La Jolla’s post office wins federal ‘historical’ designation
By Pat Sherman
On the one-year anniversary of the day La Jollans learned that the United States Postal Service (USPS) plans to sell the Wall Street post office and relocate its services to a smaller, leased space in the Village (Jan. 11, 2012), members of the Save Our La Jolla Post Office Task Force received some welcome news: the post office building has finally been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
An announcement about the designation was issued by the National Park Service on Jan. 14, and included other sites around the country recently added to the register, including a cemetery, fish hatchery, bridge, houses, farmsteads, halls and a Christian Science church (though no other post offices).
As part of its efforts to save the beloved 1935 Wall Street post office from possible demolition and keep its services in place, the task force worked throughout 2012 on several strategies to save it, including having the building placed on the national register.
Task Force Chair Leslie Davis called the designation a “very significant accomplishment.”
According to the California Historical Resources Inventory Database (sandiego. cfwebtools.com), only 38 other San Diego sites are listed on the register.
Task force member Diane Kane, who completed the application for federal designation, said the listing automatically qualifies the post office to be placed on the California Register of Historic Places. Both designations provide the building with an added level of protection from demolition on substantial alterations should the building be sold.
Kane said the post office’s inclusion on the national register requires USPS to comply with several federal preservation mandates before selling the property, including Executive Order 13287 (also known as “Preserve America”).
The order states, in part, that agencies such as the USPS “shall examine its policies, procedures, and capabilities to ensure that its actions encourage, support, and foster public-private initiatives and investment in the use, reuse, and rehabilitation of historic properties.”
However, Davis cautioned, the national historic designation is not a preservation guarantee. Hundreds of examples exist in which properties have been demolished, despite their listing on the national register.
Prior to his death, retired assistant postmaster general and former La Jolla Historical Society president Roger Craig worked to secure a federal historic designation for the Wall Street post office. In partnership with the USPS, the La Jolla Historical Society installed a sign in 2010 commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Wall Street post office, funded by Craig.
Now that a federal designation has been granted, a permanent plaque will be affixed to the building, noting its historic status.
Local designation still sought
Since August, the task force has also been inquiring with San Diego’s Historical Resources Board (HRB) about having the building designated as a local historic landmark — another key step in its preservation efforts.
Currently, if a building has a national historic designation, but no such designation from the City of San Diego, it is not listed as historic within the city’s permitting department.
“The city doesn’t really track national register listings — it should, but it doesn’t,” said Kane, a former HRB staff member.
If a building is granted local historic designation, when a new owner seeks a building permit from the city to begin work on it, city staff will remind the applicant that the building has an historic designation, and require compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, as well as the state’s historic building code.
This “overarching strategy would need to be followed to rehabilitate the building or to do an adaptive reuse project on it,” Kane said.
Task force members were told last year that the HRB wouldn’t consider a historic designation until 2013, as the city was backlogged processing Mills Act applications.
To obtain a local historic designation, an applicant must complete an application form, pay a $1,200 fee to the city, and go through a staff review and an HRB hearing.
A listing on the national register is one of several criteria that can trigger the HRB to confer a local historic designation. In light of the national designation, task force members have requested that the HRB streamline its designation process for the Wall Street post office, in order to save the task force time and money.
Though the HRB’s policy subcommittee was scheduled to consider the task force’s streamlining request at a meeting this month, the meeting was canceled.
Last week, USPS Regional Property Manager Diana Alvarado confirmed that the Wall Street post office is not on the market and USPS has received no offers on it.
USPS is currently initiating the Section 106 process of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires federal agencies such as USPS to consider the effect of a sale or other actions on historic properties, she said. Under the Section 106 process, an easement would be placed on the post office façade and interior WPA-era mural to preserve them should the building be sold — though finding an organization with the time and money to assure the easements are preserved is another story. The task force hopes USPS will in good faith assume financial responsibility for monitoring the easements.
As long as the task force can prolong the Section 106 process, Davis said, USPS can not consummate a sale, though it could list the post office for sale and enter into an agreement with a potential buyer.
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