St. Petersburg is known for many firsts. Tony Jannus flew the first commercial air flight ever recorded, flying from St. Petersburg to Tampa and back. It was also the site of the first railroad to come into the Pinellas Peninsula. But it’s also well recognized for its open-air post office, located at 1st Avenue North and 4th Street. It remains a unique design that’s not only practical but extremely ornate in its architectural appearance.
The open-air post office was the brainchild of Roy S. Hanna, one of St. Petersburg’s earliest postmasters. Believe it or not, the current structure was not the first open-air post office in St. Pete. Hanna initially tried his design in 1907 on Central Avenue and 4th Street. He wanted people to be able to check their mail boxes any time of the day or night. Plus, it made sense being open in the Florida summer heat. The current one was built a few years later in 1917 after St. Pete outgrew the first one. And people can still access their mail 24/7 even today.
Hanna didn’t necessarily have it easy getting the design he wanted. At first, federal postal authorities refused to pay for his open-air structure. Hanna had to convince them that it was worthwhile during the next postal convention held in St. Petersburg. Fortunately for Hanna and the city, they changed their mind. By the time a new post office was needed in 1915, Hanna had an easier go of it. Congress had approved a $102,500 grant to construct the new facility. Not only was this post office open on all 4 sides, Hanna submitted a Classic Mediterranean design for the building. It’s a big reason its has held its appeal more than a century later.
Though a third of the building was later enclosed, the open-air post office remains a unique aspect of St. Pete’s history. Prior to COVID, customers of the post office could go inside and tour the small postal museum. It has numerous relics of days past, including the first money order purchased by John C. Williams, Sr., one if the city’s founders. But even looking at it from outside, you can easily appreciate its unique and historic character. It’s just one of the many stops you can enjoy on the St Pete History and Heritage Biking Tours.