Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Functional Street Furniture: Pay Phones and Mail Boxes

Functional Street Furniture: Pay Phones and Mail Boxes

While crime, schools, traffic, pollution, and the like are constant concerns in the urban environments, sometimes it's the little things that make a difference.

For example, traditionally blue mail boxes and pay phones marked street corners across American cities, places where private communications happened more-or-less publicly.

Some months ago, Toby Weiss noted the on-street relationship between mail boxes and St. Louis Post-Dispatch vending boxes.

But both mail boxes and pay phones are disappearing from city streets at a rapid pace, falling victim to cost-cutting measures in formerly government-sanctioned monopolies (in the case of the post office, a government-run monopoly) and the nearly-ubiquitous nature of alternative communications technologies like e-mail and cellular phones.

Both are also victims of vandalism of various types, although that's always been the case. In recent years, pay phones have also come to be blamed for facilitating drug-dealing and prostitution activity, although the removal of incoming call acceptance capabilities has decreased that somewhat. In some places, pay phones are completely inactivated after midnight (much like many ATMs). I guess that's supposed to decrease illicit activity, although it makes them less useful in an emergency.

I know of no official, publicly-available listings of all locations of pay phones and mail boxes.

However, the Payphone Project and the Payphone Directory are interesting attempts at starting up a directory.

Similarly, the Payphone Project folks have used Google Maps to create a Mailbox Locator. Another similar map is available from Mailbox Map; it seems slightly more accurate.

One bizarre thing I've noticed about mailboxes in my neighborhood -- and there are not many -- is that they seem concentrated closer to the post office.

Indeed, there's only one mail box anywhere within the interior of Benton Park West: at the NW corner of Arsenal and California. But within a three block radius of the Benton Park Post Office on Jefferson near Gravois, there are four! Likewise, it looks like there are five mailboxes within three blocks of the Maryville Gardens Post Office, but very few in the rest of Dutchtown.

Our mail service is rather unreliable, including frequently torn, damaged or opened mail; indeed at one point we had complained so many times to the 1-800 number that the operator told us "our system cannot accept another complaint from you; maybe you should call your Congressman!"

So we do not even try to give outgoing mail to the carrier or put in our mailbox; usually, I just take it to work, where there's a post office one block away, or if I'm feeling really lazy (that is, most of the time) I just drop it in the drop box in the lobby.

I guess that's one of those "hidden costs" of urban life. My mom's mail carrier was always pretty reliable, but that was a rural route (although not in a rural area at all) in South County where mailboxes are along the roadside next to the driveways, rather than attached to the house.

Actually, perhaps because of the high mail volume that comes from the center of banking, government and litigation that is downtown St. Louis, the City of St. Louis has a pretty high density of post office locations. There just aren't that many blue mail boxes in the residential neighborhoods. Come to think of it, I only know of a handful of mail boxes on the downtown streets; mostly you have drop slots inside office building lobbies instead, many of which are still connected to the mail chute systems emanating from many stories above. (At least, I know that's the case at both 1015 Locust and 100 N. Tucker.)

For a long time, I didn't realize there's a post office in the ground floor of the Kiener Plaza West parking garage. It's called the Jefferson Memorial Station, at 111 N. 6th St. (There's also a Christian Science Reading Room next door at 115 N 6th St, another surprise. Pretty much the whole rest of the block is restaurants.)

But 63101 -- downtown -- actually has two post offices; besides Jefferson Memorial, there's also Henry W. Wheeler at 1140 Olive, the one I frequent (and where I had a P.O. box for a couple years). There used to be a third location, inside (not surprisingly) the Old Post Office -- but that relocated to Broadway @ Olive, and now seems to have closed entirely. 63102 has no post offices located within it; it is served by the two downtown branches. Then 63103 is home to the Main Post Office/Carrier Square, at 1720 Market (which I also used to frequent, when I had an account at the former St. Louis Postal Credit Union).

But it's surprising just how many post offices there are located in City neighborhoods. Maybe there are too many, given our population decline over 50+ years. But there's still a high volume of bulk mail and business mail, so perhaps it makes sense.

List of Post Offices in the City of St. Louis

** = Does Passport Applications

  • Jefferson Memorial, 111 N. 6th, 63101.

  • Henry W. Wheeler**, 1140 Olive, 63101.

  • Main Post Office**, 1720 Market, 63103.

  • Soulard, 1914 S. Broadway, 63104 (I wonder who goes to this location? It's kind of hidden, unless you frequent the shops on S. Broadway east of S. 7th St. in the Kosciusko area).

  • Benton Park, 2700 S. Jefferson, 63104.

  • Jordan W. Chambers, 901 N. Garrison, 63106 (Garrison @ Franklin in JeffVanderLou).

  • Fairgrounds, 4323 N. Grand, 63107 (inside National City Bank, the former N. St. Louis Trust).

  • Marian Oldham**, 4021 Laclede, 63108 (This was where I originally registered for Selective Service, on 12/18/1996, while in my senior year of high school nearby at Metro).

  • Chouteau, 4120 Manchester, 63110.

  • Tower Grove, 3198 S. Grand, 63118 (This is a very small, storefront post office that I think is very cool; used to stop and mail packages there a lot).

  • Maryville Gardens, 2920 Meramec, 63111 (A large facility, it delivers to all of 63111 and 63118. It was built in 1978 to replace two smaller, 1950s facilities, one on S. Broadway near Holly Hills and another on Meramec close to S. Grand now occupied by Vogel Heating & Cooling).

  • Eugene Field, 625 N. Euclid, 63108 (Another small, neighborhood commerical district branch where I used to walk frequently from the old Metro location at 5017 Washington).

  • Frederick N. Weathers, 3415 N. Kingshighway, 63115.

  • Gravois**, 4455 Ridgewood, 63116 (Kind of hard to find, but very busy).

  • Southwest**, 3232 Clifton, 63109 (Also, kind of hard to find, but serves two huge ZIP codes: 63109 and 63139).

  • Gwen B. Giles, 1409 Hamilton, 63112.

  • Baden, 8390 N. Broadway, 63147 (Probably the newest postal facility in the city.)

  • There are also mini-post offices at the Federal Center (4300 Goodfellow) and Washington University School of Medicine (4580 Scott), not to mention several post offices in St. Louis County that service portions of the city, such as the Maplewood Post Office at 2800 Marshall just south of Manchester.

    But good luck finding direct phone numbers for your local post office. That is difficult, at best.


    Anonymous said...

    "... guess that's one of those "hidden costs" of urban life"

    Or, it just may be your letter carrier. We have a great one -- who mostly unerringly sorts through the complicated mix of business and personal mail in our building and gets the right letters and packages into the correct mailboxes.

    Don't steal him.

    Anonymous said...

    There's a great mailbox locator at: It even gives the pickup times. (Note, however, the information was only obtained after filing a Freedom of Information request! You'll also enjoy the website owner's rant about disappearing payphones...around the world!)

    MattHurst said...

    this is great information. I've been doing documentary photography of pay phones since early June, so thanks for the resources for geotagging i've been needing