Napa Heart Bombs

Valentines known as heart bombs adorn the chain link fence as a show of support for the restoration of the post office in downtown Napa.

Raphael Kluzniok/Register

In an abrupt about-face, the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced it won’t pursue demolition of the historic Franklin Station Post Office in downtown Napa. Instead, the federal agency plans to sell the quake-damaged building to a buyer who can repair the structure and preserve its architectural integrity.

A public notice of the intent to sell was posted on Tuesday on all postal properties in the city.

“The Postal Service will be offering the property to the market for sale after we have complied with the regulatory requirements that must be satisfied prior to marketing the property,” said Augustine ‘Gus’ Ruiz, a USPS spokesperson.

In early July, the USPS originally proposed demolishing the structure on Second Street. The agency said that it would cost $8 million to repair quake damage, while it would only cost $500,000 for demolition.

“This is the right decision for the USPS and for Napa, and I am very pleased that Postmaster General Brennan committed to working with me and our community to sell the building and property,” said Rep. Mike Thompson.

This change of position, which follows a grassroots campaign to save the landmark building, won the approval of preservation advocates.

“That’s good news,” said Mayor Jill Techel. “I’m glad we’re going to have the opportunity to explore reuse of the building.”

“It’s a positive development for the city,” said Jay Jacobson, Napa County Landmarks board member. “The public has voiced a consensus that the Post Office is important to this community and its identity.”

“It is unfortunate that it can’t remain a post office, but the alternative is to save the building,” said Napa County Landmarks Board Vice President Bill Tuikka.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Brian Turner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s San Francisco field office. “It’s exactly what we wanted.” His sentiments were echoed by Julianne Polanco, state historic preservation officer at the California Office of Historic Preservation.

“It’s a beautiful building,” said Travis Stanley, president and CEO of the Napa Chamber of Commerce. “I’m glad to know that historic preservation will be a requirement of the future development plan of the site.”

According to Thompson’s office, the USPS will initiate the process to sell the post office in mid-August. It first must notify employees, union members and Techel of the intent to sell and permanently relocate.

The agency will hold a public meeting on Aug. 26 where residents can suggest the location of a new permanent post office in downtown. The site could include its current “temporary” home at 1436 Second St.

The USPS will also notify federal agencies of the intent to sell, then obtain an appraisal of the building and property to determine its fair market value. The post office would then be open to competitive bidding.

“I hope that the Post Office is reasonable and entertains all bids,” said Turner. The agency could sell it for a dollar, or at the very minimum, accept any bid that is more than it would cost to demolish it.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense that the post office gets a windfall from the underlying land,” Turner said.

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“There are some people who have expressed a desire to me to purchase the building,” including local developers, said Techel, who declined to provide names.

To Techel, the ideal use would be one that brings people into the building, such as “a museum of sorts with meeting rooms. If money is no object, I’d definitely make it a community facility.”

However, “even if it’s a restaurant, it continues to be part of Napa life,” she said.

“We would seek to have a preservation easement placed on the front façade and significant portions of the post office that render it historic to Napa,” Jacobson said.

By first proposing demolition, Turner of the National Trust said perhaps the USPS wanted “to take the easy way out, but I think they realized we’re giving them a better solution.”

The Franklin Station Post Office was commissioned in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The ornate structure was built in the Art Deco style.

The post office, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, has been closed since the Aug. 24 quake and remains fenced off. Large cracks are visible on the exterior. Mail was later rerouted to the postal annex on Randolph Street, and a new temporary post office opened at 1436 Second St. in mid July.

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Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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