The earliest postcards date back to around 1840, but they didn’t really become a standard of the travel world until around 1890, when images of the newly erected Eiffel Tower began to adorn them. Since then, they’ve become a staple of travelers wishing to provide their friends and family back home with a few lines about their journey along with a telling image. Although more and more people are preferring to send their greetings via texting or, say, Instagram, I still prefer to take pen to card, so my communications necessitate my finding the local post office to purchase those colorful little adhesive squares to affix to the upper-right corner of my postcards. These are my favorites.
#1 Federal Building and Post Office (Brooklyn, New York)
A château in the Loire Valley? It’s easy to mistake the Federal Building and Post Office for something you might expect to spy in the French countryside. But this gorgeous structure happens to be my local post office, right on the edge of Brooklyn Heights. Completed between 1891 and 1892 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, it’s an architectural fantasy that makes waiting on line less painful. The corner tower immediately draws your attention, and then your eye is free to soak in the strong arches and mansard roof, the two tourelles, and the polished granite. Inside, a three-level logia supported by cast-iron columns surrounds a skylit atrium. Wonderfully proportioned and endlessly appealing, the sight of this post office always makes the walk home from the subway a little more pleasant.
#2 Glavna Pošta (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
The main post office in the capital of Slovenia is a commanding structure. Completed in 1896, the ochre-colored building features a beautiful three-story tower capped by a windowed dome with a clock topped by an eagle with outstretched wings. The roofline is dotted by statues, and the façade boasts lovely balustrades, festoons, Ionic pilasters, and medallions featuring post horns, lightning rod arrows, and city and state coat-of-arms. Strategically situated on the corner of a busy intersection, and directly across the street from my hotel here, I would pass by this magnificent edifice every day and never fail to be charmed by it.
#3 General Post Office (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
One of the most eye-catching buildings in Amsterdam — so unlike those lovely, slender canal houses — is also one of the largest. The massive former General Post Office faces the rear of both Niuewe Kerk and the Royal Palace, and, completed in 1899, could easily pass as a majestic palace itself. For nearly a century, this building processed the city’s correspondence, and the importance of that role is reflected in this grand structure. The brick exterior features two soaring central towers, with a couple of corner towers thrown in for good measure, and the long, steep mansard roof boasts dozens of highly decorated windows. In December, a three-story Christmas tree in the great hall, surrounded by two levels of arcades, greets those who enter the building in its repurposed role since 1992 — the Magna Plaza shopping center.
#4 James A. Farley Post Office (New York, New York)
The massive Old General Post Office, now named the James A. Farley Post Office, after the American politician and postmaster general under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, occupies two full city blocks in the heart of Manhattan. The building was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by the legendary architectural firm McKim, Mead & White. A flight of 31 stairs, stretching across the entire width of the building save for the two square pavilions at the end, leads up to the largest Corinthian colonnade in the world. Twenty columns support an entablature that bears the creed of the United States Postal Service: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” (which actually originated in ancient Persia, more than 2,000 years ago). Inside, ongoing rehabilitation and reuse have created a much more welcoming arriving to New York City with a new head house for Penn Station and a shopping arcade. But it’s the still-functioning post office section that captivated me. The southern pavilion contains a WPA mural of the Triboro Bridge during construction, while the northern pavilion bears another WPA mural, of the city’s skyline and waterfront traffic, as well as several bronze World War II honors roll plaques. Linking the two pavilions, the front reception hall and its painted plaster ceiling will command your attention while you’re buying stamps or sending a package. Divided into 10 sections measuring 28’ each, the elaborately carved ceiling features the national emblems or coats of arms of the 10 members of the Universal Postal Union at the time of the building’s construction, from 1911 to 1914, including the Kingdom of Italy, the Russian Empire, Austria-Hungary, and the bald eagle, 13 stars, arrows, olive branch, and shield of the United States.
#5 General Post Office (Dublin, Ireland)
Dublin‘s main post office is more than just the headquarters of the Irish Post Office; it’s a critical player in Irish history. Situated on busy O’Connell Street, the Georgian-style granite building was completed in 1818 with a beautiful Greek portico that has a highly decorated frieze and is supported by a half dozen fluted Ionic columns, referenced again behind them as six identical pilasters and topped by statues of Hibernia, Fidelity, and Mercury. During the doomed Easter Rising of 1916, Irish republicans staged an armed insurrection against their British oppressors and used the post office as their headquarters. Six days later, after the post office was shelled for a few days, the rebels surrendered and most of the leaders were executed. The façade is the only part of the building that remains, and I was still able to see the bullet holes in the walls from the uprising that foreshadowed Ireland’s eventual independence.