August 29, 2013
At its August 27 meeting, the City Council approved a preservation covenant for the former Post Office building at 1248 5th Street and assumed responsibility for the enforcement of the covenant. This cleared the way for the Postal Service to put the property up for sale, and the sign went up on the Arizona Street side of the building the next morning.
The Conservancy Board of Directors strongly supported this action by the Council, which addresses concerns that the Post Office might have been sold without a mechanism in place to prevent inappropriate alterations to the building. The new owner will be required to submit any proposed changes for the exterior and the lobby for review, as would be required of any structure designated under our Landmark Ordinance. The covenant’s description of the building’s character-defining features was developed by the Landmarks Commission, which is expected to nominate the building as a City Landmark once it is privately owned. This action will make the property eligible for preservation incentives such as the Mills Act.
Since the Postal Service announced its intention to close the Downtown Post Office over a year ago, the Santa Monica Conservancy has played an active role in opposing the closure and insisting on detailed plans for the preservation of the building. When appeals of the decision to close the Post Office were denied, the Conservancy was granted Section 106 Consulting Party status, giving us an advisory role in the process for determining conditions on future alteration of the building. We have made numerous statements to the Landmarks Commission urging a proactive role in protection of the building and expressing our support for the City’s assumption of responsibility for the covenant. The City of Los Angeles did the same when the historic Venice Post Office was sold in 2012.
The Conservancy has also made every effort to make the public aware of the process which was taking place and the importance of protecting the structure in any future adaptive reuse. A Conservancy rally at the 5th Street location on its last day of operation drew nearly 100 people, some of whom were unaware that the facility was to be closed.
Santa Monica is a city that prides itself on preserving its historic places. The Post Office building, as one of three Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects in the City, is an important a part of our history. The City’s acceptance of responsibility for the covenant ensures that the building’s future adaptive reuse will retain its historic character and will continue to communicate the story of the WPA era to our community.