ATLANTIC CITY - The post office's cornerstone bears the names of U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. and Postmaster General James A. Farley - the treasury secretary and postmaster general under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Those names have since faded into the past. Soon, the old post office will be history, too.

Parts of the 75-year-old landmark came crashing down Friday in a shower of bricks, concrete and steel as demolition crews began the task of clearing it out to make room for a road project.

Working together, two gigantic Hitachi wrecking machines with crab-like claws tore big chunks out of the brick exterior. Clouds of dust swirled in the air each time a section of the two-story building slammed to the ground.

Demolition is taking place at the rear of the building now. The post office's more notable fortress-like facade, fronting Pacific Avenue at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, will be razed in coming weeks.

"It's something to see, this building coming down in this way," said Bob Jones, 69, who lives on Georgia Avenue and has been an Atlantic City resident since 1955. "But there is one good thing about it. At least this project puts people to work. It's tough to find jobs in this bad economy."

The cornerstone from 1935 reveals that the post office was built during an even worse economic upheaval, the Great Depression. Officials are hopeful the cornerstone will reveal something else, a time capsule rumored to be tucked inside.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the state agency overseeing the demolition project, plans to salvage artifacts from the time capsule when the building is down. What may be inside remains a mystery.

Demolition and salvage crews spent the winter gutting the building. Anything of value was removed then, including four brass poles that stood outside the post office and two cement eagles once perched above a doorway. The CRDA wants to find a place where those items could be publicly displayed.

Also saved was a mural that dominated the post office's Pacific Avenue entryway. Painted on canvas, the artwork whimsically depicts Atlantic City's resort life and history.

Daniel Douglas, a CRDA spokesman, said the demolition work will cost $325,000 and take two or three months to complete. The CRDA, funded by revenue from Atlantic City casinos, paid $7 million for the post office through a $10 million deal with gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. The agreement also included money to tear down the building and for a road project.

Shortly after the building is gone, the CRDA will start construction on a widening project to transform a narrow stretch of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into two lanes in each direction between Atlantic and Pacific avenues. Other sections of the boulevard have already been turned into a four-lane corridor linking the downtown area with the Route 30 entryway.

Post office land not gobbled up for the road widening will remain empty until another use is found for it, CRDA officials said.

Directly across Pacific Avenue, between Indiana Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, is even more vacant land. That is the site where Pinnacle Entertainment imploded the former Sands Casino Hotel in 2007 to make room for a proposed $1.5 billion casino project that it has since abandoned. Pinnacle has put the property up for sale.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258