Former Post Office and Federal Building

Former Post Office and Federal Building

The former Post Office was the first large-scale federal building constructed in Puerto Rico. The structure, which is part of the National Register of Historic Places, is located southeast of the historic zone of Old San Juan. Today, it houses offices of the United States federal court system.

The building, which dates to 1914, was built on the foundation of the walls of the San Justo bastion, one of the old walls that enclosed the islet of San Juan. The excavation that was done to lay the footings for the building revealed that the wall extended 15 feet from bottom to top. The presence of the remains of the bastion were confirmed in 1994 through geo-technical studies, which identified archaeological deposits containing hundreds of Spanish and European colonial pieces. Also identified were the remains of a Spanish customs house from the 19th century.

Among the artifacts found are: a cannon from the late 18th century which is being restored in the laboratories of the underwater archeology council of Puerto Rico; a container for olive oil from the late 17th century and early 18th century; ceramic pieces of a blue-green bowl that dates to between 1725 and 1825; a fragment of glass with lattice decorations from the 17th or 18th century; two flints and a sailing whistle from Spanish ships; multi-colored majolica ceramic pieces possibly from Mexico; a cobalt blue inkwell from the 19th century; refined ceramics from the 18th and 19th centuries; hydro-ceramic pieces probably from Holland or Portugal from the late 17th or early 18th centuries, cut in circles and believed to have been used as game pieces; blue-green majolica pieces from the late 16th or early 17th century; construction materials from the 19th century as well as shells and bones from animals such as pigs and cows.

On the second floor of the building is a small display of some of the artifacts found, as well as a series of photos of the construction of the first building between 1911 and 1914, the renovation, the construction of the annex between 1938 and 1940, and rehabilitation work done as part of seismic reinforcement between 1996 and 2000. The building has two distinct types of marble, which were added separately in each construction period (1914 and 1940).

The former Post Office building, whose official name is the U.S. General Services Administration, Northeast and Caribbean Region, consists of a three-story main building. The offices have open galleries with the roof sloping outward. A small jail is located in the basement. The facades are decorated with large pilasters.

The building’s south entrance had a grand stairway that led to a small open plaza from which the entrance is accessed. This stairway’s design was noted in the architectural publication. Pevsner’s Outline of European Architecture. However, in 1940, an annex was built on the site of the stairway. It consists of a six-story vertical structure composed of a central building and two side towers. The towers are tapered as they rise vertically and end with metal lanterns. The corners of the towers are adorned with tapered concentric detailing that emphasizes their vertical shape. Although the two buildings were built in different eras, the design of the annex is compatible with the original building and respects its scale, mass and proportions.

Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Catalog of Properties, National Register of Historic Places, State Office of Historic Conservation, Office of the Governor, 1995.

Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 08, 2014.

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