Like many of our friends and neighbors, members of Napa County Landmark's (NCL) Board of Directors and Preservation Action Committee have been waiting anxiously to see specific plans for the rehabilitation of our beloved post office.
Designed by William Corlett, one of Napa’s premiere architects, the Art Deco gem is one of Napa County’s most architecturally distinguished buildings. Prominently located in the heart of Napa's historic downtown, it features four highly ornamented facades, three of which are on major thoroughfares, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 when it was barely 50 years old.
After it was damaged in the earthquake, NCL was a leader in advocating for its rehabilitation. We were joined by many Napa County residents, our local elected leaders, and even Congressman Mike Thompson.
The U.S. Postal Service agreed to sell the building to a private party for rehabilitation. One of the terms of the sale was the creation of a conservation easement – a deed restriction signed by NCL and the property owner. This easement requires that:
-- the building be restored according to the Secretary of Interior’s standards – a set of guidelines to ensure that a new addition is compatible with and subordinate to a historic building;
-- Napa County Landmarks approve of any proposed project as conforming to the Secretary of Interior’s standards.
NCL’s Board of Directors supports the rehabilitation and repurposing of the Napa Franklin Station Post Office. We know that such a project will require an addition to the original building footprint to be financially viable, and that not every inch of the historic building can be preserved.
However, it is our duty to enforce the terms of the preservation covenant and the city should refrain from going forward with the approval process until the two parties who signed the easement (NCL and the property owner) are in agreement.
As presented to date in the Napa Valley Register, NCL does not believe the developer’s plans comply with the Secretary of Interior’s standards as the proposed project envelops four-fifths of the historic building, leaving little of the historic building visible except the Second Street façade.
We are currently making a good-faith effort to work with the property owner’s team as well as the city of Napa to enforce compliance with this easement as required by the contract.
To be clear, we are not trying to stop the project from happening, we are trying to make sure the project we get is a good one that preserves our heritage while adding economic value downtown.
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Napa residents who share our vision for preserving our most distinguished landmarks while developing for the future can contact city officials, write to the Napa Valley Register, donate to NCL, attend public hearings and speak out on social media in favor of preserving our precious post office.
Ernest Schlobohm, president
On behalf of the Napa County Landmarks Board of Directors
Editor’s note: The Register asked developer Jim Keller about the issues raised in this letter. He sent the following response:
“Thank you for the opportunity to respond. When I decided to try to take on saving the earthquake damaged historic post office after so many had given up, I did so in part because I considered Napa County Landmarks along with Dick Clark like partners in this effort. Based on their support I purchased the post office from the federal government and then completed a 2-year public process with the City.
“During the process we all recognized that hotels are not always the most popular projects in downtown Napa, but we came together with the community and determined this was the only viable path to rehabilitate the severely damaged building. A little less than a year ago that process resulted in a community supported and City approved planned 163 room hotel that saved the historic defining features of the post office, namely the front portion of the building and the building’s interior lobby. That process also required that we come back for public review of the design proposals for the project within two years.
“Our team recently submitted the proposed design to the City for its review and to Landmarks for their comments. As part of that process, we hired a certified historic architect to review the project and make recommendations on any modifications to the design needed to meet federal and state historic rehabilitation standards. We informed Landmarks of this process and asked them to hold off their comments until we get the historic report and give them a copy, which we expect to receive in a couple of weeks. This was because we are expecting, like any design process, to have to make some modifications to comply with the historic standards.
“I am confident that once we have the historic architect’s recommendations we will be able to make any refinements required to meet the rehabilitation requirements and to protect the post office’s defining features. It is very unfortunate and is confusing to me that Landmarks has now chosen to use a media outreach and PR strategy to criticize this project at this stage when we had their and the City’s support for the very same project less than one year ago.
“Hopefully, this is just the case of the new personnel at Landmarks getting to know the project rather than a takeover jeopardizing what we have worked on publicly since 2015 to rehabilitate what we can of the building.
“Personally, I am confident that we get back together and have positive communications as we did in 2015 when we made this deal happen.”