, the long-abandoned USPS headquarters in Houston is being transformed by Lovett Commercial into a dynamic mixed-use complex expanding the city’s vibrant downtown.
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Built in 1934, POST was first established as a depot adjacent to Houston’s Grand Central Station, the city’s gateway for travelers and freight. Grand Central Station was purchased by the US Government in the late 1950’s and demolished. Originally designed by Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson, the same architects that designed the Astrodome, the present building swallowed the of the original 1930’s depot structure in its brick walls.
Houston’s Grand Central Station was originally built by Southern Pacific to replace an 1886 train depot. Photo source: Classic Trains.
The USPS headquarters in 1959. The new building annexed the original 1936 Texas Central Depot, which is seen in the top right corner.
We made the decision to establish and preserve the building as a historic landmark because of several key features that made the structure emblematic of its period. When the USPS building opened to the public in 1961, the United States was locked in a cultural, military, and technological contest with the USSR. As a result, the building was designed to FBI security standards with an ultra robust structure that included multiple nuclear bomb shelters. Moreover, the architects designed the building to showcase American industrial prowess and to be a machine that would streamline the sorting and distribution of mail.
State of the art sorting and distribution technology once filled the Post Office
Lookout Galleries have been selectively preserved in the current design.
The architects’ design included a number of industrial management technologies that have been selectively preserved in our redevelopment. One of the features that we are strategically preserving is a network of lookout galleries — we affectionally call them “Spy Tunnels” — that were originally designed to allow supervisors to furtively watch workers to ensure they were not pilfering cash or other valuables sent through the mail. Other preserved and rehabilitated features include the front administrative office and an elevated public plaza. Reflecting the Modern Era’s emphasis on integrating civic life with work, Wilson, Morris, Craine & Anderson designed the central plaza to be a hub for public events and celebrations. At the building’s opening ceremony in 1961, the Post Office organized an elaborate event at the plaza that included the Boy Scouts carrying American flags and lions from the Houston Zoo.
In 1984, twenty two years after its opening, the Post Office was renamed in honor of Barbara Jordan, the South’s first female African American legislator elected to the US Congress. A Fifth Ward native and civil rights icon, Barbara Jordan was passionate about public service and representing Houston. The inimitable orator stood at the public plaza and delivered these words: “I belong to you. You know me and if you want to honor me that is the highest tribute.”
Barbara Jordan in 1974 at the Rice Hotel with US Rep. Charles Wilson and Spaker Carl Albert. Source: Houston Chronicle
In 2015, the US government decommissioned the Barbara Jordan Post Office and sold the building to Lovett Commercial. Our ambition for POST, to forge new ground and breathe new life into the building, tries to honor her pioneering legacy. Learn more about our design for the project here.