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.
Sacramento Street post office to close [04.06.11]