Monday, February 1, 2010

New Deal Masterpiece in Miami Beach

The final installment of my post-Christmas trip to South Florida series reveals a bit of good fortune as I stumbled across the Miami Beach Post Office. The "Depression Deco" or "Depression Moderne" beauty was built in 1937 and restored at the end of the 1970s. The Miami Design Preservation League website explains "Stripped Classic or Depression Moderne was a sub-style often used for governmental buildings, the U.S. Post Office being the best example in Miami Beach." Inside the building are three New Deal murals depicting "Episodes from the History of Florida" painted in 1940 by WPA artist Charles Russell Hardman.

State Archives of Florida

The lobby is a round and in the center is a fountain that appears to be inoperable. Above is an incredible light fixture with sun rays emanating from it against a brilliant teal background. The murals are positioned at the rear of the round space, so my photographs have a pretty funky perspective. Going from left to right, the first image is "Discovery" featuring Ponce de Leon and a few Indians engaged in a peaceful meeting. The long center panel is "De Soto and the Indians" showing the Spanish explorer fighting the native Floridian tribes. The final panel is called "Conference" and features a soldier (Jesup) negotiating with the Indians.

I am always fascinated to find evidence of Florida's European discoverer intact in historical locations. In the 20th century, Ponce de Leon was featured far more prominently than he is today, and he pops up in the most interesting places, even South Beach.

I couldn't find much about the artist Hardman, only a similar New Deal mural he painted in Alabama. Nancy Lorance explains that most of the Post Office works of art were funded through commissions under the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture (later known as The Section of Fine Arts) and not the WPA.

"Often mistaken for WPA art, post office murals were actually executed by artists working for the Section of Fine Arts. Commonly known as "the Section," it was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department. Headed by Edward Bruce, a former lawyer, businessman, and artist, the Section's main function was to select art of high quality to decorate public buildings if the funding was available. By providing decoration in public buildings, the art was made accessible to all people." from "Articles from EnRoute: Off The Wall: New Deal Post Office Murals" by Patricia Raynor."


"DeSoto and the Indians"


Guntersville, AL Post Office"Indians Receiving Gifts from the Spanish"painted in 1947 by Charles Russel Hardman - One of the last murals painted during the New Deal. © 2004 Nancy Lorance

Black and white images from the
State Archives of Florida


  1. very cool! I was just wondering the other day if there were any Retro Roadmap worthy post offices out there, your post makes me say hooray, there's at least one!

  2. Betty- Most of the remaining WPA murals in Florida are in Post Offices; the one in Lake Wales Florida has a great mural too!