April 18, 2014

La Jolla Community Continues Fight for Historic Post Office

La Jolla, Calif., a coastal village outside of San Diego, is home to a historic post office, built in 1935.

San Diego is well known for its annual superhero-packed convention Comic-Con, incredible weather, and burritos stuffed with French fries. But while Marvel heroes are busy defeating Lex Luthor and the Joker, just northwest of the city in the coastal village of La Jolla, Calif., the local community is fighting the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) over whether or not their beloved post office will be sold and relocated.

In January 2012, the USPS announced its plans to sell the historic site located at 1140 Wall St., citing financial woes. (The USPS reports more than $25 billion in net losses over the past five years.) Members of the local community have been fighting the decision at virtually every level of government for more than two years.

Ten days after the original USPS announcement, the La Jolla Historical Society created the Save Our La Jolla Post Office Task Force -- which comprises residents and business owners -- to establish a dialogue with the USPS in order to avert an outcome they believe would negatively impact La Jolla residents.

Inside the post office, the mural "California Landscape" was completed in 1936 by artist Belle Baranceanu.

The group and Task Force Chair Leslie Davis have focused on specific ways to save the post office. Their strategy: acquire “historic” status for both the physical structure and the iconic mural inside, raise awareness among the community with public forums and rallies, and provide the USPS with an alternative solution to relocation.

The post office, built in 1935, isn’t just a beautiful building with a classic southern Californian clay-shingled roof, but an integral part of La Jolla. Davis believes that moving the post office would be significantly detrimental to the village’s culture and economy.

“What I think would happen is that the patterns of visitation would be completely disrupt commerce. People have said that when they come to the post office, they on average make another two stops in the village,” Davis said. “It’s one of the few locations that all different generations come to. It brings all these people together, and [closing the post office] would stop the conversation.”

La Jolla Post Office, 1945. Credit: Save Our La Jolla Post Office
La Jolla Post Office, 1945

In just a short amount of time, the preservation group has stuck to their predetermined plan and achieved some success, especially with getting the post office listed on the National Register for Historic Places in January 2013.

Even with these strides, however, the group has not been able to provide an enticing alternative solution to the USPS. In March 2013, as part of a nationwide cost-reduction plan, the USPS approved the relocation of the La Jolla Post Office to another area within one mile of the current structure.

The USPS has neither designated a new location for the post office nor been completely transparent with the village community about their plans.

“According to their rules, which are not law, they need to designate a relocation spot before they can officially put it up for sale. We know unofficially that they have been in conversation with developers for a long time, so we know that they have lined up potential buyers in secret. They say they have not, but we know they have,” Davis said.

La Jolla Post Office and its mural are classified historic under multiple registers, including the National Register for Historic Places.

One positive outcome: Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 in January 2014, which contains a strongly worded passage against the Postal Service's selling of historic sites without knowing the true ramifications of such actions. The La Jolla group, along with its counterpart in the Bronx, directly influenced that legislation.

So, regardless of the outcome for La Jolla’s historic post office, the community has already had an effect on federal legislation regarding future sales of historic post offices.

In the meantime, the fight continues. Earlier this year, to mark the two-year anniversary of the group’s formation, they held a rally -- in which attendees were asked wear red, white, and blue -- to raise support and get more community members to write to members of Congress asking to halt the sale of the post office.

“Our strategy of slowing the process has succeeded,” Davis said. “But it appears this is a war of attrition being fought by a Goliath that few communities are equipped to battle.”

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