Postal service plans sale of Berkeley’s main post office

The Post Office’s Renaissance-style arcade along Allston Way. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Berkeley’s main post office, a distinguished Renaissance Revival work completed in 1914, is to be sold by the financially troubled US Postal Service. A spokeperson for USPS told Berkeleyside today that all carrier operations and bulk mail operations will move to the Berkeley Destination Delivery Unit at 1150 8th Street. The USPS is looking for an alternate retail location for downtown customers.

The building, which fills half the block bounded by Allston Way, Milvia, Kittredge and Harold Way, has a grand, arcaded front along Allston Way, loosely modeled on Filippo Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, one of the seminal works of the early Renaissance. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, where its listing states the work “symbolized the city’s coming of age”. It also contains a WPA mural by Suzanne Scheur depicting early Berkeley history. (The NRHP filing also contains some excellent photos of the building.) 

According to the USPS spokesperson, any alternate downtown location would provide full retail services. “We must continue to find a way to serve our customers where it is the most convenient for them to do business,” said USPS’s Augustine Ruiz, Jr.

Ruiz said the mayor’s office and the office of Representative Barbara Lee were sent a letter informing them of the plans last Thursday.

“This news is certainly very surprising and unfortunate,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, whose district includes the downtown. “It’s one of the most heavily used post offices in Berkeley. Their commitment to trying to retain retail operations is good.”

Other people involved with Berkeley’s downtown agreed on the importance of retained retail services, but also thought there might be interesting opportunities for the building.

“It’s paramount that we retain retail services downtown,” said John Caner, Executive Director of the Downtown Berkeley Association. “But depending on the historic issues, it’s certainly a prime location downtown, and we could see something interesting there.”

“It’s a great core location,” said Michael Caplan, Economic Development Manager for Berkeley. “It’s a historic structure, but ideally it could be something to generate revenue for us. It’s off the tax rolls now.”

The USPS Facility Services Office will be handling the real estate sale of the building. Late last year, the postal service launched a website to market the many properties it is trying to sell, in collaboration with commercial broker CBRE. Fourteen of the 81 properties currently on the site are in California, but Berkeley’s main post office is not yet listed.

The postal service has warned for years that it is on the verge of financial collapse. The US Senate passed a rare bipartisan measure in April that would give the USPS $11 billion to offer buyouts and early retirement incentives for its staff, and to pay down some of its debt. Executives of the postal service hope to cut $22 billion in costs by 2015. Last year, USPS delivered 168 billion pieces of mail, down from 202.8 billion pieces a decade ago.

June 25, 2012 letter from USPS to Mayor Bates about impending sale.

Related:

Sacramento Street post office to close [04.06.11]

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  • bgal4

     Adeline St post office, easy parking and friendly service. The clerk (sorry I am forgetting her name) is capable and one of the nicest people around.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    I think this is an excellent vision for this beautiful, beautiful building! 

  • iicisco

    Can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. Convenient location but, service was to slow. Not to mention a few of the employee’s there were rude. However, I feel sorry for all the individuals who have P.O. Boxes there. I’m assuming those will somehow be moved either to other locations or 8th street? The Post Office on Adeline is another alternative. Actually a better alternative. Service is fast, friendly, and few people know about it so the lines are never to long. I feel sorry for Elanor who keeps getting moved from location to location. I guess this means I should expect even more random days where I don’t receive mail! If I wasn’t such an advent eBay shopper I would only have to deal with FEDEX or UPS.  

  • Berkeleyfarm

    I also find the staff at the San Pablo Avenue PO to be relatively efficient and quite friendly. 

  • serkes

    that’s the better part of a city block which could generate tax revenues for Berkeley.

    And how long has that been true?  What changed over those many decades?  Since when is generating property tax from every goddamn square inch been any kind of civic goal?

    IRA: I didn’t say that generating property tax from every goddamn square inch has been a civic goal.  There ARE many civic goals which can be furthered by having more net tax revenues (which can be accomplished by a combination of increasing tax revenues and optimizing expenditures)

    If the USPO sells the building – some of the possible buyers could be another government organization, a non-profit, or a commercial for-profit developer.

    I used to take mail to the bulk-rate loading dock – most of the building is warehouse/workspace.  The more I think about it the more I like the idea of a commercial enterprise creatively re-using the beautiful building.

    Two PO re-uses come to mind; Rincon Annex in SF and the Farley (Moynihan) main PO in NYC.

    —–

    The chief market maker that makes your real estate market *possible* is failing here.   Your reaction to it reminds me of your own invocation of Catch 22, the other day.

    IRA: I’m not quite sure what you mean by the chief market maker.  Milo Minderbinder could very well be the US Postmaster understudy – they lose money on every delivery but make it up in volume.  And I don’t see why the USPO has to run at a profit – lots of essential services don’t either.

    ——-

    FWIW – I am a fan of the UPSO and think it fulfills an important service.  Having spent two summers working as a temp (Sorting mail at Brooklyn Main PO Cadman Plaza 11201), doing a Christmas Sorting stint, and delivering mail the next year at Inwood Station/Fort George/Washington Heights 10040 (home of Adele Serkes, Henry Kissinger and Josh Kornbluth) I can tell you that I have a good feeling for how Sisyphus (rather than Prometheus who also de-livered) must have felt.

    To paraphrase Michael Corleone – just when you thought the mail was all out, the bring another sack back in.

    I don’t envy the job that hard working postal workers do.

    Ira

  • serkes

    Farley Post Office/Moynihan Station

    http://www.moynihanstation.org/

  • Bruce Love

    I think you’re too hung up on (short window of time) efficiencies rather than (big window) robustness.  The federal “ownership”  — in the broadest possible terms — of prime civic center downtown real estate is, to me, not a historical accident but rather an essential pillar upon which rests the legitimacy of federal authority.  The USPS is a highly utilitarian use of that significant real estate.   To see this vital component of federal legitimacy be so casually tossed aside  strikes me as remarkable.

    That is, incidentally, what I mean by “market maker”.   If the union fails, the very concept of “real estate” in recognizable form comes into question.

  • Biker 94703

    We already have that in the form of the Veteran’s Hall which for some inane reason is filled with cubicles.  I saw a concert in the Vets Hall in 87 or so and it was a nice space.

    Anyone know why this public space is no longer available to the public?

  • The Sharkey

    Highly utilitarian, but hideously inefficient. You may find that excusable, but I don’t.

    The logical leap required to go from losing one specific Postal Service location to the collapse of the union is mind-boggling.

  • The Sharkey

    I have to agree. One of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had, and a staff that clearly didn’t give a darn. They couldn’t have made it more obvious that they thought their customers’ time was worthless if they tried.

    Even the dang DMV is more efficient and a more pleasant experience, because at least with the DMV you can make reservations online instead of waiting in line for an hour.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Is the building seismically retrofitted?

    If so, could it be used to house BUSD administration instead of spending millions on the new build at West Campus?  

  • The Sharkey
  • Anonymous

    Good question.  Or could we also save the tax payers a pile of cash in the long run by deeding the property as a new, palatial personal residence for Phil Kalmaratz in lieu of a portion of his obscene pension pay out?

  • George Dorn

    Now, some of the employees are unhelpful/rude, but some of them are quite nice. I can’t argue, though, that the place has ever been a paragon of efficiency, and I try to avoid using the window whenever possible. There was a brief time when they experimented with having patrons stand in line instead of having numbers called. That seemed to speed things up a bit, but they went back to the old way after a short while.

  • pportwoesinpast..

    not everyone has the same simple birth certificate, non-loss, non theft situation that you may have, nice tip though, on the alternate location.

  • DB

    Don’t forget the Berkeley PO’s starring role in that little-known but great semi-animated fantasy movie, “Twice Upon a Time”, where inside a PO Box at this post office live a horde of colorful little bouncing paper-animated creatures called Figmen (of the Imagination), who swarm out and enliven the world of the sad people all around them, the Rushers of Din.

  • Guest

    Best idea so far — this would preserve the building’s civic function, and send a message about the city’s priorities. 

  • Bruce Love

    So to sum up,  we live in a country that is shutting down its postal service but at the same time handing out money to police departments, to give to defense contractors, to send in an armored assault vehicle.   We live a city where the burning question about this state of affairs is how this will benefit real estate developers.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think Rincon Center in San Francisco is a good model of what can be done with a historic post office building that is no longer needed – keeping its historic character while converting it to shopping and offices.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rincon_Center

    In addition to the area in front that is used by the public, Berkeley’s post office also has a large area in the back that is apparently used for sorting mail, which turns a blank face to the street.  There would be room for new construction that adds either housing or office space to this back section of the building, preserving the existing structure but opening it up to the street and adding outside cafe seating in some of the places now used to park mail trucks. 

    This would be a bit like the reuse of the UC Printing building for the BAM/PFA – keeping and adding to the historic structure.  The post office is a much more attractive building than the UC Printing building, and I would hope they could come up with an expansion that is compatible with its historic architecture.

  • Gus

    Bruce, what do you expect from a handful of residents in Berkeley, California? A quick skim of these comments indicates that most posters regret USPS cutbacks, but what are you going to do? This is a federal issue, not a local one. Your argument is with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. The people posting here seem most interested in making lemonade.

    I’ll take the opportunity to plug my pet issue again: if taxpayers are unwilling to submit a sufficient amount of tax revenue, then we’re not going to have public services. The U.S. tax burden is at an historic low, so a lot of public services that we used to pay for are now going to have to be eliminated.

  • gimpylee

    Like many other comments, this location has the worst customer service. That is not to say that all the clerks who work there are horrible, but its pretty obvious that they hate their jobs. I had to call and ask for a manager to file a complaint once because one of the clerks gave me a horrible attitude and wouldnt let me leave a postage prepaid package on the counter which I have done and been told to do in the past by other clerks. The manager on the phone told me that the particular clerk I was calling about already had several corrective warnings against her. I bet because of union rules, they cant fire her, but if this was any other job, If I have had several “corrective warnings”  , you bet I would be unemployed.

    Contrast this location with post offices in Oakland or San Francisco where I used to work and ship packages on my lunch breaks, those clerks are like 100% more friendlier and get things done quicker.

  • Bruce Love

    Gus,

    Bruce, what do you expect from a handful of residents in Berkeley, California? [….] The people posting here seem most interested in making lemonade.

    But that’s a form of insanity.   The state is in retreat, the military and corporate surveillance state in ascendancy, we’re rushing full throttle towards civic collapse and third world economic conditions….   I guess some people wake up to realize that they’re in a burning house and wonder if they still have any marshmallows in the pantry.

    This is a federal issue, not a local one.

    Isn’t it, rather, both?

    I’ll take the opportunity to plug my pet issue again: if taxpayers are
    unwilling to submit a sufficient amount of tax revenue, then we’re not
    going to have public services.

    That sounds so mild.   Oops, certain products are no longer available.   I think you undersell it.

    We’re not facing the loss of a few services.   We’re threatened by the end of the rule of law.

  • Guest

    I’ve had mixed experiences there myself — I recognize the stuff you and others have mentioned, but I’ve also found some of the people who work there to be quite helpful.  About the hostility towards customers, though — remember the old Elephant Pharmacy?  That was about as far as you can get from unionized and government run, and they seemed to go through employees like kleenex, but nothing ever changed.  The cashiers were unbelievably slow, and often quite rude about it.  Whoever ran the place obviously had no clue about either customer service or management.  Since most of the other USPS branches in Berkeley I’ve been to (north Shattuck and Adeline St, mainly) are great, it’s probably a management problem.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s no excuse for taking it out on the customer, but the attitude usually starts at the top and rolls downhill. 

  • deirdre

    It might make the perfect second location for Ken Sarachan’s Rat Hotel & Spa.

  • The Sharkey

    “Oh,” cried Bruce Love, “the Union is collapsing. I must go tell the Berkeleyside commenters.”

    Quote from “The Union is Collapsing,” a Berkeleyan Fairy Tale.

    ;-)

  • The Sharkey

    It’s also worth noting that a heck of a lot of people are pretty darn unhappy with the purchase of the armored assault vehicle Bruce mentions.

    The more I think about it, the more I wonder if UCPD and PBD are actually buying it as a sort of proxy purchase for OPD. The only situation around here where I could see something like that being of any use would be if one of the Occupy Oakland riots gets really out of hand.

  • y_p_w

    The birth certificate isn’t really an issue.  Birth certificates aren’t really adjudicated at the passport acceptance facility (like a post office).  They get adjudicated at a regional passport office.  I also realize that a child’s passport must be renewed in person.

    You can simply report a lost/stolen passport by mail, although you’ll need to at least go to a passport acceptance facility in person if you want a replacement (I’ve seen a replacement US passport – I think it had a green cover).  You could also go to a passport office (closest is in downtown SF).  I got my original passport there, although that was at a time when anyone could go there for a regular passport.  Now they only accept in person for expedited requests or accept regular requests (they don’t charge an “acceptance fee”) on special “Passport Days”.

    Here’s the info on RSF.  They do it right at the window just inside the doors.  When I went for my kid’s passport, there was one person in line filling out a form by hand.  I’d filled out my kid’s form via the State Dept’s online system and printed it out.

    http://recsports.berkeley.edu/insidepage.aspx?uid=6b303f6b-773d-46c7-bdba-732736f49785

  • Heather_W_62

    That is almost exactly what I said in a conversation recently about why I don’t support the purchase of the armored vehicle. When the police department buys a new toy, they plan to use the new toy. Unless very strict guidelines are in place for use of said toy, toy will be used when it is deemed appropriate by the Police Department. I doubt the toy will sit in the parking lot gathering dust for long. 

  • EBGuy

    Anyone know if this place has already had earthquake retrofit work done?   
    New City of Berkeley Council Chambers?   Those steps look like they would be great for pontificating…

  • http://twitter.com/captfuzzbucket CaptFuzz

    I went to the UC Recreation Bldg to handle passport needs after spending hours dealing with the insane “appointment” system at the post office.  The staff was rude and seemed uncomfortable that I could see them through the window doing…NOTHING.

    The US Postal System could disappear tomorrow and anyone younger than 50 would not shed a tear.  

  • Charles_Siegel

     a country that is downsizing its post office because the volume of mail is declining – already down 25% from its peak.

    a city that should try to figure out how to use the historical building that is no longer needed as a post office in a way that will make the city more attractive, more interesting, and more sustainable.

  • Bruce Love

     

    a country that is downsizing its post office

    That’s a fine, fine reason to lower head count, idle or sell non-precious capital, etc.   What we’re looking at here, though, is a nation state selling off some of its most precious and strategically signifcant heritage — and supposedly in response to such transient economic signals. 

    a city that should try to figure out how to use the historical building
    that is no longer needed as a post office in a way that will make the
    city more attractive, more interesting, and more sustainable.

    “Did you ever drive by a burning building and think “How can I profit from this?”?”’ — The Simpsons (more or less)

  • c.j. johnson

    I think it is shocking what is happening: destroying our postal service and selling beautiful buildings.  As we know the Federal Legislatures under Clinton perhaps forced the Post Office to have 75 year pensions for the future-otherwise they would be in great shape. Must be the efforts of the privatizers, corporations (UPS, FED EX) Ben Franklin, the Constitution all affirm that government is to serve the
    ordinary people and citizens. SAVE BERKELEY’S POST OFFICE.
    Appreciate the honesty of someone saying-well then we’ll (Berkeley) will  get taxes. Money is not the highest value in life.
    Beauty and integrity are up there too. Ever since WW 11  and the National Security State empire but especially Reagan’s regime  1980 greed been extolled. Listening to Michio Kaku guest today on 94.1 FM who wrote “Hell and Highwater” we need to stop the rising coastal lands and focus on other issues. 
    . Yes Berkeley needs a tax base for good schools and human services and change is not to be feared but why not keep this for the people. 8th st. will be the coast possibly by 2100 anyway.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    The same leapin’ logic lizards that apparently hold Berkeleyside commenters – especially those that are discussing reality-based options for what the next use of the building might be that include commercial enterprise – somehow responsible for the base problem or otherwise at fault for a decision that came down from (presumably) 3000 miles away that very few of us are pleased to hear. 

  • Berkeleyfarm

    To be serious for a moment here – if it is seismically sound, the city could at least look into the possibility of a real men’s shelter and services center there to replace the current temporary-since-1986 night-only shelter in the basement of the Vets building. 

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Chekhov’s Gun, eh?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    New BUSD hq too. Cancel the west campus build!

  • Charles_Siegel

    Transient economic signals?  Is the rise of e-mail a transient development?

    How can I profit from this?  Do you think I am going to make a profit from new development here?

  • EBGuy

    More timely reporting from BS.  Looks like they are staying put:
    “The council also decided to stay in Old City Hall
    — formally the Maudelle Shirek Building — for its meetings when the
    Berkeley Unified School District moves to West Campus. Up to $350,000 in
    capital improvements will be needed, although there will not be a
    complete seismic upgrade of the building as some have recommended.”

  • The Sharkey

    Hey Eric, have you been to Kennedy School up in Portland?
    Seems like it could be a really great model for what could be done with the Post Office.

    http://www.mcmenamins.com/427-kennedy-school-home

  • Another BUSD parent

    and for passport apps/renewals for minors, both kids and parents HAVE to show face with REAMS of paperwork–both my kids are internationally adopted so there’s an even larger burden of proof. Just sayin’ . LOVE Albany City Hall for this (Mary, you ROCK) and the Albany/lower Solano PO for the even rarer event of letter/package mailing.The mini PO at the Pacific Asia Mall was good till it closed 2 years ago, too.

  • y_p_w

    Well – yeah I had to show up with my wife, but it was all good.  I did it on a Saturday at RSF and took in my kid’s first Cal basketball game to boot.  We didn’t really need much more than a certified copy of our kid’s birth certificate, two photos, our photo IDs, and photocopies of our IDs (front and back).  However, this is our biological child, so the paperwork is pretty straightforward.

    I’m familiar with the Albany PO.  However, if you’re looking for a friendly neighborhood contract PO, the Arlington Pharmacy Contract PO is still open.  Even though it’s Kensington, the hand stamps they have say Berkeley, CA 94707.  An employee told me that they tried to have them corrected, but it’s weird with the shared zip code across Berkeley, Albany, and Kensington.  They don’t have all the equipment, so they still hand stamp when regular post offices print receipts using printing equipment without a hand stamp.  If you live in certain parts of Berkeley (around Arlington) this may be the most convenient place for most PO services.

  • Judy_l

    Is there any way we can same this PO?  

  • panoramia

    word is the Post Office building has already been sold, to a yet as unrevealed buyer. Perhaps
    The Berkeleyside can reveal whom the purchaser is / are? It seems the entire postal staff is
    well aware that building sold quite a while ago

  • Guest

    Great idea! Living downtown, I would love to have a marketplace within walking distance. I also will not miss the postal trucks backing up on Kittredge at 4:00 AM 

  • guest

    The USPS should consider _leasing_ the Post Office grounds/property (i.e. for 99years) to a developer, rather than an outright sale:  preserve the historic building, provide free PO service space somewhere in the new development (to save from needing to rent an alternate PO service station in downtown), pass on the development and property maintenance problems to someone who knows how to turn a profit from the space, and guarantee a revenue source for USPS in the future.

  • Mbfarrel

     “Bruce” is picking a fight already? I wonder how long he’ll last this time.