The U.S. Postal Service is standing firm on its decision to relocate retail operations from the Venice Post Office to a facility across the street despite appeals from residents and elected officials to save the historic building and the public’s access to a storied artwork.
Late last month the Postal Service announced its final decision to move the retail operations from the post office at 1601 Main St. approximately 400 feet away to the Venice carrier annex property at 313 Grand Blvd.
The post office property has been put on the market with the real estate firm Grubb & Ellis, said Richard Maher, spokesperson for the Postal Service in Los Angeles.
Since the federal agency presented the plan, community members and elected officials, including Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Venice), have stepped up to challenge the closure and sale of the historic post office building, which was constructed under the Work Projects Administration (WPA). The building contains a 1941 mural by renowned artist Edward Biberman known as the “Story of Venice,” which depicts the early history of Venice with the image of community founder Abbot Kinney at the center.
In a report following the community appeal process, David Williams, vice president of network operations for the Postal Service, said the agency carefully considered the various concerns but it will not halt the consolidation effort, which is in the best interest of the agency.
“While I am sympathetic to some of the concerns raised… I will not set aside the Postal Service’s prior decision,” Williams stated.
Citing a need to consolidate operations nationwide with a drop in mail volume, postal authorities 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.
When deciding to move ahead with the plan, the agency had to weigh the community objections with its difficult financial situation, Maher noted.
“In reaching this decision, I considered all of the public input received but the objections expressed do not outweigh the financial exigencies facing the Postal Service,” Williams said. “With current projections for declining mail volume and the financial condition of the Postal Service, the Postal Service must make any feasible change to reduce costs.”
Some community members who argued for the preservation of the post office and mural say they have remaining concerns and were disappointed that the federal entity chose not to change course.
“This is an unfortunate decision for Venice,” said Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association. “From recent meetings with representatives of the Postal Service it is certain that the relocation will lead to the sale of the post office.”
Venice Historical Society President Jill Prestup said although postal officials intend to move forward, she was grateful that they took the community’s appeals into consideration and her group will work to ensure the structure’s historic characteristics are maintained.
“We will do everything our organization can to make sure the integrity of the building is saved as well as the mural,” Prestup said.
In addition to its status as a WPA building, the post office is historically significant because of its location on the Windward Circle, which is the “gateway to Venice” and the former site of the Grand Canal, Prestup said.
Rosendahl pointed to the historical aspects of the building and mural in a letter to the Pacific Facilities Service Office, saying that it is important to recognize the negative impact a change of use would have on the community. Regarding the final decision, Rosendahl said he was disappointed but not surprised given the agency’s financial situation, and he commended the community for coming together in support of the decades-old facility.
“It was gratifying to see the Venetian leadership unite in wanting to save the post office,” the councilman said.
“I hope all of the historic preservation issues can be considered (with the plan) and that people can continue to see the mural that has great history. I want to ensure the building continues to be a historic building and that we will have access to this historic treasure.”
Maher stressed that while the Main Street structure has been put up for sale, the historic characteristics will be maintained through covenants conveyed to the future buyer as an attachment to the building’s deed. He noted that postal officials consider the post office historic and they will treat it as such.
“Our intentions are to preserve the historic character of the building and mural inside,” Maher said.
But some, like Ryavec, are not convinced. He argued that the agency has not provided drafts of such covenants for the historic preservation.
In a letter to the Postal Service Office of Government Relations, Hahn requested copies of covenants supposedly used to preserve other historic postal structures, which had not been provided to residents. Following the rejection of the appeals, the congresswoman pledged to continue backing her constituents’ efforts to save the structure’s historic features.
“While I understand the difficult budget situation the Postal Service is facing, I am disappointed the USPS will be moving out of the historic Venice Post Office,” Hahn said. “As the post office moves across the street, I will continue to work with the Venice stakeholders to protect the historic post office building and the gorgeous mural within for future generations.”
Maher explained that covenants for historic buildings are specific to each property that goes on the market, and no covenants have yet been created for the Venice Post Office. Attempting to allay worries about the protections, Maher said the Postal Service has sold other historic buildings to private parties in the past with covenants attached to them that have proven to secure their historical aspects.
One of the main community concerns with the move to the annex site has been parking impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. 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.
As Grubb & Ellis begins to accept bids on the post office, the Postal Service will next look to award a contract for the remodel of the annex property by the end of the year. The Venice Post Office is expected to stay open through the remainder of this year and until the annex remodel is completed, possibly by the end of the first quarter of 2012, Maher said.