March 5, 2013
The 5th Street Post Office closed for business at noon on Saturday June 19. Over 90 people, including the grandson of the first postmaster, attended our rally that morning calling for the preservation of the building.
We are pleased to tell you that the Landmarks Commission has now reviewed the character-defining features of the building, including the lobby, and will formalize recommendations for the proposed covenant to protect the building at their meeting on August 12. After review by the Postal Service, the final draft of the covenant will be presented to Santa Monica City Council with a recommendation that the the City accept responsibility for enforcement of the covenant. Then the Post Office will be listed for sale. The covenant will provide the building with much the same protection as if it were a City Landmark.
Designation as a City Landmark is expected to take place when the building is in private hands and will make the property eligible for local preservation incentives.
Meet us at the Fifth Street Post Office (1248 Fifth Street) on its last day of operation at this convenient and very historic location.
The Conservancy strongly supports an appropriate new use of the structure, but we are very concerned that the Post Office is closing without any formal protection for its character-defining features. We share the community’s disappointment over the loss of the convenience of the Fifth Street location, but now we must focus on putting the needed protections in place or we could lose yet another important, iconic downtown building.
Please remember that Saturday morning is Farmer’s Market day and allow ample time for parking if you are coming by car!
In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation was so concerned about the lack of protection for the historic Post Offices that it named them to its annual list of endangered historic places. As soon as the U.S. Postal Service announced that it would sell the historic Fifth Street building a year ago, the Conservancy and others began advocating for the preservation of the building.
Built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Moderne building with Art Deco appointments opened with great fanfare in July 1938.
Every historic preservation consultant who has looked at the building considers it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The Post Office qualifies as a Santa Monica Landmark as one of three WPA buildings in the City, and is distinguished by its Art Deco-inspired features including the beautifully detailed paneling and the original lighting fixtures of the lobby. The cities of Glendale, Southgate and Santa Barbara have landmarked their post offices, but that has not happened in Santa Monica.
The Postal Service has proposed a protective covenant describing the important features of the building. Under Federal law, it must identify the entity which will preserve and protect the property by enforcing the covenant before the Post Office can be sold.
“The current draft of the covenant leaves out important character-defining features like the 1937 plaque commemorating the building’s dedication, and could be weakened further in the sale negotiations if the City is not proactive. It is important to ensure local control over the building’s future. The Landmarks Commission must better define the attributes of the building listed in the covenant and the City should agree accept enforcement responsibility,” notes Carol Lemlein, Conservancy President. ”We cannot wait until after the Post Office passes into private hands and then landmark it. This process takes time, during which unacceptable alterations could be made to the building. And once the Post Office is closed, the lobby is no longer a public space and the Commission loses its ability to protect the important interior features.”
The protection of the Post Office building is expected to be on the July 8 Landmarks Commission agenda, which should be posted on the City website by Friday July 5.
Click here to link to the KCRW interview with Carol Lemlein, Santa Monica Board President, about the Post Office.