In what could be perceived as a daunting task, Venice residents are fighting a federal agency’s plan in hopes of saving a historic building and the public’s access to a storied artwork.
The U.S. Postal Service received authorization last month for its proposal to relocate retail operations from the historic Venice Post Office building at 1601 Main St. approximately 400 feet away to the Venice carrier annex property at 313 Grand Blvd. Citing a need to consolidate operations nationwide with a drop in mail volume, postal officials stress that the move would generate much-needed income for the Postal Service and save over $1.3 million in operating costs over the next 10 years.
The plan would not have any impact on mail delivery to residents or businesses, and the addresses of Post Office Box holders would remain the same, officials noted.
“This is something that we are looking at nationwide,” said Richard Maher, spokesman for the Postal Service in Los Angeles.
“There was an opportunity here, with two facilities in very close proximity to each other, and we have excess capacity at the facility at Grand. It will be an easy relocation in that the facilities are so close to each other.”
But local community members, including the Venice Neighborhood Council and the Venice Stakeholders Association, have expressed concerns with the planned closure and sale of the historic Post Office building, which was constructed under the Work Projects Administration (WPA) and contains a 1941 mural by renowned artist Edward Biberman. The “Story of Venice” mural was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts of the United States and depicts the early history of Venice with the image of community founder Abbot Kinney at the center.
Some residents have also taken issue with the proposed transfer to the annex site nearby, arguing that it would intensify the use of that property and create increased parking problems and other impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.
Maher said public appeals to the proposal must be postmarked by Friday, Aug. 5 and the Postal Service plans to address the appeals before moving forward.
The Venice Neighborhood Council voted July 28 to approve a motion opposing the relocation of retail operations to the annex facility and expressing support for preserving the historic Post Office structure and the “Story of Venice” mural. The board additionally recommended that the postal agency not take any action until a comprehensive plan is created with community input and addresses the impact of the move on the residential area, as well as the Post Office and mural.
“It’s part of the fabric of the town center of Venice,” neighborhood council President Linda Lucks said of the WPA structure.
In a letter to Diana Alvarado, vice president of Postal Service Pacific facilities, Lucks wrote that the relocation jeopardizes the preservation of the Post Office, which is believed to be the only WPA structure in Venice, and public access to the Biberman mural.
“The proposed relocation will have an adverse and negative environmental impact on the residential neighborhood surrounding the annex and on the historic urban planning of Venice,” Lucks wrote.
Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, believes the postal authorities are pursuing an option that is easy for them and saves the agency money but is “insensitive” to the surrounding neighbors. The consolidation plan would create added parking problems for the area and bring retail operation impacts to the annex site, said Ryavec, adding that the postal agency has not attempted to mitigate such impacts.
“They’re doing the cheapest solution for them, which is also the worst solution for the community,” Ryavec said.
Arguing that the project is within the coastal zone and would intensify the use of the land, the Venice Stakeholders Association called for the Postal Service to obtain a coastal development permit. But a California Coastal Commission representative noted that as a federal entity, the Postal Service would not be required to receive a development permit for a modified postal facility.
While the federal entity plans to remodel the annex facility, Maher said it does not intend to expand the building and the parking lot will be redone to accommodate the retail services.
In regards to the community concerns about preserving the historic building and the public access to the mural, Maher stressed that the historic characteristics will be maintained through covenants conveyed to the future buyer as an attachment to the building’s deed.
Despite the agency’s assurance that the historic features will be maintained for the community in the event of a sale, some residents have a lack of trust that the Postal Service will make that happen, Lucks said.
“The bottom line is that people don’t want (the Post Office) to move; they feel it is a valued property that needs to be maintained for the public,” she said.
Ryavec said he is not convinced that the historic preservation requirements will be conveyed to a future buyer, noting that he has asked for a copy of the covenants in the deed and not received it.
“We think it is highly unlikely that they would indeed impose such a covenant,” he said.
He believes that a better option for the Postal Service would be to revert to its original proposal of selling the annex property and transferring only the carrier operations related to Venice to the Post Office building.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl explained that the situation involves a federal issue but he agrees with his constituents that the historic retail building should remain open.
“I’d like to keep it as a historic Post Office and would still like to use it as a post office,” Rosendahl said.
The councilman added that he has contacted newly installed Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Venice) about the community’s concerns and has also spoken with Ruth Goldway, the chair of the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission and a Venice resident. Goldway indicated to Rosendahl her belief that the project needs to respect the historic nature of the Venice Post Office and the Biberman mural displayed on its wall.