Developer eyes Berkeley’s historic post office

The interior of the Main Post Office at 2000 Allston Way. It is landmarked on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Charlotte Wayne.

While the City Council unanimously passed a declaration Tuesday night asking the United States Postal Service not to sell Berkeley’s Main Post Office, an award-winning developer who specializes in historic properties says he is interested in buying the building on Allston Way.

Eddie Orton, whose remodel of the historic Ford Plant in Richmond won the American Institute of Architects’ Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture, said the structure at 2000 Allston Way “is a beauty.”

“I love that building,” said Orton, who also redeveloped the Flint Inc building on Gilman, along with a number of other structures in Berkeley. “It’s beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to develop it? It’s a great building. It’s gorgeous.”

Orton said he heard there was “a lot of interest” in the post office. The USPS has announced the building is for sale, but the real estate company it hired, CBRE, has not yet listed it on the market. At last night’s City Council meeting, however, Mayor Tom Bates’ chief of staff, Judy Iglehart, maintained, “The building is not for sale. There’s a process in place. They would like to sell it, but it is not at this time for sale.”

One non-profit that had been rumored to be interested in the post office has apparently backed away, according to a city official who asked not to be named. The YMCA, located directly across the street from the post office, looked hard at the site but decided against pursuing it because a rear addition added in the 1930s cannot be altered significantly, according to the official.

The Nyingma Institute, an umbrella organization for the almost dozen non-profits founded by the Tibetan Buddhist lama Tarthang Tulku, has also backed off looking at the building, according to the official. Jack Petranker, the director of the Mangalam Research Center, which is next door to the post office, said since the building was not yet for sale, all rumors about Nyingma’s interest were mere speculation.

The city of Berkeley was officially informed in late June that the 1914 post office building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, would be sold. However, rumors about its upcoming sale had been circulating for months, which is why the YMCA took a look at it, according to the official.

In fact, a maintenance worker at the post office told Berkeleyside that he had seen a number of people from the YMCA tour the building in the last few months. Fran Galletti, the CEO of the YMCA of the Central East Bay, did not return phone calls on the matter.

Plaque outside Berkeley’s downtown Berkeley Post Office. Photo: Charlotte Wayne

Many city officials and residents are opposed to the USPS’ plan, which involves selling the Allston Way property and moving retail operations to a smaller facility somewhere else in downtown Berkeley. Dozens of people protested against the sale in a demonstration last Tuesday, with organizer Gray Brechin likening the sale of the Berkeley post office – and many similar historic post offices around the country – to a 19th century land grab.

But the chances of stopping the sale seem slim if the experiences of other communities are an example. Residents around the state, from Venice, to La Jolla, to Modesto, to Palo Alto and elsewhere have tried to prevent the sale of their historic post offices, with little effect. The procedures that exist to make closing post offices subject to greater review do not apply when, as USPS insists is the case for Berkeley, a post office is being moved in a neighborhood rather than closed.

Orton has developed at least three Berkeley properties, including one at 2850 Seventh Street, called Temescal, according to his website. The land holds 11 buildings. Orton also bought and later sold 2855 Telegraph Avenue, a 74,000 sq ft, six-story office building. Orton purchased the Flint Ink building, a 133,070 sq ft building on 4.78 acres in West Berkeley, in September 2009.

Orton transformed the abandoned Ford Plant into a state of the art office building in Richmond. His adaption of the historic structure – which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places – has been widely praised.

Since the Main Post Office is also on the Register, anyone who develops it must be careful to preserve its historic elements, according to Eric Angstadt, Berkeley’s planning director. While someone may be able to renovate the rear addition added in the 1930s – and possibly even add on one story – he or she could not severely alter the building without going through a laborious and difficult review process. The front lobby and historic murals are also protected, he said.

“Any alteration is going to have to go through an extensive review,” said Angstadt.

Orton predicted it might be a while before the Berkeley post office was actually sold, given the USPS’ “difficult history of selling real estate.” He pointed out how the agency had a tough time selling its Chicago and San Diego facilities. The 3 million sq ft facility in Chicago was on the market for 10 years without a buyer. It was finally auctioned off to a British developer. The USPS has had more success with smaller properties, such as the historic post office in Venice, Calif. Film executive Joel Silver is in negotiations to buy that property, even though local residents rallied to try and prevent the sale.

Related:
Dozens rally to save historic post office [07-25-12]
Chances are slim of saving Berkeley post office
[07.23.12]
Op/Ed: Berkeley needs to wake up to loss of post office [7.16.12]
Second postal site in Berkeley for sale [07.09.12]
Postal service plans sale of Berkeley’s main post office [06.25.12]
A plea to save Park Station post office [04.07.11]
Sacramento Street post office to close [04.06.11]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • GeorgeDorn

    I was told it’s because there’s more space. I don’t quite see much difference unless they use both floors–but a two-story Walgreens? Seems they’ve opened at least one in Chicago and have another planned. http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/01/09/walgreens-to-unveil-grand-upscale-store-downtown/ and http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/11/23/report-walgreens-to-move-into-old-east-lakeview-borders-store/

  • Greg


    “Berkeley’s typical hysterics appear to have already made this landmark building too hot to handle for some of the religious, non-profit, and/or community organizations who may have been most amenable to creating a community space in the building.” — EricPanzer

    “I think these are the “typical hysterics” Eric was referring to earlier.” — “TheSharkey”

    So if what you are saying is that Eddie Sutton’s development firm is NOT believable as a organization amenable to creating a community space in the building then my comment is probably crossing over from very, very slight exaggeration to something more akin to mild exaggeration.

    “Tim”‘s post didn’t “shutdown development”, it just *appears* to have scared off anyone who might include community space?

    That said, the point stands.  The mincing anti-NIMBY routine isn’t at all supported by the text of the article.  As much as you might feel it in your heart it is essentially emotionally driven; laughable hysterics.

    You might fancy this stuff ‘square-jawed’ and ‘rock-ribbed’.  I think it is precious.

    Incidentally I don’t think this is at all what Eric really had in mind.  Without potentially breaching any sort of ethical line I will say that Eric posted a response that either never appeared or was removed *very* quickly.  In it he was a bit more explicit.  

    I could absolutely be wrong, but my *guess* is he thought expressing this idea imprudent, but again, it could have just been a Disqus glitch.

    Also, where are the armchair etymologists?  They seemingly came out in droves over “punk”.  You’d think “hysterics” is worthy of some click/clacking righteousness too, right?

  • The Sharkey

    Rather, it is directed towards those who, seemingly without irony, label your post “Berkeley hysterics” while ascribing to it the ability to effectively shutdown development.

    Again, your comment would have made more sense if anyone had actually done that.

    But feel free to keep flailing at straw windmills or whatever it is you think you’re doing here.

  • The Sharkey

    Great comment, Mr. Donaldson!
    It’s nice to see that there are at least a few true Progressives still in Berkeley.

  • The Sharkey

    I believe they’re talking about moving and downsizing the main post office, not eliminating it.

  • Tim

     The USPS privatization agenda is widely recognized and discussed. I’ve pointed to the information, if you’re willing to do your homework.

  • The Sharkey

    I was responding to the part of your post where you said “A city of 114,000 should have a main post office.” by pointing out that nobody is talking about eliminating the main post office in Berkeley.

    I’m sure some far-right organizations would like to do that eventually, but that’s not what’s being discussed right now.

  • Tim (the wild-eyed moderate)

     Charles

    According to Salon.com, “the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which was passed on a voice vote by a lame duck Republican Congress in 2006″ in addition to mandating “the Postal Service, over 10 years, to pre-fund healthcare benefits for the next 75, [which] costs USPS $5.5 billion a year… also restricted the Postal Service’s ability to raise postage rates, or to provide “nonpostal services” that, in an e-diversion era, could be key to its future.  American Postal Workers Union president Cliff Guffey says the bill was designed “by those people who hate government … to destroy the Postal Service.  And that’s what they did.”” (See http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/congresss_war_on_the_post_office/)

    If you’re saying USPS is dying due to an ability to adapt, it has been and continues to be deliberately  knee-capped — and is being deliberately killed. Fortunately, there’s a very sensible Senate Bill, S 1853, which in addition to removing the unfair financial burdens of the aforementioned PAE, “Allows USPS to provide any nonpostal service or product in a manner consistent with the public interest,” and “Establishes in USPS the position of the Chief Innovation Officer who shall have proven expertise and success in the postal and shipping industry and in innovation, marketing, technology, and management. Establishes a Postal Innovation Advisory Commission.” (See http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s1853/show)

    Run by people who believe in its essential mission to facilitate the nation’s commerce and communication — that is, people who don’t despise republican ideals and such basic functions of a healthy republic — the USPS would be debt-free and adapting technologically, and getting along just fine.

  • Tim

    If by that you mean Darrell Issa hasn’t stood up in public and said, “We’re closing the Berkeley Post Office on the wise advice of Freedomworks, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute as part of a decades long effort to undermine government’s most fundamental functions and privatize the USPS — an effort begun with the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act put together by the Kappel Commission, with Mr Kappel declaring, “If I could, I’d make [the Post Office] a private enterprise and I would
    create a private corporation to run the postal service and the country
    would be better off financially…But I can’t get from here to there,” then I’d have to agree. But I’m not dumb enough to wait for that. I don’t have to; the pattern is obvious.

    Once again, I’ve pointed to the information, if you’re willing to do your homework.

  • Tim

     Sorry — should have said “selling the Berkeley Post Office.” Closing it wouldn’t be incremental enough and could conceivably raise suspicions — remote as that possibility sounds.

  • Mein Stein

    Since the discussion has widened to include the fate of the USPS, I wonder how long mail carrier, fireman, police officer, paramedic etc. can remain financially viable lifetime careers? Why not serve these needs through the ‘national service’ of our young men and women? Following their service, reward them with college subsidies – a new GI Bill.

    If our young can be trained to perform the complex tasks required by modern warfare, they can certainly be trained for these tasks. The benefits to society would be enormous: College opportunity for almost all; A perpetually young work force; Funding our maintenance essentials in a way which produces returns rather than creating crippling future costs.

  • JohnD

    Hahah… I’ll be honest, that was a comment that made me laugh out loud. 
    Berkeley just might get this result too given the “difficult and arduous” process promised by Angstadt. 

    I used to live in SF, and some beautiful old buildings fell into real disrepair while trying to get through the “process”. The building looks beautiful and I hope it can be maintained while Angstadt and the protesters have their say. 

    The Armory in SF did eventually find a purchaser in kink.com, and despite the inevitable complaints by the neighbors Kink really cleaned up the building and ironically the neighborhood there feels safer. 

    I really really hope that this neighborhood is not so “protected” or “protested” that the only folks who can get in are the chain stores with the lawyers and pockets to fight the Berkeley process! That would be terrible. 

  • JohnD

    Sorry, I did not realize domains automatically turn into links, can someone remove the above link as it is not appropriate

  • Greg

    “…
    flailing at straw windmills…”

    Though rare, little flourishes such as this give me pause.  There are others (like the recent plastic bag/smart-phone bit).

    Maybe even the name is a clue?  It could be a sly reference to the notion white sharks have poor long-term memory, and how that affects their feeding habits, social structure, etc.

    Maybe I am completely missing the point of “The Sharkey”?

    Regardless of intent, this comment of yours is cutting.  In a sense it lays bare my foolishness.

    Either “The Sharkey” persona is an earnest online projection of a (single) real person…or it is not.

    As the TL/DR crowd might say in regards to engaging it:  Same difference?

    Anyway, guided by sense-of-smell you’ll likely continue to patrol these waters, rolling your eyes back in your skull and chomping down on every scrap. 

    Maybe it is supposed to be “ironic” or something (every comment is Shark Week!). Honestly I don’t know.

    While it is somewhat fascinating to watch I’m not looking to play the role of tuna, surfboard, or fisherman.

  • Xine

    The past three times I went to the Post Office I waited for at least half an hour only to find that they had no stamps available. It seems to me that the Post Office is already closed.

  • Truth Sayer

    Regarding your proposed ideal. Think “unions.”