In February 1928, President Coolidge signed a bill appropriating $100 million for construction of new post offices across the country, including $450,000 for a new Reno post office and federal building. The postal service considered several sites, eventually purchasing the site south of the Truckee River between Virginia and Center streets. During this period, the Treasury Department’s Office of the Supervising Architect designed most post offices. This building was unique because the Postal Department hired a local architect and because that architect convinced them to approve plans for what would become Nevada’s only Art Deco post office.
Nevada’s Only State Architect
The Postal Department hired Frederic J. DeLongchamps, one of Nevada’s most prolific architects. DeLongchamps was born here in Reno, learning the building trades from his father, a carpenter, and studying mining at the University of Nevada, Reno.
After traveling to San Francisco to aid in the post-earthquake rebuilding, DeLongchamps returned to Nevada and began working as an architect. Despite no formal training (legend says he may or may not have apprenticed under an architect in S.F.), DeLongchamps spent two years on small projects before bidding to design the Washoe County Courthouse, which he won.
DeLongchamps ultimately designed nine county courthouses including two in California, major additions to the Nevada State Capitol, mansions for the Mapes family and George Whittell, and over five hundred other buildings. DeLongchamps won awards for his buildings at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Expositions in San Francisco and San Diego. DeLongchamps served as Nevada’s first state architect from 1919 until the position was eliminated in 1921. When Nevada governor James Scrugham reinstated the position in 1923, he appointed DeLongchamps to the position again.
A Marvel of Nevada Architecture
The McDonald Engineering Company commenced the building of DeLongchamps’s design in late 1932. Schools closed early and many businesses closed their offices for an hour on November 15 for the groundbreaking ceremony. The University of Nevada band played and Senator Tasker Oddie and local dignitaries spoke while Reno radio station KOH broadcasted the ceremony.
Completed in 1934, the building has been deemed “an outstanding example of a combined post office and federal office building for a medium-sized city.” And, according to its 1990 NRHP nomination, it is the sole post office built by the U.S. government in all of Nevada that has Art Deco/Moderne styling. DeLongchamps is also the only known Nevada architect to make extensive use of terra cotta as a building material, using it as the outer layer and incising it to resemble quarried stone. Inside features include walls paneled in black Georgia marble and casted aluminum detailings.