Location: Las Animas
County: Bent County
Date Constructed: 1936-1938
Built by: Treasury Department
The Las Animas Post Office is a one-story plus basement, square plan building measuring 60’ x 60’. Resting on a concrete foundation, the building is constructed of buff brick laid in a variation of common bond (with one row of headers between every two rows of stretchers). Eight granite steps, framed by low brick walls, lead up to the building entrance. Double, wood doors with six-lights in the upper portion are located at the entrance. A porch has been added over the front steps. It consists of a hipped metal roof supported by two, square wooden posts. The windows are 8-over-8, wood-framed sash windows. Brick pilasters separate the windows on the north facade. The other sides do not have pilasters but have recessed panels beneath the windows. The window openings have limestone slip sills. A limestone lintel course runs above the windows, and there is a plain limestone cornice at the top of the wall. A hipped, metal roof covers the front third of the building and a flat roof covers the remainder. Construction plans and historic photograph shows that this is the original roof configuration. The plans describe the original roofing material as “standing seam metal roof.”
On the interior a wood and glass vestibule is located at the entrance. The lobby area has multi-hued brown tiled floors and wainscoting. Dark stained woodwork and molding accent the tile work. An original wood relief artwork is located on the east above the door to the Postmaster’s office. Titled “Kiowa Travois,” the image depicts three Kiowa Indians on horseback pulling travois. In the rear workspace, there is a wood floor and columns with wood wainscoting.
The Las Animas Post Office meets Criterion A for its significance in the area of Politics/Government for its association with President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislative agenda and the efforts of the federal government to bring America out of the Great Depression. The post office was not a project of a New Deal construction agency, but a direct relief project of the Treasury Department. The construction of new post offices was a way for the federal government to assist communities by helping the economy through the purchase of materials and creation of construction jobs. The relief project also provided Las Animas with its first purpose-built post office. It has been the only post office in Las Animas since it opened in 1938.
The Las Animas Post Office meets Criterion C in the area of Architecture as an example of small federal building designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect under the direction of Louis A. Simon. The style is simple, traditional, and restrained with high quality materials used, an excellent example of a federal building constructed during the Depression. The symmetry, massing, and formal appearance of the building clearly identify it as a federal building. It was the first federal building in Las Animas. The standardized federal design sets the post office apart from New Deal projects constructed by the WPA in southeastern Colorado. These work relief projects were predominantly designed in the Rustic Style and emphasized masonry craftsmanship. The interior of the post office retains an exceptionally high degree of integrity, with its original finishes and layout intact. The interior is an outstanding example of the standard interior plan of a 1930s era post office.
In the spring of 1936, the Las Animas Postmaster W.H. Harkrader met with several local business men to discuss the possibility of getting a new federal post office building for the town. At this time the government was renting space in the Odd Fellows lodge for the post office. This office had been criticized by postal authorities as the poorest second class post office in a four-state district and condemnation threatened. A letter was sent to Congressman John A. Martin asking for his assistance in securing a new post office. He replied that he would be glad to make the application for Las Animas. Just 34 days after receiving the letter from Las Animas, Congressman Martin was able to get the post office project included in the Post Office Department’s list of recommended building locations.
The new post office was a project of the Treasury Department. Like other federal agencies during the Depression, the Treasury Department was involved in relief projects. One of the simplest ways for the Treasury Department to provide a boost to the economy was through the construction of new public buildings, mostly post offices. During the 1930s, approximately three times as many post offices were built as has been built in the previous 50 years. Though this construction was funded through various programs, including many by the PWA, all post offices were under the control of the Treasury Department.
The post office was designed by the Treasury Department’s Office of the Supervising Architect. This office designed most federal buildings from the mid-1800s to the end of the 1930s. The office’s work ranged from grand courthouses in urban settings to small post offices in communities across the United States. The office had a staff of mostly anonymous architects working under the direction of a Supervising Architect. During the 1920s and 1930s, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), opposed the office, arguing that private architects could design superior buildings. While private architects where hired to consult on some larger buildings, smaller buildings continued to be designed by the office, which was seen as more economical. During the 1930s, the federal government sought to boost the economy and provide employment through the construction of federal buildings. This increase in federal construction encouraged the production of standardized plans to speed the design process. Louis A. Simon became Supervising Architect in 1934 after almost four decades working with the office. Considering the large number of building plans produced by the Office of the Supervising Architect, there is no way that Simon personally designed all the federal buildings constructed under his direction. However, most of the small post offices constructed during this period share a common layout, and Simon may have provided a basic plan that could be modified by staff architects for individual buildings.
Congress appropriated $75,000 for constructing and equipping the building. Bids on possible sites for the post office opened on July 13, 1936. Plans and specifications for the building arrived in June 1937. The cornerstone was laid on November 1, 1937 in a ceremony organized by the Las Animas Chamber of Commerce. The cornerstone material was quarried from Marble, CO. The Bent County High School Band performed and U.S. Representative John A. Martin gave an address. He told the crowd that “When Uncle Sam builds a post office building it is the best that can be built.”
The post office was completed in March 1938. An open house was held for the community to inspect the building, with an attendance between five and six hundred. The contractors said that the post office was the finest they had built. According to the Bent County Democrat, the post office was “equipped with the ‘spy’ or ‘peep’ system which permits the postal inspectors to enter the building and observe the activities of the employees without their knowledge.” Everything was modern, including Venetian blinds, correct time furnished by the Postal Telegraph Company, and an electrically cooled drinking fountain.
With the Great Depression, fewer people could afford to patronize the arts, severely impacting the careers of artists. The Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts provided employment by sponsoring artwork in federal buildings. Many of the post offices constructed during the Depression were decorated with murals or other artworks commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts. Funds for artwork were based on 1% of the total appropriation for the building’s construction. Artists were typically chosen through competitions. The judges did not know the sex of the entrants, providing equal opportunity to female artists. Federal art projects provided a boost to many women artists. One was sculptor Gladys Caldwell Fisher who designed the carved wood relief for the Las Animas post office. She was paid $750 for the piece. Some of Fisher’s other federal work included a pair of stone grizzly bears framing the entrance to the Yellowstone National Park post office and a pair of Rocky Mountain sheep framing an entrance to the U.S. Courthouse in Denver. Fisher was born in Loveland, Colorado and began to study under Colorado sculpture Robert Garrison at age 16. She continued her studies in New York and in 1930 was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1932 she returned to Denver and began teaching at Chappell House, where the Denver Art Museum was then located.