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How the Former Hyde Park Post Office Transformed Into a Beloved Austin Neighborhood Hub

With a French restaurant, bookstore, and specialty grocer, Side Angle Side and Thoughtbarn helped create one of Austin’s most desirable destinations

Old Hyde Park Post Office turned into First Light Book Shop
First Light Book Shop in Hyde Park (photo by Brittany Dawn Short)

In the heart of Hyde Park, an architectural transformation has breathed new life into a once-vibrant community space for the historic neighborhood that has held onto its charm of yesteryears. The location that once held the Hyde Park U.S. Post Office has been reimagined by the visionary architects of Side Angle Side and Thoughtbarn into a bustling hub of gastronomy and camaraderie.

Old Hyde Park Post Office turned into First Light Book Shop
First Light Book Shop in Hyde Park (photo by Brittany Dawn Short)

The adaptive reuse project, which spanned over a year of meticulous renovation, saw the rebirth of a substantial portion of the post office building, originally built in 1967. Side Angle Side transformed the structure into a multifaceted 3,500-square-foot specialty market, bar, and café — Bureau de Poste at Tiny Grocer — that opened in October 2023. Furthermore, the architects added an expansive 1,500-square-foot outdoor dining area, effectively blurring the lines between interior comfort and alfresco relaxation.

Arthur Furman of Side Angle Side emphasizes the project’s dedication to preserving the design that defined the original post office’s character. “The Hyde Park U.S. Post Office had been an important neighborhood hub since the 1960s, so we were especially careful to keep the integrity and spirit of the mid-century utilitarian design,” explains Furman. 

The project’s evolution took an unexpected turn during the design process when Tiny Grocer owner Steph Steele advocated for including the 1,500-square-foot dining courtyard. Once an unassuming asphalt loading area, this space now flourishes as a vibrant outdoor café and wine garden, adorned with antique red brick paving, live oak trees, and a steel trellis. Adding a stucco restroom building and a linear steel planter provided the necessary infrastructure to transform the former loading area into an outdoor oasis.

Old Hyde Park Post Office turned into Tiny Grocer
Tiny Grocer in Hyde Park (photo by Brittany Dawn Short)

Annie-Laurie Grabiel of Side Angle Side elaborates on the team’s approach to honoring the building’s heritage while fostering community inclusivity. “Historically, post offices are centrally-located community hubs, so we understood the importance of maintaining the spirit of community in Tiny Grocer and Bureau de Poste,” says Grabiel. 

Collaborating closely with Steele, the architects aimed to cultivate an ambiance that exudes warmth and hospitality, resonating with the neighborhood’s ethos.

The architectural homage to the original post office shows in the meticulous preservation and integration of its structural elements. The exposed concrete floors and open-web joists, adorned with industrial lighting, evoke a sense of raw authenticity. At the same time, earthy materials such as terracotta tiles and stained wood accents pay homage to the building’s historical context.

Furman reflects on the project’s challenges, particularly the unexpected expansion of the restaurant. “The idea to make a full-service restaurant didn’t come up until halfway through the design process,” recalls Furman. “It was originally planned to be a simple grocery and café, similar to the South Congress location.” 

Bureau de Poste at Tiny Grocer in Hyde Park
Bureau de Poste at Tiny Grocer in Hyde Park (photo by Brittany Dawn Short)

Creating a courtyard was a difficult feat, but essential for outdoor dining and capacity. Through innovative design solutions, including the addition of a steel arbor with banquet seating and extra detached restroom facilities, the outdoor dining space seamlessly integrates into the project, now serving as its vibrant heart. 

Old Hyde Park Post Office turned into Tiny Grocer
Tiny Grocer in Hyde Park (photo by Brittany Dawn Short)

Next door lies First Light Books, an independent bookshop that opened last August and has already become a beloved community center. Thoughtbarn converted a 2,500-square-foot windowless brick box that previously contained the post office’s back-of-house into a bright, inviting space with an extensive book collection, lounge areas, and cafe. Generous steel windows, skylights to help define different areas of the store, and a custom oak storefront entry with a tiled porch achieve this beautiful haven. Visitors are invited to linger over a morning coffee or glass of wine, discover books that open up new worlds, and cozy up in the back corner to share stories with their children.

“The vision of First Light was born of years of travel spent lingering in the quiet corners of independent bookstores the world over,” says First Light owner, Robin Bruce. “Aesthetically, we wanted the space to echo what we all love about bookshops while elevating the hospitality and design experience. The stained glass window from our neighbor Blue Moon Glassworks is both whimsical and reverential, and the custom table and freestanding shelves by Muhly Design Studio ground the space in warmth and welcome.”

First Light Books in Hyde Park (photo by Brittany Dawn Short)
Enjoy the community atmosphere at First Light Books in Hyde Park (photo by Brittany Dawn Short)

With Bureau de Poste at Tiny Grocer and First Light Books now anchoring the space, the overall location serves as a nucleus for community engagement, offering a space for gathering, shopping, dining, and reading. Soon, Allday Pizza will open next to the bookstore, as well as Moogie Pilates behind it. The original exterior shell of the post office will house all of these exciting additions to the Hyde Park neighborhood, rounding out the intimate yet bustling community center. 

The Hyde Park U.S. Post Office’s transformation speaks to the power of architectural ingenuity and community collaboration. By marrying the site’s rich history with contemporary functionality, Side Angle Side Architects, alongside Thoughtbarn, have not only revitalized a beloved neighborhood landmark but also cultivated a welcoming space where past and present converge, fostering a sense of belonging and community cohesion.