Citizens protest at the Downtown Berkeley Post Office.
Despite growing public protest, the U.S. Postal Service is moving apace to sell the public’s historic post offices.
This summer, the Postal Service added four more post offices on the National Register of Historic Places to its “For Sale” list: California’s La Jolla Wall Street Post Office, built in 1935; New York City’s Old Chelsea Station Post Office and the Bronx General Post Office both built in 1937; and the Main Downtown Post Office, in Berkeley, California, which, in spite of a year long campaign to keep the century-old building in the public domain, was recently slated for sale.
Recently, the beautiful and historic post office in Venice, California was sold to a movie producer. Another Hollywood movie maker is said to be interested in purchasing the Santa Monica, California, post office, which closed in June.
The Art Deco Moderne Santa Monica, California, Post Office, is up for sale.
Like many other endangered post offices, these buildings contain unique New Deal artworks.
Last week, the California Legislature passed a resolution urging Congress to enact the Postal Protection Service Act of 2013. The act would repeal the mandate Congress adopted in 2006 requiring the Postal Service to prefund 75 years worth of retiree health benefits over 10 years–essentially driving the postal service toward bankruptcy. Sponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders-VT and Rep. Peter DeFazio-OR, the Postal Protection Service Act would allow the USPS to provide new services, prohibit cuts to Saturday service, and keep historic post offices open.
During the 1930s the federal government put thousands of people to work building the nation’s postal system. In big cities and small towns alike, New Deal post offices are among the most artful, architecturally distinguished, and beloved buildings.“Apparently the country is done with that kind of idealism,” notes Gray Brechin, geographer and Living New Deal Project scholar, “Rather than building beautiful public places, the federal government is selling them off.”
Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places are afforded some protection—their exterior must be preserved. But once sold the buildings are often gutted. In at least one case, a 1937 post office in Virginia Beach, Virginia was demolished to make way for a Walgreen’s.
The National Historic Preservation Act ensures public access to public artwork, but when post offices are sold the murals and sculptures often are removed to storage. Even when the art remains in place, it’s up to the new owners whether the public may view it.
The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act which Congress adopted in 2006 represents a trend toward privatizing the public domain–from roads, schools, fire and police services to prisons and parks. The act is directly responsible for $4 out of every $5 in Postal Service debt—forcing the Postal Service to cut services and sell many of its most valuable properties.
CB Richard Ellis, a giant commercial real estate firm, holds the exclusive contract to sell postal properties worth billions. CB Richard Ellis’ chairman is Richard Blum, a University of California Regent and the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein. So far, the press has shown no interest in investigating how that contract was awarded, nor its terms.
For a list of endangered post offices go to: http://www.savethepostoffice.com