Kenneth M. Short
United States Parcel Post Station
1501, St. Paul St., Baltimore, Baltimore City
Constructed in 1929, the U.S. Parcel Post Station is two stories high with the first floor at the St. Paul Street level and is supported by concrete piers that extend 35' down to the level of the Jones Falls Expressway (I-83). Directly adjacent to the property on the north are railroad tracks and right-of-ways belonging to Amtrak which operates out of Penn Station which is located to the northwest. Designed in a classical revival style and built of reinforced concrete with brick walls and limestone and terra cotta trim, the building is a parallelogram in plan, measuring 142' on the east and west and 269' deep. The principal facade, facing west towards St. Paul Street, is seven bays wide with the center five bays containing a triple arrangement of steel framed true divided light windows per floor framed by two-story unfluted limestone pilasters with a 4' high limestone base and terra cotta capitals molded in the form of an American bald eagle within a wreath. Atop the capitals runs a continuous limestone cornice that projects 18" from the face of the building. On top of the cornice is a 36" high parapet wall of buff brick with a limestone coping. The outline of the words "Baltimore Post Office" can be seen on the face of the cornice. Double pilasters frame both ends of the center five-bay section. The end bays contain one pair of window per floor, divided into three equal sash sections with three lights each flanked by two-story buff brick walls. The triple window combination in the five-bay center section consists of a window divided into three equal sash sections with four lights each flanked by narrower windows divided into three sash sections with two lights each. The bottom sash of each window can be raised. Beneath the second-story windows is a terra cotta sill and a spandrel panel divided into three sections each containing a raised striated pattern. Each center panel has a pair of terra cotta wings flanking a scepter. The spandrel under the first floor windows in the center five bays is also divided into identical panels, but are only 18" high with a narrow horizontal raised panel. Each of the four corners of the building has a chamfered edge from grade to the parapet coping. The central double door is not original, and has a leaded glass transom in the design of a globe flanked by wings symbolizing flight. The doors and transom are flanked by fluted terra cotta pilasters supporting an entablature atop which is a medallion within which is centered an escutcheon with the letters "US" in relief. A swan's neck pediment infilled by a grille of an undulating pattern frames the medallion. On each pilaster is mounted a copper lantern-style lighting fixture mounted on a bracket. The exterior of the Parcel Post Station is in very good condition and has had minimal alteration. Although the original open space plan on both floors has been infilled by offices and workshops, the interior is in good condition with its structural and architectural features in place and unaltered.
The U.S. Parcel Post Station is a very good example of federal government building of the period, which followed the philosophy that government buildings should be examples of architectural beauty with a high standard of design quality. Though it was basically a warehouse to process parcel post mail and could have been entirely utilitarian looking, the architect's Classical Revival design with details such as two-story limestone pilasters and terra cotta eagle's head capitals give it a feeling of civic importance that is no longer found in postal facilities today. On the interior, the reinforced concrete structure is an example of early-20th century warehouse construction, especially for its high floor to ceiling heights and original, intact steel industrial glazing. The most interesting interior feature is the original surveillance catwalks, an early example of postal theft prevention. The building is also significant for the important role it played in the development of a newly modernized postal system in Baltimore, but also mail service for the northeastern part of the country. The St. Paul Street facility and its location next to the Pennsylvania Railroad according to the U.S. Post Office Department in 1928 "would affect handling of parcel-post matter in Washington and delivery points as far as New York and Canada." Finally, the U.S. Parcel Post Station is unique in the planning and development history of Baltimore because of its method of site development. It was the first air rights development in the city. Air rights is the right to occupy the space above a designated property that can be either leased, sold, or donated to another party. A private development company, the Postal Service Corporation of Indianapolis, won the right over nine other bidders to build the station in large par by leasing the air rights from the Pennsylvania Railroad on a piece of property it owned between what was then the Jones Falls and the tracks of Penn Station.