The car horn serenade that filled downtown Napa Friday afternoon wasn’t the result of a traffic accident, but a movement to show love for a crippled downtown landmark.
The post office at the corner of Second and Franklin streets has been boarded up and fenced off since the earthquake nearly six months ago. While there has been no official word as to what will become of the building, a group of nearly 40 Napa residents stood outside the damaged building to show their love and support with “heart bombs.”
“The heart bomb campaign is something that the National Trust for Historic Preservation is doing all across the county. It’s a way for the public to show their love for buildings they want to see restored and protected.” said Stacey DeShazo, director of Napa County Landmarks , a nonprofit that seeks to preserve Napa history and buildings of interest. “The post office is a building that we’ve wanted to preserve for a long time. And after what happened to it in the earthquake, the need to protect this building has never been more important.”
As part of the heart bombing event, in addition to waving at drivers to encourage solidarity horn honking, supporters decorated paper hearts and taped them to the chain linked fence in front of the building. Messages on the hearts read “We love USPS”, “Preservation matters” and “Our post office is worth saving.”
Napa resident Genji Schmeder brought his own paper heart sign, which included the spin on the official motto of the federal postal service: “Neither snow nor rain nor earthquake shall keep this swift historic messenger building from historic preservation.”
“There are always costs when it comes to preserving the past, but it’s worth it,” said Schmeder, a Napa resident since 1986. “Our city would lose something very special if we can’t save this building.”
The state of the downtown post office remains in limbo. While other downtown buildings begin to recover from last August’s 6.0 earthquake, the post office remains untouched aside from initial stabilization efforts. Since the building is federally owned, there is nothing the city or county can do to fix the building, a “frustrating” process, according to Napa Councilmember Juliana Inman.
“Look at its condition. It needs our help,” said Inman, who is also secretary of Napa County Landmarks . “I’m sure they (authorities) are assessing the need for repairs, just like any other entity who owns a building damaged by the earthquake. But since it is a federal building, its future is out of our control. What we can do is have events like this to show our support for this building.”
Inman posted several homemade signs to the chain-link fence in hopes of creating awareness and support for the preservation of the building.
“This building is more than a post office,” said Inman, a licensed architect. “It’s an architectural gem, a masterpiece, and it’s worth saving.”
Inman discussed the post office building’s structural merits with those who gathered at the demonstration. The building is a representation of classic art deco. Built in 1933, the building’s façade is marked with distinctive stone elements such as the eagle design above the main entrance and ram head accents at the top corners of the building. The inside lobby also offers a distinctive design that makes it stand out among today’s more modern post offices.
Sarah VanGiesen, a member of Napa County Landmarks and the City of Napa Cultural Heritage Commission, said she used to bring elementary school children to the post office to show them the artistic integrity of the building while educating them about the importance of the post service.
“This is a community icon,” VanGiesen said. “It brings character to our downtown.”
As part of the demonstration, members of Napa County Landmarks took dozens of pictures to document the gathering to send to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Since this is a federally-owned building, we have no vote when it comes to saving this building, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice,” DeShazo said. “Under Section 106 of National Historic Preservation Act, we can apply to be a consultant to those making the decisions on a federal level. That at least gives us a voice at the table. Hopefully, we can share pictures and stories from this event to help save our building.”
Ernie Schlobohm, president of Napa County Landmarks, said he was happy with the turnout. “This is the first time we’ve had an event like this in Napa. It’s light-ghearted, but if reflects the sincerity of the people and their respect for this building. People love this building, regardless of whether it is a post office or not. We hope this event will create awareness and hopefully have some influence on the decision to restore this building.”
The group of supporters who gathered Friday chatted about their love for the building and their downtown post office, and voiced their eagerness to know the building’s fate.
“It’s sad what’s happened to our post office, but I really hope there is a way to save the building, to preserve it and reopen it as the post office this community loves,” said Grania Lindberg. “This was a place where you would meet up with your neighbors and catch up. It was like an informal community center.”
Pat Scarcelli, who dressed up her dog Ruby as a flat-rate postal box for the demonstration, echoed Lindberg’s sentiments. “I love this post office. I’ve been using it since I moved here five years ago from the east coast. I’d come here at Christmastime and mail up to 14 boxes. The staff was always so friendly, patient and helpful. It’s a special place; you always felt good when you walked in.”
Very few have walked through the doors of the downtown post office since the earthquake. Postmaster Juliana Davison briefly ducked her head inside during the heart bombing, and said she shares the frustrations of the community. “We’re all still waiting for news just like everyone else. I wish I had answers.”
DeShazo said residents are welcome to continue posting paper heart bombs throughout the weekend to show their support. Those who’d like to help Napa County Landmarks campaign for the restoration and preservation of the downtown post office building may contact DeShazo at email@example.com.
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