La Jollans envision the fate of beloved post office
by Mariko Lamb
Published - 04/05/12 - 11:02 AM | 14675 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
"Let our post office occupy Wall Street," was the overarching sentiment at the "Re-Imagining Our La Jolla Post Office" meeting on March 29. 	MARIKO LAMB | Village News
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Seldom has a community rallied around a single cause more passionately than La Jollans have to save their Wall Street post office.

“Let our post office occupy Wall Street,” was the clever maxim of the “Re-imagine our La Jolla post office” meeting on March 29.

Previous Save the La Jolla Post Office Task Force meetings have focused predominantly on preservation strategies, including designating the 1140 Wall St. building as historic, purchasing the building through an endowment and re-leasing space back to the U.S. Postal Service, and working with a buyer to preserve the building.

Participants at this month’s community forum were challenged to envision alternative options for how La Jolla’s post office could best be preserved and utilized to benefit the community should its postal services relocate, as proposed by the USPS in January.

A panel of community experts in architecture, historic preservation, community planning and the arts headed the discussion at the meeting. Each presented a variety of options for the post office’s adaptive reuse and preservation of the building’s architectural integrity should the worst of the task force’s scenarios come to a head.

“Recognizing that the postal service is in dire financial straits, the strong possibility is that they will list the sale of the property, no matter how much we object. We have a very small window of opportunity right now to identify potential buyers and ideas for our community vision for the space to allow our building to be preserved,” said District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who sat on the panel. “We don’t need to lose another historic treasure.”

Community members came to the meeting in droves — filling every seat in La Jolla’s Recreation Center — with ideas primarily centered around two themes. First, keeping postal services at the same location, but adaptively reusing its excess square footage, and, second, re-appropriating the entire space in a way that would benefit the community as a whole.

“This is a 14,000-square-foot building. The post office only needs a small portion for its counter services and post office boxes. This leaves a large amount of space in the rear of the building that could be adaptively reused for other purposes,” said Lightner. “Let’s make it a true community asset by better using the additional space, especially given its central location and its history as our community meeting place, the hub of the economic center of our village.”

Because the post office is slated for relocation — not an outright closure as proposed for 3,500 other post offices in the country — the USPS is seeking an alternative space within a one-mile radius of its current location.

The postal service only needs approximately 6,000 square feet for its operations, said panelist Joe LaCava, community planning and development expert.

“They still have an upward of 7,000 or 8,000 square feet left in that building that could be reused for something that is of community benefit,” he said. “The zoning that protects our village in that particular area is really the most flexible of all the zones in the village. It allows all the uses you might expect and want in a village — spanning from retail to office to residential.”

Panelists and participants at the meeting identified a range of potential uses for the space — from an arts and entertainment venue to a visitor’s center — while stressing the importance of preserving the integrity of the building’s architecture.

“We want to provide these kinds of ideas to our developers,” said Leslie Davis, interim chairwoman of the task force. “We are not going to sit by and let one of those developers do whatever they want to do to that building without showing up at their doorstep.”

Panelist Diane Kane, a retired senior planner at San Diego’s Historical Resources Board, announced updates to the task force’s ongoing efforts to designate the 1935 building — including the “Scenic View of the Village” mural by Belle Baranceanu — as a historically designated site.

“Historic designation does not mean that the building can’t be demolished. Should the building be given a historical designation, the post office would be obliged to sell it with a few covenants that they protect the historic aspects of the building and the mural,” said Kane. “The mural was done on canvas, so I imagine that a preservationist could remove it from the wall.”

Recently, La Jolla’s post office achieved a coveted status on a list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“They want to make us the poster child,” said Davis. “What we need to do is slow down the [relocation process] until June because if they sell the post office before June, we miss the deadline for being on that list.”

Another effort in the works is the establishment of a preservation fund, which was seeded by Ellen Mereweather’s $10,000 donation and has climbed to $17,000 so far. The fund was created primarily for the purposes of purchasing the building and re-leasing the front of the building back to the USPS.

“They have never had that proposed to them — that they might lease it back to the owner so they would be willing to not move to another spot,” said Davis.

She said the task force has yet to receive an affirmative answer from the USPS on this particular proposal.

Many residents have long awaited the official USPS community input meeting to ask their burgeoning questions, have their stockpiled concerns addressed and get a response for the endless number of proposed ideas for the building’s usage. That date, LaCava announced, has finally been set by the Postal Service — Thursday, April 26.

The location and exact time is yet to be determined, as the task force is attempting to find a place that is large enough to fit all of the community members who would like to voice their opinions.

To get involved...

Attend the task force’s next regular meeting on April 6 at 1:30 p.m. at the La Jolla Historical Society’s Balmer Annex, located at 780 Prospect St.

Donate to the La Jolla Historical Society’s Preservation Fund or volunteer for the Save the La Jolla Post Office Task Force. For more information, visit www.lajollahistory.org, call (858) 459-5335, or stop by the historical society’s Wisteria Cottage, located at 780 Prospect St.

Sign the new petition, which will be sent to the USPS, by visiting the La Jolla Historical Society’s Wisteria Cottage, located at 780 Prospect St.

Address relocation concerns to the United States Postal Service by writing to Diana K. Alvarado, vice president, Facilities, Pacific Facilities Service Office, 395 Oyster Point Blvd., Ste. 225, South San Francisco, CA 94080-0300.

For more information, email savelajollapostoffice@gmail.com.

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