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Santa Monica's New Deal Era Post Office Building on the Road to Preservation

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

August 2, 2013 -- Despite losing the battle to keep Santa Monica's 75-year-old post office open, officials and residents are working to make sure the New Deal-era building sticks around a little longer.

City Hall, with the help of the Santa Monica Conservancy and the Landmarks Commission, is working closely with the U.S. Postal Service to make sure that when the Federal government sells off the multimillion dollar property in Downtown Santa Monica, the building won't undergo any dramatic changes.

And while the building cannot be designated a local landmark as long as it is still owned by the Federal agency, the Landmarks Commission is looking at ways to strengthen a covenant that would be written into the future sale agreement and would protect the building's historical characteristics.

“The (USPS) appears so far to be acting in good faith about the covenant and seems open to additions recommended by the Landmarks Commission,” said Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy.

But she added that a draft of the covenant, prepared by USPS officials, “is not very detailed about the features, inside or outside.”

At its July 8 meeting, the Commission reviewed the language drafted by USPS officials that would require anyone who bought the building to preserve much of it as part of the terms of the sale.

The Landmark Commissioners “are creating a more detailed description of the character-defining features inside and outside, which they will request to be included in the covenant,” Lemlein said.

It's still early in the process, said Richard Maher, a spokesperson for the USPS.

The building, which closed at the end of June, is still not on the market and the covenant is far from complete, Maher said, “so it's premature to comment on it.”

He did say, however, that the City is “a consulting party” in the process and that the USPS is “ anticipating input from (the Landmarks Commission) on the terms of the covenant.”

The Commission will refine its recommendations at its August 12 meeting and then pass them on to the City Council, but with a packed schedule, it could be months before the Council could look at the agenda, officials said.

It remains unclear how long the City has before the building goes on the market.

When the USPS shuttered its Venice Post Office, also a New Deal-era building, it took a year before the covenant was drafted and the building was sold, Maher said.

He added that the time frams varies from site to site and, unlike Santa Monica's building, the Venice building has a historic mural inside.

Both the Venice and Santa Monica post offices were closed as part of an overall attempt by the USPS to staunch a hemorrhaging budget.

Last year, the USPS defaulted on more than $10 billion in payments after a 2006 law passed by Congress mandated that the USPS prepay 75 years worth of employee pensions over the course of ten years.

Maher said that officials estimate that the USPS would save roughly $3 million in the next 10 years by closing the Downtown facility, in addition to the money made from the sale, which “would probably be in the millions.”

To offset the impact of the closure on residents, the USPS converted a sorting facility at Seventh Street and Olympic Boulevard into a full-service post office, much to the chagrin of some residents. (“Santa Monica Residents Resist Closing of Historic Post Office,” August 21, 2012)

Now that the battle to keep the post office open is lost, however, it's time to focus on preserving the building for future generations, said Landmarks Commissioner Roger Genser.

“We're talking details rather than concept,” Genser said, adding that the USPS seems to be on the same page as the Comission.

“Hopefully someone will buy it and respect the beauty of the building,” he said.

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