The major news story of the July 4, 2015, edition of the Napa Valley Register was that the earthquake-damaged downtown Napa post office was facing demolition, rather than restoration. The building remains red-tagged.
After the story ran, several local citizens sent letters to the editor of the Register protesting the demolition and urging the U.S. Postal Service to either pursue restoration or sell the 82-year-old landmark to a private developer.
Then, a few days ago, the Register ran a story announcing that the USPS was now agreeable to selling the property. That’s really good news.
Pressure from local citizens, Rep. Mike Thompson, and state and local political leaders was no doubt instrumental in the decision.
I feel like that building and I are old friends and contemporaries. It was built three years after I was born and was only 9 years old when my family moved to Napa in 1942. It was 12 years old when I first worked in the building during World War II as a 15-year-old summertime letter-carrier while attending Napa High School.
I also worked there as a temporary employee in the 1940s and early 1950s delivering mail and parcel post for several Christmas seasons and as a regular mail carrier prior to leaving town to pursue a career in the U.S. Army.
During WWII, with its war-related labor shortage, my stepfather worked at the post office in the morning delivering parcel post while working swing shift at Basalt Shipyard.
It was in that building that I registered for the military draft on my 18th birthday while a senior at Napa High.
Together, the building and I and the rest of the civilized world withstood the disasters of the Great Depression and the global conflagration that was World War II.
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From the time of its construction in 1933, until 3:20 a.m. on Aug. 24, 2014, and the catastrophic magnitude-6.0 earthquake, the building was a fully functioning post office. It was the only post office in town until development in north Napa in the 1960s brought the addition of the Trancas Street branch.
I worked for and with some great men during my part-time and full-time post office employment during my late teen years.
Pop Mugford, Leo Gracey, Jim Connelly, Mr. Curtis, Mike Gonsolin, Harold Dillon, Merle Thompson and Neal Haeckl were all regular letter carriers I remember from that time. Hubert Scott, Craig Friel and Ernest Kincaid were in charge of the operation and George Provine was postmaster. If all of the years of employment of those 12 dedicated citizens were added together, the total would be close to 400 years of serving Napa.
In the past, I have devoted some of my biweekly essays on memorable buildings that have disappeared from downtown Napa. The Migliavacca, Behlow and Masonic Hall buildings are examples.
I applaud the fact that the old Court House, Goodman Library, Napa Register, Sam Kee Laundry and some other notable buildings, even though badly damaged by the same earthquake as the post office, are being restored.
I was elated to hear that the old post office building is heading in that direction also.
After the July 4 story ran, I wrote an essay for future use about the USPS razing the building but, when there was news to the contrary, I amended the story, as above.
In my original version, I had drafted a closing that said, “I have an idea. If the USPS decides to retain and restore the building, they should no longer use it to process mail because that endeavor has been losing money for decades. Instead, like lots of other folks are doing all over town, they should convert the space into a restaurant and wine tasting area. Then, they might make a profit.”
That restaurant idea may now actually become reality except, instead of the USPS, a private developer will now probably do it, which is good. History has shown that the government has a very poor record of trying to run a business.