This may go nowhere (and I’m too lazy to look to see if something exists), but a chance to map Cutler mailing system mail chutes and/or boxes.
On Friday in the late afternoon I went to the National Louis University building on Michigan Avenue for a physical therapy assessment. When I left, I was thinking mainly of how to get home, so I didn’t pay attention to my surroundings.
I returned this morning and as I was leaving this caught my eye — another Cutler mailing system lobby box for my photo collection. There was a white plastic USPS bin next to it, but I’m assuming it’s still in commission. I wonder if I could use Google Maps to map these collaboratively. Hmmm.
I’ve been to Dog Days Ice Cream Parlor in Chesterton, Indiana, many times, but I hadn’t noticed this until a couple of weeks ago. My first thought was mailbox — where would they get mail? — but I was thrown off by the lack of markings. That is, the Cutler mailing system has many markings, including “U.S. Mail,” so I thought it must be a requirement for a mailbox. The medieval subject with the lions threw me off too. I can’t tell what the design means or what the near stick figures next to the lions signify.
I did a reverse photo lookup via Google and found out not only is it a mailbox, it’s more expensive than I would have expected, even on eBay. And somehow it’s “rustic” — guessing that refers to the finish since I have a “rustic” candle holder of similar finish. However it’s described, this seems to be a common mailbox. Now I wonder if I will notice it everywhere.
After taking holiday tea at the Drake in Chicago (how fancy that sounds!), I made a point of seeking out the Drake’s mail chute. It’s difficult to photograph. I’m sparing you the garish version with the flash.
Here’s a Cutler mail chute at the Merchandise Mart. I wonder if it’s brassy underneath the paint. The sticker looks old.
Related: Cutler mailing system with mail chute and lobby mailbox and A different mail chute
I updated the Relics: Mail chute post with slightly better photos and a new photo taken at the Garland Building in Chicago. I forgot to take a photo of the lobby box, but will. Someday. I wonder what is under the white paint, although I suspect hallway mail slots weren’t as fancy as the lobby boxes.
A couple of years ago in “Please Mr. Postman,” I marked the prolonged passing of the blue mailbox, no longer needed in the age of text messaging, mobile phones, and social media. Before USPS started carting the Chicago boxes off to rust at the central office (where I saw what seemed to be thousands lined up, with nothing to do and nowhere to go), another type of mail collection method had fallen into disuse — the mail chute, or Cutler mailing system.
The first mail chute I saw and used was at 200 South Riverside Plaza in Chicago, at my first job. The chute ran down the wall across the hall from the word processing room on the 37th floor. People still used it in 1983. Walking past it, I would be startled by the sudden whoosh of an envelope falling down the chute, presumably on its way to a receiving box. Sometimes, however, someone would ambitiously stuff, say, a 9″ x 12″ envelope into the chute, which had the same effect as boxes do in trash chutes — it would “gum up the works,” as my dad might have said.
I don’t recall if the mail chute was still in use when the company relocated to 203 North LaSalle Street in 1986. A contemporary blend of glass, steel, and atrium, this building probably didn’t have anything as quaint as a mail chute.
The Flamingo, which opened in the late 1920s, has a mail chute, although it’s closed off on the floors. I have no idea where it may have ended, as it’s on the same south wall as the elevators, while the mail receiving box in the lobby is on the north wall across from the elevators. Mail is collected from the receiving box once a day, ostensibly at 10 a.m., but it was afternoon the one time I saw the carrier come in to open it.
Authorized by P.O. Dep’t.
Installed under the Cutler Patents
Note that it’s not just a mail chute and mail receiving box, but the Cutler mailing system. Product pretentiousness isn’t a contemporary invention.
Added 2/19/2017: You can see more examples in New York City at Atlas Obscura and learn about why mail chutes were discontinued.
Added 5/12/2020: “Oh, chute!” from USPS News Link and “The city’s mail shafts are chock-full of good stories” from Crain’s New York Business. The latter is worth it for:
The mother of all mail-chute jams occurred in 1986 between the lobby and the basement of the McGraw-Hill Building at 330 W. 42nd St. Workers removed cinder blocks to rescue 40,000 pieces of mail, filling 23 postal sacks.Aaron Elstein, Crain’s New York Business