Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Historic post offices up for sale or already sold; National Trust, communities want them preserved

The U.S. Postal Service has been selling off post-office buildings as a way to save money and "downsize its retail network," Steve Hutkins of Save the Post Office writes. But The National Trust for Historic Preservation is stepping in to try and save some historic offices by collectively placing the buildings on its list of the most endangered historic places. The post offices include those in Geneva, Ill., La Jolla, Calif. (left), Gulfport, Miss. and Fernandina Beach, Fla.

The Trust said on its website that city officials and preservationists "find themselves frustrated by a lack of information and guidance from the U.S. Postal Service" when they find buyers for historic offices. "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 significant part of the nation’s architectural heritage will be at risk."

The USPS owns about 9,000 of its 32,000 offices, Hutkins writes. The others are in leased spaces. Of those it owns, about 2,500 are either on the National Register of Historic Places or are eligible to be listed. More than 1,000 post offices were built during the New Deal, including the one in La Jolla, and are significant for the murals and sculptures they contain, which Postal Service Historian Dallen Wordekemper said are "often prized more than the buildings themselves."

Many of the New Deal post offices have already been sold as of last year, Hutkins reports. USPS partnered with the largest commercial real-estate company in the world, CB Richard Ellis, to manage sales. About 80 post offices are listed for sale on a USPS real-estate website, and many are historic. At least 38 historic post offices in 19 states have been sold or put on the market, most of them in rural places. Eleven are in California, 4 are in Connecticut, and three each are in Pennsylvania and Illinois.

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