Venice community members have consistently highlighted their post office’s historic status when reasoning why the building should be preserved, but they are now hoping to make that identification official.
As the U.S. Postal Service awaits an appeal process to its decision to close the Venice Post Office at 1601 Main St., the Venice Neighborhood Council has supported a plan to nominate the structure for the National Register of Historic Places.
The Postal Service is proposing to sell the post office building and consolidate the retail operations with the carrier annex facility across the street at 313 Grand Blvd., which would be remodeled.
The post office building was constructed as part of a project of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), an agency of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal that employed millions to conduct public works projects across the country in the 1930s and early 1940s. Gracing a wall in the lobby is Edward Biberman’s “Story of Venice” mural, which depicts the early history of Venice with the image of community founder Abbot Kinney at the center. The artwork was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts of the United States and installed inside the post office in August 1941.
Venice residents have united in an effort to save what they believe is a community landmark, challenging the Postal Service’s plan on a variety of fronts. The most recent task is to validate the structure’s historical significance by applying for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We’ve been trying to save the post office in every possible way and this is one of the ways,” said Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks, whose board voted Dec. 20 to initiate the registry application process.
Community actions have also been successful in delaying the relocation, as the postal facility was taken off the market following an appeal filed by the Venice Stakeholders Association to the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Postal Service has suspended the project pending the PRC’s review, said Richard Maher, spokesman with the service.
Neighborhood council leaders were quick to point out their reasons for seeing that the post office be considered for the historic registry. Lucks noted that the building along the Windward Circle was part of Venice’s former town center and is noteworthy as a product of the WPA as well as for showcasing the Biberman art piece.
“These buildings are some of the treasures of our country,” she said of WPA-era structures.
Neighborhood council vice president Marc Saltzberg, who said he also has concerns about a decline in service at the annex site with a drop in the number of customer windows, called the post office an “iconic” building that must not be lost.
“The building is part of our Venice landscape and part of our history. It’s part of what makes Venice Venice,” Saltzberg said.
“What we’re trying to do is preserve something that is of value to the character of Venice.”
Local elected leaders including Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Venice) and Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl have stressed the need to ensure that the postal building’s historic characteristics are maintained.
The application process for the national registry typically starts with the state Historic Preservation Office, which makes a recommendation of a property to the national office. Properties are evaluated at the national office based on their age, integrity and significance, such as if they are associated with historic events or activities, or connected with important people. The office also considers issues such as architectural and landscape history.
Neighborhood council member Amanda Seward, an attorney who is working on the post office’s application, said she is continuing to do research and hopes to have the submission to the state office completed within a month. Seward, who prepared the application to the California Register of Historical Resources for the Lincoln Place apartment complex, said she is applying to the national board for the post office because it is a federally owned property and its architect, Louis Simon, is nationally recognized.
Simon designed a number of post offices across the country in the WPA era, as well as the U.S. Court House in downtown Los Angeles. Other factors that contribute to the Venice Post Office’s historical stature are its connection to the former town center and the mural it contains that is reminiscent of the early days of Venice, Seward said.
“It’s the combination of all of those things that make this a special building,” she said.
The experience of walking up the steps into the historic building and viewing the Biberman artwork on the wall is something that Seward believes can’t be reimagined at another property.
“It feels like a post office; it feels like a town center. I don’t see how they can capture that in the annex,” she said.
Maher of the Postal Service said he wasn’t aware of the community’s application to the historic registry, but noted that the agency has always intended to treat the building as historic during the relocation process. Whether or not the post office is approved on the national historic register, its historic characteristics will be maintained through covenants conveyed to the future buyer as an attachment to the building’s deed, Maher said.
“We would’ve treated the building the same if it was actually on the register or whether it was eligible to be on the register,” said Maher, adding that the registry status would likely not affect the relocation plans. “It’s something we’ve made clear from the beginning with this Venice project, that the building and the artwork would be preserved.”
Venice residents noted that while the national registry approval may not change the Postal Service’s plans, it can help ensure that the building and its mural are preserved and place limits on what a future developer might do.
“I think it would go a long way toward guaranteeing that no one would raise the building or change what it would look like,” Lucks said.
Saltzberg added, “It just strengthens the argument that the character of the building should not be changed.”