Technical Assistance

WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex

WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
-Farley Post Office
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
-Former Annex of Farley Post Office
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
-Mural Remnant
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex
WPA Mural Remnants At Former Post Office Annex

The Conservancy often gets asked to root out pieces of New York’s architectural history. The latest request brought us to the remnants of a large WPA mural by California artist Channing Peake in the former Farley Post Office Annex.

Mark Haefle of LA Magazine is writing an article on Peake. He asked if the Farley Annex mural still existed and, if so, could we please take photos. Peake (1910-1989) was a Cubist, Modernist and muralist. He studied with Diego Rivera in Mexico and afterwards attended the Art Students League in New York. There he met several prominent muralists including the Italian artist Federico (Rico) LeBrun, with whom he collaborated on the Farley Annex painting. The mural dates from 1936. It was originally planned as three separate panels. One depicting a Dust Bowl scene, one depicting the great river flood in Johnstown Pennsylvania, and another a harvest scene. Only the river flood scene was executed.

Technical Director Alex Herrera remembered the mural and took pictures yesterday, courtesy of the Moynihan Station Development Corporation. The mural is there…but in a rough shape. That is an interesting story in itself. It is testament to how difficult and technically challenging painting al fresco is. While many contemporary muralists painted their murals on canvas or directly on a dry wall, here the ancient al fresco technique was used wherein the artist sketches out the outlines of the image and then he or an assistant fills in the areas with tinted plaster. If done right, the pigments become a permanent part of the wall surface and the painting lasts for centuries, if done incorrectly, the paint layers starts to delaminate and flake off the wall. We understand from people familiar with the building that the paint began to fail just a few years after the mural was finished. At some point, the Post Office painted over the whole thing with grey paint. There were later attempts to remove the paint and expose the mural.

Herrera’s photos show the exposed under drawing of various figures, as well as patches of paint and mural scattered across the wall. It decorates the lobby of the annex inside the 33rd Street entrance between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Now it resembles New York’s version of Pompeii.

There are no firm plans for the annex but Peake’s mural remains an intriguing piece of history that deserves to be kept, even in its current condition.