Post Office Portales’ first New Deal

Thomas Garcia

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about New Deal/WPA projects in Roosevelt County marking the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan to pull America out of the Great Depression.

The United States Post Office in Portales is one of several buildings in Roosevelt County that was built as part of the New Deal/WPA funding approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The red brick building on East First Street was the first to be built in the county using the federal funding.

“The old post office used to be located across the square,” said Joe Blair, long-time Portales resident. “I was 11 years old when they started the construction of that (present day) post office.”

According to Blair, a 32-room hotel with one indoor bathroom used to stand where the post office was built; it was called the Portales Hotel. In the road in front of the building was an obelisk about 15 feet tall, which had the mileage to Roswell and El Paso on one side and the mileage to Clovis, Amarillo and Lubbock on the other, Blair said.

“At the time the street in front of the post office was called Liberty Street,” Blair said. “It was the main highway in and out of Portales.”

Construction on the post office was completed in 1937 and in July 1938 a mural entitled, “Buffalo Range,” painted by Theodore Van Soelen was added to the interior of the post office.

“Those murals, which are in many buildings in Portales ,were part of FDR’s Federal Arts Project,” Blair said.

The post office is a classic revival architecture style building that was built on a raised basement and its plain red brick exterior was the style commonly used in federal buildings in the west in that period, according to the book “Treasures on New Mexico Trails, Discover New Deal Art and Architecture,” compiled by Kathryn A. Flynn.

“Kathryn is a great friend of mine and she gave me the book that she compiled about New Deal projects in New Mexico,” Blair said.

The post office filed for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. In that application the documentation of the building’s significance for Portales included the mural, and it construction by New Deal Funding in 1937. It also noted an addition completed in April 1966.

“In many comunnities these building are well maintained serving their community and are historic properties,” said State Historic Preservation Officer, Katherine Slick.

“The New Deal was such an amazing social and economic boost for this country when it was needed in areas like rural New Mexico,” Slick said. “The 75th anniversary is a chance to recognize the crafstmanship, worksmanship and legacy left behind.”

Slick said New Mexico governor Clyde Tingley knew how important it was to provide jobs across the state in areas like in Portales and not just at Conchas Dam, which was the largest New Deal project in eastern New Mexico.