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Historic Santa Monica Post Office Closes Next Week

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

June 21, 2013 -- Residents who showed up Thursday morning to get their mail might have thought that the historic Downtown Santa Monica post office, which will be shuttered for sale, closed a week early.

They were greeted by a hand-written notice on the door explaining that Southern California Edison -- the power company -- had shut off power to the 75-year-old building a week ahead of the scheduled June 29 closing date.

Santa Monica Main Post Office
Photo by Jason Islas

When asked if the US Postal Service (USPS) had neglected to pay Edison, spokesperson Richard Maher told The Lookout, “We are in a financial crisis, but we are still paying our bills.”

In fact, Thursday morning's power snafu -- which had postal workers using flashlights to put people's mail in the correct P.O. Boxes -- had nothing to do with the impending closure of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) era building.

“Edison had a transformer problem,” said Maher, “and the Santa Monica Post Office at 1248 5th St. has been without power all day.”

“The doors are on an electronic lock system and PO Box customers could not access their mail,” he said.

Edison's transformer problem coincided with USPS’ officials announcement of the closing date of the Fifth Street post office.

Officials also announced that, starting July 1, all services that had been offered at the Fifth Street post office will be available at the new location on Seventh Street, north of Olympic Boulevard.

Santa Monica Main Post Office Sign

“P.O. Box customers will have the same P.O. Box number and ZIP Code, as well as the same key since the boxes will be physically moved into the new facility,” Maher said.

The new building, a sorting facility that the USPS converted into a fully-functional post office, will also be open the same hours and staffed with the same number of employees, save for one managerial position.

Closing the historic Fifth Street property is just one step that the USPS is taking to stem its financial hemorrhaging.

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 Maher said “would probably be in the millions.”

Photo by Zina Markevicius

Still, compared to the more than $10 billion in payments the USPS defaulted on last year, that amount is a drop in an ever-deepening bucket, since a 2006 law passed by Congress mandated that the USPS prepay 75 years worth of employee pensions in ten years.

As a result, the USPS has been closing up and selling off its most valuable post offices around the country, including the Venice Post Office, built in 1939.

Like the downtown Santa Monica Post Office a few miles north, the Venice Post Office was also a product of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's WPA, a concerted effort to get Americans back to work after the darkest days of the Great Depression.

“Working with the State Historic Preservation Officer and his staff,” Maher said, “the Postal Service will ensure the historic characteristics of the building are maintained through covenants conveyed to the buyer as an attachment to the deed.”

Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, reaffirmed Maher's position, adding that the Federal government requires that a protective covenant be written into the contract.

Still, opponents of the closure say that this decision shouldn't be just about dollars and cents.

Last summer, USPS officials received more than 100 written comments from the community, many of which opposed closing the post office.

In October 2012, Congressman Henry Waxman wrote an official letter protesting the closure, all to no avail.

According to officials, there are still no prospective buyers for the building.

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