While traveling around the U.S. many historic sites include old post office buildings. The historic appeal of some of these structures has to do with their architectural style, the era in which they were constructed and some of the unique artwork found on their walls and ceilings.
While these buildings were built to handle mail, some indeed are more like living museums and are important to a communities history. Some are in historic districts and are visited by tourists.
The USPS idea of selling off post office buildings has met with solid opposition from preservation groups from coast to coast. The sales were going to go ahead without adequate time for public comment and fortunately this opposition has had some positive effect.
The Need For Money Meets the Need For Historic Preservation
The USPS has been putting post office buildings, many quite historic, on the selling block along with an effort to cut back mail delivery to five days a week to help save an estimated $20 billion over the next several years. Their plan to sell some of the larger buildings raises cash faster but the downside of course is that many of the larger facilities have a lot of history attached to them.
Architecture Heritage At Risk
Local post office buildings have traditionally played an essential role in the lives of millions of Americans. Many are architecturally distinctive, prominently located, and cherished as civic icons in communities across the country.
Unless the U.S. Postal Service establishes a clear, consistent process that follows federal preservation law when considering disposal of these buildings, a large part of the nation’s architectural heritage will be at risk.
What is key in this controversy are the historic buildings planned for sale and the fact that some are planned for sale to developers. The U.S. Postal Service is required to take several steps before actually selling a building. After announcing their intent to sell a property, it is required to hold a public meeting and a comment period for feedback.
Only after this is completed is the USPS allowed to make a final decision about selling. In this respect, some in the opposition feel that due process has been worked around. Others protest the dual roles that developers have had in the actual sale of buildings. On the flip side of this and a major concern for the USPS, holding on to an old building no matter how historic it might be requires a lot of funds for it’s upkeep.
Bronx General Post Office
One very historic structure is the Bronx General Post Office, and it’s beautiful murals by artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn which, was built during the Great Depression as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The USPS believes that the Bronx Post Office has a value of around $14 million. The building went on the market in January 2014.
It was announced in September 2014 that Youngwoo & Associates has purchased the historic Bronx General Post Office.
Berkeley California Post Office Building
The Berkeley Post Office building is located within the city’s Civic Center Historic District and was built in 1914-1915 in the Renaissance Revival-style. The historic post office lobby has a mural by Suzanne Scheuer depicting Berkeley’s history and a limestone bas-relief by David Slivka on the exterior arcade wall are two examples of New Deal-era works of art.
In regards to the building’s sale, Berkeley residents have shown up in droves to city council meetings and hearings with the postal service to voice their concerns. Some city officials, including Mayor Tom Bates, have thrown their support behind efforts to fight the sale of this iconic Berkeley California structure.
As of September 9, 2014, The Berkeley City Council passed a Zoning Overlay. After a second reading at the next Council meeting, the Zoning Overlay Ordinance will become law. The Berkeley Zoning Overlay provides protections for the Post Office, Old City Hall, and our historic Civic Center against commercial development.
Philadelphia Main Post Office
This very historic post office building in Philadelphia was sold to the University of Pennsylvania for $50.6 million. now is planning to sell the iconic building to Brandywine Realty Trust, owner of the nearby Cira Centre, for $20 million.
Brandywine Realty Trust completed a $252 million renovation of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Main Post Office, converting the building into office space. While taking on one of the largest historic rehabilitation projects in the nation, Brandywine modernized and retrofitted the building while maintaining its designation as a national historic site.
Brandywine also built a $90 million parking garage to support the new office space, and serve future development.
The National Trust For Historic Preservation
The National Trust For Historic Preservation has outlined goals regarding the sale of post office buildings. These are as follows…
- Work directly with the U.S. Postal Service and other federal agencies to develop a consistent, public process that follows established federal preservation law and protects those historic post office buildings identified for closure or sale.
- Promote and support successful advocacy campaigns for saving post offices around the country.
- Identify and encourage sensitive and appropriate reuses for post office buildings.
- Support policy and legal solutions that encourage the preservation and reuse of post offices nationwide.
For more information on the status of post office building sales, see website http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/11-most-endangered/locations/historic-post-office.html
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While the USPS has an urgent need to cut losses and raise money, we believe that the sale of old post office buildings, particularly one’s that have high historic value, must be approached with preservation concerns high on the list.
(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Photos in the public domain)