To the dismay of locals, the United States Postal Service in Washington, D.C. has proposed to demolish the Franklin Street post office building damaged by the Aug. 24 earthquake.
According to a June 26 letter from Daniel Delahaye, a federal preservation officer at the USPS, consultation on the demolition plan is “just commencing,” and residents are invited to share their opinions within the next 30 days.
Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the USPS was required to notify the city, county, Napa County Landmarks, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other agencies of its plan. The USPS also posted a notice about the proposed demolition at the retail window of the Randolph Street post office annex.
Additional details about the state of the building and the demolition review process were not provided in the letter, but city representatives reacted swiftly to the news.
“The thought of it being torn down is just horrifying,” said Napa City Councilmember Juliana Inman on Friday. “I think it’s the wrong thing to do.”
“The post office should stay,” said City Manager Mike Parness. “It’s a historical structure.”
Reached by phone on Friday, USPS spokesman Gus Ruiz said that he did not have any information to share about the status of the building, or the cost to demolish or repair it. The USPS offices in Washington, D.C. were closed for the Fourth of July holiday.
But Ruiz said he could understand why locals are distressed to hear the news.
“It’s a historic building, one that has been in the community for a very long time,” said Ruiz. “It’s important to local residents. It’s almost like losing a building you personally own.”
Inman called for greater transparency about the future of the building.
“This is a government agency,” she said. “I know they have been selling off high-value properties to private developers to balance their budget, but these are public buildings, built with public dollars and we deserve to know what is going on. This is a decision that won’t stand.”
The art deco building has intrinsic and artistic value, added Inman, who is an architect. “For Napa, it’s a rare example of an art deco building. It has a high level of finish and high-quality materials inside and outside,” including fine wood counters, coffered ceilings and a terrazzo floor.
Built in 1933 during Works Progress Administration years, the outside includes a distinctive frieze with rams heads and stylized art deco eagles. It’s “beautiful, beautiful work,” she said.
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 post office is scheduled to open at 1436 Second St. on July 13.
The City Council has not had a chance to meet and talk about the proposed demolition, but “I’m certain that’s going the position of the city,” Parness said. “We’re going to engage the issue.”
In a phone message, Mayor Jill Techel said she had already reached out to U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson’s office.
“I know he is aware of the situation. We think he’s in the best position to help,” said Parness. “We’re looking into what it takes to have a second look at this issue to see what we can do to have some influence over this decision,” he said.
A representative from Thompson’s office could not be reached on Friday.
“Up until this week, all signs from the Post Office suggested that the historic resource would be repaired and preserved, including preparing to open across the street in the interim,” said Rick Tooker, community development director.
“We are hopeful that the Post Office does not turn its back on the history of this wonderful building and use and its importance to Napa’s downtown and community as a whole,” Tooker said.
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