It was beautiful, unique and functional. The old Kingston Post Office was everything that a government office building should have been and used to be.
The brick-and-granite building with the distinctive semicircular façade was built in 1908 at Broadway and Prince Street, the work of James Knox Taylor, an architect who designed hundreds of now-esteemed federal buildings in his day. But in 1969, just past its 60th year, the building was deemed too small for the modern world, the land on which it stood too valuable to City Hall bean-counters. And so it was razed to make way for an up-to-date, property-taxpaying Jack in the Box fast-food joint.
This act of architectural murder still rankles in the memories of anyone who remembers the building or learns its sad story. The building’s demolition fed the city’s nascent preservation movement, whose best-known surviving manifestation is the Friends of Historic Kingston.
Last week, the Friends paid homage to the building’s memory at Montrepose Cemetery, where four of the building’s Ionic capitals were installed at the cemetery’s main gate. The capitals (concrete column tops) were donated to the Friends by the estate of the late Donald E. White, Jr., authenticated by art historian William B. Rhoads and finally installed at the cemetery by a long list of volunteers in a ceremony on July 2.
Signage at the site serves as a reminder not only of the building’s historic importance, but also as a warning and reminder for future generations: “The destruction of the Post Office and its replacement by a fast-food restaurant helped galvanize public opinion in Kingston and the region against the thoughtless destruction of our architectural heritage.” Blunt words; but if enough such words had been voiced in 1969, the old Post Office would be approaching its centennial today, its beauties preserved in stone and brickwork rather than memory.
And for anyone who doubts the importance of historical preservation in the face of cascading modernity, the Friends of Historic Kingston have issued two newly designed brochures that provide self-guided walking tours of the Stockade and Rondout National Historic Districts. The Stockade District walking tour brochure includes 50 tour stops that highlight the development of New York State’s third-oldest city and the birth of New York State in Uptown Kingston in 1777. The Rondout brochure includes 35 tour stops that reflect the rapid rise of the village into a prosperous maritime center with the opening of the Delaware and Hudson Canal in 1828.
It’s all part of the Friends’ ongoing effort to promote awareness of Kingston’s history and architecture. The free brochures are available at the Friends of Historic Kingston Gallery at the corner of Main and Wall Streets, the Visitor Center at 20 Broadway, the Senate House State Historic Site at 296 Fair Street, the County Office Building at 244 Fair Street and at local shops and businesses.