Unique From the Outside In

When Frederic J. DeLongchamps designed the Reno Downtown Station, what is now Fifty South Virginia, he created one of the most unique and well thought out architectural achievements the state had seen. A classic piece of Reno’s landscape, DeLongchamps’s design featured many firsts for federal buildings during his time. This construction photo, taken May 3, 1933, shows the Reno Post Office (Downtown Station) in the framing stage of construction. As you examine the second floor platform of poured concrete being complete, you may note the Truckee River in the background.

A board-formed, poured-in-place concrete foundation and steel frame makes up the primary construction method. The exterior of pale green terra cotta incised to resemble quarried stone was applied in a grout and metal anchorage technique, clearly visible in photos taken during the period of construction. Use of terra cotta in such quantity is unusual on a standard federal building, as it was primarily used for detailing on sills, belt courses, and cornices.


DeLongchamps is also the only known Nevada architect to make extensive use of terra cotta as a building material. Architectural styles of the Depression Era (approximately 1930–1941) tended toward modern, simplified buildings, such as the “stripped classical,” especially in regards to federal buildings constructed during that time.
The U.S. government sought to standardize plans for structures such as post offices in an effort to reduce costs associated with construction. The Office of the Supervising Architect based plans on the functional needs of a post office and the volume of business conducted at an individual location, and rarely incorporated a particular regional style. While Depression-Era post offices retained the Beaux Arts symmetry and proportions of their postal predecessors, they featured little or no ornamentation.


What remained was a basic rectangular box with a flat façade and moderate detailing suggesting classical elements in the most rudimentary form. However, excellent quality of construction was essential, a symbol of the stability of the federal government.