The history behind 420 Main Street
August 18-24, 2014
By Molly Baltzer
The North Little Rock Post Office, now known as the Argenta Branch-William F. Laman Public Library, was built in 1931 to 1932 and holds a great amount of history. In 1983 the post office was listed on the National Register of Historic places.
The post office relocated many times to different buildings on Main Street, which was once known as Newton Avenue in honor of Thomas Willoughby Newton, Sr. The post office was originally located in the Lemmer Block, then moved to the Faucette-Cook Building at 421 Main Street and remained there from 1895 to 1899. The post office then moved to 114 W. 4th before heading to 119 Main Street, and eventually, back to the Lemmer Block. Finally, the post office found a semi-permanent home in the Matthews Building located on the 200 block of Main Street. This semi-permanent home was destroyed on Jan. 13, 1918 when a fire damaged the entire southern half of the building and contents of the post office.
The fire damage forced the post office to move, yet again, to a storefront in the northern half of the Matthews Building located on 218 Main Street. The post office remained in this location until the building at 5th and Main was complete in 1932, where the post office later moved. North Little Rock mayors William Burns and Ross Lawhon urged for the construction of a new, stand-alone post office building, and believed 5th and Main was the ideal location.
The mayors made headway, and the city park site at 5th and Main Street was selected for this new stand-alone building. Construction by the Little Rock architectural firm of Thompson, Sanders and Ginocchio began in 1931. General contractors from The McGregor & Pickett Construction Company of Little Rock also contributed, creating a hype surrounding the new post office basement to all of Little Rock.
According to the North Little Rock Times, more than 2,000 people showed up to watch a large steam shovel dig up the soon to be basement of the post office. The same intrigued crowd returned the next day to watch the process continue.
On Dec. 17, 1932 the new and improved post office building opened. Ross Lawhon was the first postmaster of the city and also served as North Little Rock mayor and Pulaski County judge.
The post office received positive feedback from all over Little Rock. The North Little Rock Times ran a two-page advertisement praising the new post office and the city’s postmaster. The article read, “North Little Rock’s new post office building, located at Fifth and Main streets, is one of the most pretentious in the business section of the city. Its construction gave to this city its first post office building, and with this building came the separation from Little Rock ... The new post office building provides every modern facility for the handling of postal matters … North Little Rock is proud of her new post office ... .”
Architecture of the post office was designed in the Colonial Revival style, which was a popular style for most post offices in the 1920s and 1930s. “Colonial Revival” is the entire rebirth of interest in the earl English and Dutch house of Atlantic seaboard. Features of this style included symmetrical façade, multi-pane windows, accentuated front door and end entrance portico supported by Corinthian columns.
Two small storage rooms were located on the south end of the basement, and what is today the railroad room was once another large storage room across the west wall. An even larger room was placed along the east wall for the boiler, which originally steamed heat, and the parcel sorting area. Today, that room is known as the auditorium.
The first floor, or the main floor, included features like the finance division room, the main stairwell and the postmaster’s office. The postmaster’s office had it’s own private restroom and vault that remain in the building today.
The vault in the postmaster’s office held the master stamp stock for the entire city of North Little Rock. This entire collection was worth several thousands of dollars, therefore, a pistol was always kept on the counter in case of robbery.
Inspectors were able to stop by the post office unannounced at any time and utilize the lookout galleries or “inspector chutes” to prevent stealing. On the second floor these “inspector chutes” could view almost every room through a series of small, narrow openings. The room was painted black with push button lights to guide the inspectors to the viewing holes. The purpose of the lookout galleries was to make sure no one stole stamps, items or money from packages.
In 1962 the postmaster at the time, Gene Burks, announced to Little Rock that the main post office would, again, move to a different location on Pershing Avenue in the Military Heights Urban Renewal area. The move occurred in July of 1965 where it became a branch post office. On June 15, 2012 the U.S. Postal Service closed down the historic North Little Rock downtown post office where it would soon be known as the Argenta Branch-William F. Laman Public Library System.
The historic building was bought for $775,500 on Sept. 30, 2012. The old post office began renovation on March 5, 2013 and the grand opening was a little over a year later on April 5, 2014.
Today the library, located on 420 Main Street, has 15,300 square feet of public space with features of a large children’s department, computer lab, exhibit hall and gallery, 140-seat auditorium, meeting room, and a vending area with seating. The library has over 12,000 books for children, teen and adult readers. The renovations of the building aimed to improve the building’s structure, however, many of the original features from the post office still remain.
Information from “Sandwiching in History” program by Rachel Silva from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program