Around 1890, the officials who ran the Philadelphia District of the United States Postal Service were notoriously corrupt. Politically connected postmasters regularly violated civil service regulations as they mismanaged the postal stations. Eventually, they were forced to adopt a three year reform plan. Along with new appointees to administrative positions, the Postal Service constructed several new postal stations in developing neighborhoods.
In Ward 30, the Postal Service acquired the former J.J. Lines Varnish Factory at 18th and Webster Streets for the construction of a new Southwest Station. On December 28th, 1892, the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide announced the commission of architect J. Franklin Stuckert for a design. Stuckert had just previously designed another Philadelphia Post Office at 6th Street and Fairmount Avenue.
The opening of Southwest Station in June, 1893 coincided with the appointment of a new Philadelphia Postmaster, William Wilkins Carr.
The neighborhood continued to grow at the turn of the century and the volume of mail exploded. Southwest Station was re-named “Station D” under an overhaul of the nomenclature of stations in the Philadelphia District. By 1901, the Postal Service had expanded the station, taking the place of a row house at the northeast corner of 18th and Christian, and giving the station a new address, 1747 Christian Street.
Not So Totally Tubular
Talk of expanding the postal service’s pneumatic tube delivery system in Philadelphia to Station D had already begun, but the work to extend the tubes down to this location was not complete until November 23rd, 1908. It would become a major access point to the tube system and was heavily used by the along the Schuylkill Riverfront, the Washington Avenue freight railroad district, the Schuylkill Arsenal, the Powers-Weightman-Rosengarten Company (whose chemical plant is now Marian Anderson Park), Merchant & Evans, Martin’s Abbatoirs, and most notably, Standard Oil Works.
In January, 1917, Congress began to investigate the efficacy of the tube system. Station D was the southern terminus of the system and illustrated, along with the station in North Philadelphia’s Fairhill section, that due to the distribution of Philadelphia’s primary businesses along its outer edges, the pneumatic tube system worked better here than in other cities where the primary concerns making use of them were clustered together. Tests showed that correspondence sent over the tube from Fairhill Station to Station D took much less time to arrive than by truck. Congress didn’t buy it. In 1918, U.S. reps voted to defund the system.
With the tubes no longer in operation, the volume of mail they had supported nearly overwhelmed Station D. The Congressional Joint Commission on Postal Services report on the state of Philadelphia’s post offices in 1922 spoke of Station D on its list of congested stations, specifying this one as “entirely inadequate”–the same report that both recommended the return of the pneumatic tube service and lead to the eventual creation of the 30th Street Post Office.
African Americans and Station D
In 1942, the National Association of Postal Employees identified Station D as the only post office in Philadelphia that employed African Americans at its service windows. Station D was colloquially known as the “Negro Station.” Progressive as it was, Station D’s days were numbered. It closed at the start of 1944.
Later that year, the First African Presbyterian Church purchased the building and made it into the Presbyterian Hospitality Center, a meeting hall and event space run by the local congregation while it briefly occupied the now long gone Tabor Church on the opposite corner. The church altered the building by punching a new door into the facade. Not long after, the estate of E.P. Rotzell purchased the old post office and by 1951 had converted it into an auto parts and accessory store of the same name. The shop stayed open until the late 1960s, sharing space in the building at one point with a laundromat.
Alteration, Reuse, and Conversion to Residential Use
In 1969, the former post office was sold to Yoh Rokusan and leased by the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic three years later. The building went through a head-to-toe renovation, whereby the exterior was completely cleaned, the windows replaced, the utilities modernized, and all the interior walls replaced. The Philadelphia Child Guidance Center used the space as a childcare and child psychology center until the early 1980s. After that, the owner used the building for his personal storage until 1991 when it was briefly used as a daycare center.
By 2004, real estate developer Stephen Wagner purchased the building to convert it into five condominiums with tall ceilings and balconies. Wagner finished the building 2006.
Ironically, the area around 18th and Christian is even more underserved by the postal service today than it was in the late 1880s. The closest station that serves the neighborhood now is over a mile away at 2900 Gray’s Ferry Avenue.